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ESL Warm-up Games and Activities

Updated on July 30, 2015

Start your English as a Second Language class with a Warm-Up Game

This site will help you incorporate lots of fun and excitement into your English as a foreign language classrooms. Teaching ESL has never been so exciting and your students will be learning English without even knowing it because they're having so much fun playing ESL games. A fun and interesting warm-up activity or game is the perfect start to your English as a Foreign Language Class.

By using a warm-up game, you can grab the student's attention and introduce whatever topic you're discussing that day. It works especially well to focus on the theme that you're using that day and incorporate a warm-up game along the same lines so that you can find out how much previous knowledge your students have. Start positive with a fun warm-up game or activity so that you can finish strong in your ESL Classroom.

circle, memory circle, esl game, esl warm-up game, efl, tesol, teaching abroad
circle, memory circle, esl game, esl warm-up game, efl, tesol, teaching abroad

The World Cup ESL Game: an exciting ESL Activity for Kids

First, write up some questions. I use review things mostly but add in a few random ones like, "What time did you wake up this morning?" or "How long did it take you to come to school this morning?"

Then, in class count up your students and make up a "draw." You know, the round of 16, quarter-finals, semis and the final. If you have an odd number and it doesn't quite work, make up some "last-chance spots." So all the people who lost their game in the section of the draw can compete against each other for the last spot. Write up student's names in the draw, randomly (I use the attendance list). To add some more fun, and for smaller classes you can get students to pick a country. For bigger classes, wait until the semi-finals before you allow country picking.

Anyway, ask the students a question from your list and the person to answer the fastest gets to move onto the next round. That's it!

Just a Minute ESL Warm-Up Game


SOS Review Game: a perfect ESL Activity for Adults

I'm sure you know the game S-O-S. If you get three "S's" in a row or three "O's" in a row you draw a line through it and get a point. I've adapted this game for my purposes.

I draw a grid on the board, usually 6x6. I give them numbers and letters to make it easier for the students to pick what box they want. Then, I divide the students up into teams of 4 or 5 and give them each a symbol (triangle, square, star, heart, etc). Then, I ask review questions, going from team to team. Simple, easy questions with a definite right or wrong answer are best to keep this game moving quickly. A correct answer gets them a square on the board. I do 6 or 7 rounds, and by this time the good teams will have 2 or 3 points. The top team gets a prize.

As a final note: this game gets boring after 20 minutes or so, so don't plan on playing this for an entire class. It works best as a warm-up review kind of game.

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ESL Games and Activities


Comic Strip Challenge: a great addition to your ESL Lesson Plans

There are lots of simple comic strips that you can find on the internet to use for this activity. Post it up on your powerpoint and there are 2 different things you can do:

1. Blank out the dialogue and have students make up their own. Put them in groups of 2-4, depending on the size of the class. Award a small prize for the most interesting one.

2. Leave the dialogue, and give the students a few minutes to read and try to understand what is happening. Then, take the comic off the screen and ask a few understanding questions.


The Toilet Paper Game: an ESL Introduction Activity for the First Class

This is the perfect way to start your first class, if there are less than 15 students. Bring in a roll of toilet paper. Tell students they can choose between 2 and 6 pieces. It's up to them how many they take. Tell them no other details. When everyone has some paper, tell the students that they have to say one sentence about themselves for each piece that they have. Example: name/favorite food/ hobby/ members of their family.

Boggle for an ESL Warm-Up

So maybe you've heard or seen the game "Boggle?" You can make your own version for a quick game in class to use as a warm-up. Make a grid on the board, maybe 6x6. Then fill in the squares with common letters. Then the students make words, with at least 3 letters. Each word can only use each letter once and the letters must be touching. You can go diagonal, up, down, whatever.

39 ESL Warm-Ups for Teenagers and Adults

The Alphabet ESL Game: an excellent choice for an ESL Warm-Up Game

This is a simple game you can play for a warm-up when your students already know a lot of the vocabulary about the topic. I put them in teams of 2 and they have to write the alphabet on a piece of paper. Then you can give them a topic. Today, mine was "Words to describe a city." Examples: B-Busy, E-Exciting.

Give them 3 or 4 minutes, collect the papers, check for the inappropriate answers, add up the points and you have a winner!

