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Games for the ESL Classroom

Updated on April 14, 2016

Fun and interesting games for your ESL Lesson Planning

if you need some new ideas to keep your ESL students interested and motivated to learn English, you have definitely come to the right place. Welcome!

ESL Games are perfect to keep your students motivated and focused because they're having fun while learning English at the same time. You can improve your ESL lesson plans and increase student performance by trying out some new games and activities in your classes.

There are lots of fun ESL Games on this site that are simple, easy for your students to understand and fun. Improve your ESL classes by making them dynamic and memorable.

I've been teaching English in South Korea for 10 years, mostly at the university level but I've taught everyone from kindergarten kids to seniors the ABC's to advanced level examination preparation. I hope you find some of these things really useful for your classes.

can-cant.jpg
can-cant.jpg

Can/Can't: an Interesting ESL Activity

A fun game you can play is the following:

Put the students in teams of 2, 3, or 4 depending on how big your classes are. They have to pick 1 animal, and 1 thing, but must keep it a secret from their classmates. My 2 examples were:

Animal: Giraffe

1. It can eat leaves

2. It can't live in Korea

3. It can see easily over tall things

Thing: Air Conditioner

1. I can see it now

2. It can be bad for the environment

3.It can help me in the summer but not winter.

The students write their 2 secret words, as well as their 3 hints for each one. Then you collect the papers and use them to play a game. There are various ways you can do it, but I will go in a circle based on where the teams are sitting. The team whose paper I'm reading has to be quiet and can't give hints. The first team get the first hint and then they can have a guess. If no answer, the next team gets hint #2 and a guess. And so on. If the three hints don't do it, I'll give additional hints so make sure your students write the answers on the papers.

ESL Speaking: Board Games

Bingo for teaching ESL

We all know and love Bingo. I remember back when I was a kid and I just couldn't get enough of it. Except if I did it where I just called out the words, and they crossed them off I probably couldn't really consider myself a real teacher. So, instead I modify it to make it more more educational. It's actually a fabulous way to get students to review a large amount of vocab.

I make up a grid, and at the bottom list all the possible words they can choose from. They take a few minutes to write in the words that they want. Then, I just give hints about the words and they need to figure out what I'm taking about.

Examples: "I have many of them in my mouth" =teeth

"It's something difficult, not easy to do" =achievement

A Fun Vocab Review Game for ESL 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 Korean, I discount that point. This game is very, very fun. Lots of laughs and happy times.

39 ESL Speaking Activities for Teenagers and Adults

next-to.jpg
next-to.jpg

Next to/Across from/Behind for ESL Students

This week, we're studying about giving directions to somebody. For example, "The Bank is across the street from the Library." A fun way to make it interesting is to give the students a small picture of a city map, along with a little written description about it. I give them 5 minutes to memorize what they can, then they close their books and I ask them questions. For example, "Where's the bank?" or "What kind of restaurant is it?" I put them in groups or 4 and they have to write down their answers. I collect the papers, quickly grade them, declare a winner and they get their little prize. It's fun and learning combined!

ESL Speaking Activity: Role-Plays

World Cup Style Quiz Game

Everyone loves the World Cup! 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!

vocabulary.jpg
vocabulary.jpg

A simple vocab review for your English Language Learners

I'll use this game once or twice a semester to either review vocab that we've studied in class that day, or to start off a new class to review stuff from the previous week. I make a grid on my computer. Maybe 4x5. Then, I fill in the chart with half words and half definitions. Examples from this week:

Exhausted/very tired. It's between my head and shoulders/neck. If I drink too much soju/stomachache.

Make a few copies and cut them out. Put the students in groups of 4 or 5 and have them put them face down on the desk. They go around, one at a time trying to make a match. If you make a match, you get to go again.

typhoon-game.jpg
typhoon-game.jpg

It's a Typhoon!

A fantastically fun review game that any age group of students will love that requires a little prep but no materials. Especially if (as in my class) the winning team gets a stamp, which translates into 1% of their final grade.

Draw a grid on the board, marking one row with numbers, one with letters. I usually do 5x5 or 6x6 for a 20-30 minute game.

Put in the following letters:

T=typhoon. Lose all your points

H=hurricane. Pick 1 team, for minus 5

V=vacation. Get 5 points for free

For these ones, I'll do each one 2 or 3 times

E=easy question, 1 point

M=medium, 3 points

D=difficult, 5 points.

Fill in the rest of your grid.

Then depending on how big your class is, make 4 or 5 teams. They pick a square, (B-6), then you write the letter in the box and ask them a question of whatever. Have a list of easy/medium/hard questions beforehand (I literally use the questions from the mid-term exam as a way to reward students who care/pay attention). If they get the question correct, give them the points, if not, erase the letter in the box and another team can pick that square if they want.

Play until all the squares are done. That's it! Make sense?

jeopardy, alex trebek
jeopardy, alex trebek

The Quiz Show

I usually have a class of review before the midterm and final exams. I choose a couple of games that we can play. This week, I've been doing a Jeopardy kind of quiz show.

