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Easy ESL Games for Young Kids Classes

Updated on January 4, 2011

Easy and Fun!

Teaching English to non native speakers can be so difficult. Especially when your students are little kids! And even more so when you have to teach a whole class full!

When I first started teaching ESL in Japan, everyday was a struggle to figure out my lesson plans. I was teaching both kids and adults, but I found that my kids classes were taking the most effort to plan. Kids of course require lots of fun interesting activities to keep them contented and engaged. Plus with kids you're teaching the basics, so games are usually the best way to drill the kids and get them to start recognizing words and patterns.

Here are a few of the game's I've learned from others or put together myself including how to do them and what you will need for setup and implementation. These ESL Classroom Games are for young kids ESL classes and are designed to be inexpensive and easy to do. So good luck and remember to have fun!

Shouting Contest!

This is a great game if you need to fill 5-10 minutes of class time or as a warm up for the kids. It's a great way to for them to practice phrases and greetings over and over again. And the best part is that this ESL game takes no prep and it's completely free!

Simply split your class in half. Send one group to one side of the room and the rest of the kids to the other. Teach them a phrase like "Good Morning!" or "Merry Christmas!" Or whatever you want to teach them. Stand in the middle and have one group say "good" when you point to them and then have the other group say "morning" when you point. Go back and forth and make a contest out of it. Who can shout the loudest? Have the teams switch words. You can add more phrases and make the game more advanced by building sentences. From the base game you can create many iterations.

  • Preparation: None
  • Cost: None
  • Class time: 5-10 minutes

Simon Says

It's an old standby, but it works remarkably well. It's great to for getting the kids to start remembering and understanding classroom commands. Like stand-up and sit down. Plus it works with even the smallest kids. They quickly catch on and love to point out when their fellow student's make mistakes. Again, this ESL game is free and requires no setup. 

If you're not familiar with the game, all you do is say "Simon says...." and then an action. For example "Simon says stand up." Students follow your lead. If you say an action without first saying "Simon says," and students copy your action anyway then they are out! For older kids it works well to make it into a competition and actually have kids who make the mistake sit out for the round. For younger kids it's best to just point out when it's a mistake but don't punish them. You don't want bored children running around, or worse, crying kids. During the holidays, you can change it to "Santa Says."

  • Preparation: None
  • Cost: Free
  • Class Time: 5-20+ minutes

Building Faces Blindfolded

In this game you can teach the kids all about body parts and directions including "up, down, left, right, stop!" First you must create a bunch of body parts. This will be selected by the kids and then placed on the board (white or black) to make faces. But when placing the faces, the kids will be blindfolded to make it more difficult. However, you will instruct the rest of the class that they can give hints to the kid making the face up on the board. At this point teach them about up down left right and about the face body parts. After the repeat and get all the vocab down, move on to the game. 

Draw a rough face like shape on the board and then call up one kid at a time and have the rest of the class shout out which direction they should move the body part. Of course you can help too. 

One thing that makes the game more fun is if you make lots of different and funny body parts.

  • Preparation: Making lots of different body parts can be difficult and time consuming
  • Cost: relatively cheap. You'll need paper, magnetic tape and markers. About $3 or less.
  • Time: 1 hour, this is a fun and long lasting activity

ABC Pickup

One thing that's hard to teach big groups of kids is letter recognition, especially what order they go in. This game is easy and fun for a big group. The kids will want to do it several times. It doesn't take much setup and after you prepare for this game you can use the materials for other games, and lessons.

All you need to do is make small handsized flashcard for each letter in the alphabet. Use some magnet tape and put a piece on the back of each card. Teach the kids about the alphabet. Quiz them on individual letters, ect. After you do some warm up, gather all the cards together. Make some jokes, or pretend to move on to the next lesson, but instead throw the cards in the air out over your students. At this point they will probably go crazy. Have each one pick up a card and go up to the board and put them in order by sticking them to the board. 

  • Preparation: Making 26 Letter flashcards
  • Cost: $2 or less
  • Time: 10-15 minutes

ABC Relay

This is a great writing drill for kids. It requires no setup and no prep work. It makes a perfect follow up to the ABC Pickup game above. Only thing is that you should teach your kids how to write some of the letters you choose to do. 

Split the class up into 3 or 4 teams. Have the teams line up in front of the board with the first person in line holding a piece of chalk or a marker. Whisper a letter to the last kids in line. Those kids then run forward and begin writing the letter on the back of the child in front of them and so on and so on. Finally once the letter reaches the child holding the chalk they must write the letter on the board. The first team to correctly write the letter on the board wins! For the first round, try making it more simple by announcing the letter to the class instead of keeping it a secret. Just make sure to watch for kids trying to cheat! You can do it multiple times and keep score. Give bonus points for beautifully written letters. Each round you play have the kid in the front go to the back and have each kid move one spot forward. 

  • Preparation: None
  • Cost: None
  • Time: 20-30 Minutes


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    • profile image

      eslinsider 5 years ago

      Yeah right having a repertoire of games and activities makes teaching easier. That's cool that you taught in Japan. I taught English in Korea, China and Taiwan and Japan is where I want to go next.

      Where did you teach?

    • vaguesan profile image

      vaguesan 6 years ago from Osaka, Japan

      Thanks! I'm glad I can help. You should do your own hub about ESL teaching. I'm sure you've got some great insights.

    • profile image

      Chasuk 6 years ago

      I'm an ESL teacher in South Korea, so I found this exceedingly useful. Thank you kindly.