A Vocab Review Game for English as a Second Language Students

Write the vocab words on a flip chart of some sort. I use an old notebook and write one word/page. Divide the class up into teams. I find that 5-8 people/team works well. One student from the team comes and sits at the front of the class facing his or her teammates. I show one word at a time to the team but not the person sitting at the front. The team has to give hints about the word, in English only, using no body language. An example: EYE. Hints students give: 2, on face, I can see.

I do 2 or 3 rounds of 1 minute each and the goal is to get as many words as possible in that 1 minute. If the team uses body language or their native language, I discount that point. This game is very, very fun.

Describing Anything: an Interesting ESL Speaking Activity

A simple warm-up game that you can use to generate some interest in this topic that is often review for many students. Make up a handout with pictures or names of famous people (around 20 is good). Give some hints, such as, "He's American," "He's black," "He's a sport player," "He plays golf." By this time the students will have guessed Tiger Woods. They will then cross Tiger Woods off their list. Turn it over to the students and they will take turns describing the people to each other.

This game would also work for almost any topic (animals/food/clothes, etc)

Do you do warm-up games for your ESL Classes?

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Famous People from the Past: a fun activity for elementary students

Put the students in groups of 2-3-4. Have them pick 4 famous people, dead or alive that they'd like to invite to a party they are having. Then, they have to say the reason why they're inviting them. I do an example like this:

Person: Michael Jackson

Reason? He can play some dance music for us. Also, I want to know why he got so much plastic surgery.

Give them a few minutes, depending on the level. Then, I get the student to pick 1 or 2 of the people, depending on the size of the class and tell the rest of the class their answer.

I've gotten an interesting array of answers and the students are quite interested to hear what the other groups have to say.

Steal the Eraser: an excellent English language teaching game

Divide the students into 2 teams. Have 2 desks at the front of the class, facing each other, with an eraser in the middle of the 2 desks. One student from each team comes and sits in the hot seat. Rotate through so that all the students get a chance to play. You then ask a question of some sort. The first person that grabs the eraser can try to answer the question. My rule is that you can take the eraser whenever you want, but I"ll only say the question once. I then count 10 seconds down on my fingers. Their team can help them with the answer, but only in English. If correct, they get 1 point. If not, the other team gets a chance to answer the question.

This week in class, we're studying "When I _________, I ______/ I __________when I ________.

So, I would say something like, "When I feel happy, I _________." Or "I'm late for school when __________"

And of course, to make it even more exciting or if one team is behind by a lot of points, have a "Bonus Round," where the teams pick their best 3 players and each question is worth 2 or 3 points, or something like that.

A Warm-Up Game to review "P.P."

2 Truths and 1 Lie

Have your students write four "I've....." sentences. 3 are true, 1 is false. Then, if you have a small class (under 8), have the students read out their sentences and the other students guess which one is false. For more advanced (or just really small) classes, they can ask some questions to try to figure out the false one. Once the students guess (individually), they get a point for a correct guess. If you have a bigger class, put the students in groups of 5 or 6 and let them play together while you supervise.

Shootout at the ESL Corral

I play this game with kids but think it could potentially be fun for uni students as well. Divide the class into groups of two. You can do this on 2 sides of the class, at their desks standing up or get the kids to make a line at the front of the class as well.

Then, there are are 2 variations. The first one is that the first 2 students play rock/scissor/paper. The loser has to answer a question about what you've been studying. I used it a lot of math when I was studying that for a couple days with the kids. I'd say what is 5x8 and give them 5 seconds to answer. If they got it, they went to the back of their line, or remain standing. If not, they sit down and the game is over for them. The second variation is to just ask a question to both students and the loser sits down.

It's a fun, high energy game with a lot of excitement to it. The kids seemed like they couldn't get enough of it. And you can use pretty much any topic you want. And it's definitely heavy on the listening and speaking skills.

circle, memory circle, esl game, esl warm-up game, efl, tesol, teaching abroad
circle, memory circle, esl game, esl warm-up game, efl, tesol, teaching abroad

Memory Circle is an excellent way to learn English vocab

This is a game that I often use with smaller (less than 10 students) and younger students (middle/elementary school) but I've also used it with uni students with good results.

You can make a rule as to what kind of words the students can pick. If we're studying food and drinks, I'll say that the students can only use those. New vocab from a vocab book, only those words. Past tense verbs, then only sentences from the past.