I make up categories from stuff that is on the test: "Vocab, grammar, movies, body" I think of questions that range from easy ($100) to difficult ($500). I put the students in groups of 3 or 4 and the they have to pick their category and question. They can pick whatever they want, but the key is that if they get it correct, they obviously get the points. If wrong, they get minus that number. I put in a few +/- 500/1000 to make it more interesting.

Steal the Eraser

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 my 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.

warm-up.jpg
warm-up.jpg

A Warm-Up Review Game for ESL Students

...a fun one to get some thinking juices going. It's called odd one out. For example, I'll have 7 or 8 sets of them on the board. You can make it into a review game in some cases. Body part, shapes and foods work very well.

1. apple/orange/onion/banana

2.ankle/toe/leg/mouth

3. Tv/cup/credit card/table

and on it goes.

Which one is different and why?

1. onion, because not a fruit

2. Mouth, because upper 1/2 of body.

3. Cup, because it's a round shape.

I usually put them in teams of 2 and they have to write down their answers. The first 2 teams get a prize of some sort.

6 ESL Conversation Games

What age group do you teach?

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ESL Speaking Warm-Up: Just a Minute

How do I come up with games?

The truth is that I love games! Ever since I was a little kid, my family has played board, word, and card games for hours. My sister and I still play games endlessly, whenever we're together. Many of my games, I've adapted from my old favorites. For example:

1. One of my favorite get to know new people games is: Two truths and a lie. Students write down on a piece of paper 2 true things about themselves, and one lie. Example: I've been bungee jumping 2 times. I have a twin sister. Then, the student reads their 3 sentences and the other students have a few minutes to question them, to try to uncover which is a lie. The rest of the students choose which one is a lie, and if they're correct in their guess, they get one point.

2. A favorite party game is: guess the job/animal, etc. I adapt this to whatever unit we're studying. If we're studying about jobs, I'll write down lots of them on pieces of paper. Then, you tape one to each student's back, so they don't know what job they are. They have to walk around the class asking their friends questions until they can uncover what they are.

3. I love board games. So, I'll often make one up, Snakes and Ladders style to fit whatever we're studying. If we're doing the simple past, I'll make a question for each square that the students have to answer if they land on that square. If they're incorrect, as judged by their classmates, they have to go back to the previous square. And to introduce some random luck, I'll put lots of go back 6, or trade with the person on your right, or go ahead 4 squares.

4. I liked 20 questions a lot when I was a kid. And it can actually fit with a lot of things that you're studying. Animals, famous people, or countries for example. I sometimes adapt it to 10 questions if I choose the category for them already.

5. And do you remember x/o? You can play the simple tic/tac/toe variety, but I used to play the big board version when I was a kid. I do this in class sometimes and Korean students love it. It works best for review. They have to answer a question and if they are correct, they get to pick a square. Usually the first team to get one point is the winner.

Anyway, for your own ideas? Think about games you played as a kid. I'm sure you can adapt them to fit your class and have a happy, fun English learning environment!

SOS

Last week in class, my grammar point was countable/uncountable nouns and all the technical details surrounding it. It can get quite complicated, so I wanted to review it before moving on. A fun way to do it (and other stuff too!) is to play this game. I'm sure you know the game S-O-S. If you get three "S" in a row or three "O" 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 (in my class: a stamp worth 1% of their final grade).

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.

dice.jpg
dice.jpg

Need some Dice for Your Games?

An easy alternative

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?

The Crocodile Game

Boggle for your TESOL Classes

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.

person.jpg
person.jpg

The Secret Person

I've been playing a game this past week that has worked really well. We're talking about interesting or unusual experiences. I gave the students 5 minutes to write about their experience, 3 or 4 sentences. They wrote their names on the paper and I collected them. Then, I read out the papers one by one and the students had to guess who it was. I put the guessers in teams of 2 and warned the person whose paper I was reading to not give anything away, at the risk of losing a point for their team. Then, after we were done they pass their paper to another team and we marked them together.

The winning teams got a stamp, which is the currency in my class. You can offer a small prize of some sort, or whatever you do.

Very fun...but only works if the class is small (less than 20 for sure...better with 10 or 12) and the students know each other fairly well.

What ESL Games do you like?

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    • ESLinsider LM profile image

      ESLinsider LM 

      5 years ago

      I like to use a large and soft die. It's good cause you can use it like dice or you can use it like a ball when needed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for all the suggestions. I am stating as an ESL teacher for the first time today. This has really helped a lot.

    • profile image

      sfmendonca 

      6 years ago

      I think that interactive games are great because it's a good way to keep students involved and engaged in our lessons...

    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 

      7 years ago

      great resource - well done

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      word sun

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 

      7 years ago from Australia

      What a fabulous resource. Games are a great way to learn because they are fun!

    • jp1978 profile image

      jp1978 

      7 years ago

      I teach Science and Math subjects, but I can use these too.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the great site. Lots of helpful stuff on here. I'm a teacher in Japan

    • profile image

      Andy-Po 

      7 years ago

      Very interesting lens

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