Fun and Easy ESL Games for Kids!
Learning Through Fun
Fun Ways To Educate Young Learners
Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of teaching kids knows how much of a handful they can be. I spend every summer teaching ESL summer camps for young learners, and I know first hand just how important it is to have a few good games or activities ready to keep them interested. Here are a few of my favorites, these are all easy to use, require minimal setup, and can easily be modified to fit classes of varying size and ability.
The Great Chair Race
A classic game that has entertained so many classes I have lost count. It works wonders in a kids class, and is easy to adjust to fit with teenage or adult ESL classes. It does get a little loud, and if you're not careful they can get too competitive sometimes! Many have seen this game before, but I add a few twists to make it extra fun for the kids.
Lots of space (I prefer to clear a large aisle in the middle of the class)
A white board or chalk board to keep score on
A list of questions, various topics and difficulties. ( spelling, grammar, vocab, silly, general knowledge)
I find the best questions for kids are simple listing ones, focused on whatever topic you happen to be on at that time. Examples of this could be; "name five animals that fly" or "name 5 verbs that start with S" . Easy enough to get after a few tries, but still there to drill whatever vocab you are trying to drill. General knowledge could be used for things like comparatives and superlatives, things like "what's the biggest country in the world" reinforce the language and are actually interesting to them.
Clear a long aisle in front of the class, with two chairs at the same end as the scoreboard. Divide the class evenly into two teams, and have them set up their chairs along each side of the aisle, so each student is facing another. Have the teams choose their names and you are ready to go!
The game is very easy to play, and we'll talk about the basics before we get into the twists that make it a little better.
To put it simply, it's a race! One student from each team stands at the end of the runway, so they are facing the chair and the scoreboard. Standing behind the chair, you ask them a question from the list you prepared. The students race to the chair, and the first one to sit down gets to answer the question. If they get it correct, the winners team gets a point, and they both sit down so the next pair can try. If they get it wrong, they have to stand back up and the other person gets a chance to sit down and attempt to answer the same question. Once they have answered incorrectly one time, they must run back to the start and all the way back to the chair before they can answer again. After the question is finally answered correctly, the next two students stand up and get to have a chance to race for their teams.
It gets crazy! they will cheer their teammates who are racing to the chair, and it isn't always the fastest who win, often you will see one student purposely going slower so they have more time to think of the correct answer, betting that the other student will get it wrong.
Kids being kids, they can get a little too wild with it...but a simple rule fix seems to solve the problem before it gets too rambunctious and somebody gets hurt. Before you start, explain very clearly that if anyone pushes or trips the other racer, their team will lose two points. As soon as they realize they might lose the game for their team if they play unfairly, they will actively go out of their way to play safely and fairly.
A twist I like to add that really makes it more fun for the class, is having a silly style that they must adopt while they walk down the aisle. Have them walk to the chair while holding up bunny ears, or maybe they have to hop the whole way there. It's fun, and the whole class will laugh with them as they make their ways down the path.
Name 5 fruits!!
Potato sack race maybe?
Beep Beep Beep!
This game requires nothing but an easy going teacher and some enthusiastic students who aren't afraid to get a little silly. I have used it for kids classes of all levels, and it can even be tweaked and shaped a bit so that it can be used effectively with teens or even adults. It requires a bit of acting from the teacher, as hamming it up when they buzz really goes a long way in getting everyone interested in it.
A set of topic themed questions ready in your mind
For older classes, and perhaps for the extra rambunctious groups, the teacher may want to opt out of being the buzzer and use an actual physical toy buzzer, which can easily be found on the web for next to nothing.
The hat of destiny (or bag, or anything really that can be used to randomly draw numbers from, I just like to choose cheesy names for my props, and now everyone in the school refers to the "hat of destiny" when talking about our activities!)
Three sets of matching numbers ( one set for each team, and one for the "hat of destiny")
Not much needed here! divide the class into two teams and assign each student a number. Place the teachers numbers into the hat and make a big show of mixing them up in front of the class.
You need to have at least enough questions prepared so every student gets a chance to get up and participate. What the questions are exactly can be changed in order to fit whatever topic or vocab you want to review with them on a particular day.
Another easy one that always gets them laughing. The rules are simple, two numbers are randomly selected from the hat. The first number is for the first team, and the student who holds the matching number will come up and get a chance to answer the question. The second number is to select the other contestant from the opposing team. I find random selection works best, so that way the kids rarely get the same opponent twice and no feelings get hurt.
Both students come to the front of the class, and stand on opposite sides of the teacher, facing each other. Explain to them that you are going to ask them a question, but in order to answer, they must follow one very simple instruction. Before they answer, they must shout " BEEP BEEP BEEP!" and tap the teachers hand three times. Ham it up and make it very clear that "BEEP BEEP ", or BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP" will absolutely not be accepted. it needs to be exactly three times, and they need to tap the teachers outstretched hand three times as well.
This is where the fun begins, the kids will be so excited and tense as they wait for the question, they will often over beep, or under beep, both of which are equally funny for everyone in the class. Keep your hand stretched out until someone eventually gets the correct number of beeps, at which point dramatically pull it back and allow them to answer the question.
If they get it wrong, the hand shoots back out and needs to be beeped again by either contestant before another attempt can be made to answer it. They may get a little eager when they are tapping your hand, so I always make a dramatic show to pretend like it hurts then remind them to tap gently! If you have a very conservative school, or don't like the idea of kids slapping you on the hand, simply use verbal beeps only or buy a cheap buzzer that they can slap instead. I gotta say though, I find the physical hand tapping works the best, and if you are the type to really get into it with big dramatic actions you will have the whole class engaged and participating.
Depending on the size and mood of the class, you can either have the winner stay up and select a new challenger, or have both students sit down and re pick from the hat for the next two contestants.
Fun buzzers for the class
Which Do You Prefer?
Would You Play With or Without a Buzzer?
A Good Example
Kid's love drawing, and this is a great game to practice vocab, adjectives, shapes, animals, and pretty much anything! For the purpose of this article, I will explain how it would be played if we are focusing on simple adjectives and body part vocabulary.
White board (or if you don't have one, poster sized pieces of paper)
A set of large pictures of the vocab the students can use as reference
Enough white paper for all the students to draw on
This one is a piece of cake. All you need is to hand each student a few blank pieces of paper, and randomly choose one or two students to come up to the board.
The first part of the game is similar to the game hot seat, except instead of trying to make the student say the word, they are trying to get him to draw the correct animal. You show everyone in the class except the ones up at the board a picture of an animal. It is then their job to describe what the animal looks like, while the person/people at the white board attempts to draw it and guess what it is. The students are not allowed to say what animal it is, they can only describe physical characteristics of it.... for example they might say "It has two big ears" for an Elephant. It is also a great chance to practice things like comparatives (bigger! smaller! longer!) and prepositions (on its head, beside it, to the left...)
The pictures never end up looking like the actual animal, and the students will love watching their peers create terribly misshapen monsters following their directions. Once the first animal is guest, the tables turn and the person/people at the front now get to describe a different animal to the entire class. Everyone attempts to draw what the speaker is describing, and once again after a few minutes the identity of the animal is revealed and everyone has a good laugh about how silly or accurate the pictures turned out to be.
A more difficult variation for higher levels could be to describe people instead. Pictures of famous celebrities or odd looking people really challenge the students abilities to use descriptive language without putting them to sleep.