Everyone will stand up, in a circle, and I will start the game off. "I ate pizza last night." The next student says, "She ate pizza last night, and I studied yesterday." The next student, "She ate pizza last night, he studied yesterday and I watched TV." And so on it goes, around the circle. If someone misses and gets it incorrect, they have to sit down and the game is over. I usually let it go until there are 2 or 3 of the geniuses left and then I give them a prize of some sort and start over with the same rules, or a new set of criteria.

An ESL Warm-Up Game

Warm-up for Writing Class

If you're teaching writing, this could be a good activity to start off every class with. Put up a picture on the power-point screen. Give your students about 5-10 minutes to write in their journal or notebook. Encourage your students to just write anything that comes to their mind, but not cross out anything, use their dictionaries or pay close attention to grammar. The key is just to improve fluency in writing and get brains working and warmed-up.


Concentration Game for students who are learning English

I make up a number of sets of cards.

For example:


I feel sad when...

When I'm angry....

Who's your favorite actor?

What was the last movie you saw?


...I fail a test

....I hit something

Brad Pitt is some handsome! He's my favorite movie star.

I watched Harry Potter last week.

I make a number or these matching pairs, and write them up on a chart on my computer. Then, I cut them all out. I'll put the students in groups of 4 or 5 and they'll spread the papers out, on their desk face-down. And then it's just a memory game, with the first student picking 2 papers, seeing if they match and going from there. Simple, but fun. And it can work with any level, even with those that can barely read.


Mixed-up Conversation or Sentences

Put up a “Mixed-Up” conversation or a few unrelated sentences on the board. The students then to have turn them into coherent English. It’s an excellent way to review grammar concepts.


Watch a Short Video for a fun Warm-Up Activity

Not exactly a game, but an interesting thing you can do for a warm-up nevertheless. Find a short video on youtube. I like the "Mr. Bean" animated series. They don't contain a lot of dialogue, which makes it easy for ESL Students. For example, when I'm doing a unit on health and fitness, I show the "Mr. Bean Running Race Cheats" video. It's only 3 minutes and very funny. I use it to introduce "in-shape/out-of-shape," "healthy/unhealthy." I have a short discussion of the problems Mr. Bean had and the solutions he found to them.


One of these things is not like the other ones

This is kind of an odd-one-out game that you can play to review vocab from the previous weeks. Just write up a few sets of vocab words on the board. I usually write 4 in one group, with one of them being the odd one out.


apple, carrot, orange, banana

The students have to write: carrot-it's a vegetable, not a fruit.

Draw a Picture while someone else is talking

This is a fun way to practice body parts or descriptives (big, small, long, etc). The students sit back to back and one person is the “talker” and the other one is the “drawer” The person talking describes something that they’re looking at to their partner (a face, body, city, etc) and that person draws what they hear. The results are usually hilarious!


Need some dice for your ESL Warm-Up Game?

Playing a game where you need some dice, but you don't have enough sets for the whole class, or are just annoyed by the noise? You can buy some giant dice, or just make your own (kind of).

There are 2 things I do:

1. Make a grid pattern on a piece of paper. Put numbers (1-4, or 1-6, whatever!) on it in a random pattern. Then, to pick the number the students get their pencil, close their eyes and pick a square.

2. Get some of the new, small 10 won coins. Have the students throw them and see how they land. 2 heads is a 1, 1 head and 1 tail is a 2, and 2 tails is a 3. Makes sense?

What are your ideas for ESL Games and Activities?

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    • JanisaChatte profile image


      2 years ago from Earth

      Thanks for the suggestions! I teach English online, but I think that some of these can be adapted for my lessons.

    • Mark Summers profile image

      Mark Summers 

      2 years ago

      Starting the class on an upbeat note sets the tone for the entire lesson. And these work. BTW: If you're looking for a quick, easy way to learn and teach English grammar, check out my book, Mark's English Grammar Shortcuts. You'll be glad you did.

    • profile image 

      2 years ago

      Thanks for good info.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Fine,I can use them for my students

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I love teaching with games. My students feel comfortable, less shy and less anxiety

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thiiknng like that shows an expert at work

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you, some really great ideas I can use for practice.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great Ideas! Another is Suspects game in Teams. You can have them write places they have studied on pieces of paper and then tell them one place a murder happened. The students from one team can leave the class, you give one student on the remaining team the murder place. When they comeback in they have say 3 questions out of six students (great for past tense) and if they ask the right student (were you at the graveyard) and they say 'yes I was' that team scores a point, interrogation games are fun. Thanks for these ideas though!

    • blackbeltreader profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you!

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 

      7 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      These are fantastic games. My favourite warm-up with my kids is to play balloon volleyball. I divide the room using tables or a rope on the floor, then blow up a balloon. We play volleyball, with each student having to say a word in english (according to a theme) when they touch the balloon. They LOVE it and it gets them talking.

    • Sara Dowling profile image

      Sara Dowling 

      7 years ago

      I like the SOS game idea

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      A great set of warm up games! I often use vocab games as warm ups in my adult conversation classes - they really enjoy working on vocab, but fall back to their easy-to-recall staples during conversations.

    • PennyHowe profile image


      7 years ago

      A song a the beginning of the lesson gets everyone in a good mood and excited. Thanks for sharing these great ideas.

    • Jogalog profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm on maternity leave at he moment but I love some of your ideas for when I go back to work.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      thank you :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      New here and that was a great lens lots of useful stuff thanks

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      good lens. really appreacited

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I've really enjoyed reading your post. I started an ESL language school about two months ago now, and I am so excited about the growth and what's happening in the life of our school. I'll be sure to use some of these brilliant ideas.

      God Bless!

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice lens. I am trying the Pin It button again.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice lens. I am trying the Pin It button again.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 

      8 years ago

      Great ideas! I wonder how I can adjust some of them to fit my nursery school class.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My version of the toilet paper activity uses colored candy, such as M&Ms or skittles. Each student is told to take one and not eat it. Eat color represents something different. If they eat their candy, I let the other students pick which one (or two) they have to answer.

    • Richardryder profile image

      Risteard O'Marcahain 

      9 years ago from Wales

      I think this is a great Lens - I will pass the link to my daughter who teaches english lit in south wales - she specialises in literacy which is a bit of a problem in the Uk even among the local people. Anyway you are such an expert on squidooing I am sure you have a lot to teach me. I am trying to build a few friends around the world to collaborate with. I have built a series of squidoos on La Manga Club in Spain where I own a villa an to keep it I have to let it out to others. Having just started my lens have not really caught on yet which is a bit depressing - I keep saying that my squidoos need stroking anyway It would be nice to chat with other keen squidooers

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      All these activities look great for people who want to improve English and when English is not their mother tongue.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I became exploring on line for a few information since yesterday night and i also finally found this! This can be an excellent website in addition, but itâs a bit tough to read from my cell phone..I love Mr. Bean so much

      Fisher Capital Management

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great Information. Thanks for sharing.

    • emmaklarkins profile image


      9 years ago

      Great information!

    • iijuan12 profile image


      9 years ago from Florida

      By the way, the image in your top text box isn't loading.

    • iijuan12 profile image


      9 years ago from Florida

      Great lens! I would have loved this info when I was an EFL teacher. I have found that Capstone Press has a great selection of comic-book like history and science books that are great for ESL students who have been placed into "regular" classes. Blessings!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I like the key ring exercise, a great way to open up students to talk about themselves

    • Everyday-Miracles profile image


      9 years ago

      I considered studying to become an ESL teacher. I think that there's a need for this even in the U.S. Unfortunately I'm just no good as a teacher. I've tried and tried and I think that my current major (psychology, going to be specializing in life coaching) is probably a better fit for me, even though it's still not perfect.

      Many of these activities would work with other languages as well, I think. I'm hoping to buckle down and actually learn Italian soon. I used to speak decent French, but it's gone by the wayside since I never use it any more :(

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Fantastic lens, very interesting!

    • SuperZoe LM profile image

      SuperZoe LM 

      9 years ago

      This is a very helpful lens! My sisters are both ESL teachers so I will definitely share this with them!

    • drs2biz lm profile image

      David Schroeter 

      9 years ago from St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

      A great resource... many thanks, Jackie.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      The learning never ends does it? Nice lens.

    • danny79 profile image


      9 years ago

      Great and important lens (I'm using Rosetta Stone - for french though)

      Thank you

      Drop by

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I'm going to give some of these a try. Thanks.


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