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Games for ESL Teachers

This page is for teachers looking for new games to play in class.


1. Board Game with Rock, Paper, Scissors

Line up the words or sentences you want to practice in a line on the board or on the floor. Divide the class into 2 teams and put a marker for each team at the beginning of the row of cards. Pick a student from each team to come to the front of the class and play Rock, Paper, Scissors. The student who wins has to say the first word, and his team must repeat it after him/her. If the student can say the word, then that team's marker can be moved along 1 card/ space. Continue playing until 1 team has reached the last card and wins.

Tips: You can enforce discipline by telling the students that if they are unruly, then you will move their team's marker back 1 point.

2. Board Game with "Pick a hand"

Line up the words or sentences you want to practice in a line on the board or on the floor. Divide the class into 2 teams and put a marker for each team at the beginning of the row of cards. Hide a small object in one of your hands and ask a student from 1 team to pick a hand. If they pick
the hand with the object, then move their team marker 2 spaces if they can say the word or sentence on the space on which their marker lands. If they pick the hand without the object, only move their team marker 1 space. Continue playing until 1 team has reached the last card and wins.


3. Board Game "Snakes and Ladders" with "Pick a hand"

This game is played similarly to No. 2 but with the addition of a snake and a ladder. You don't need a game board for this; in fact you can draw your own simple game board in a minute (see below and sorry for the poor image quality). If the marker lands on the snake's tail, the team goes back to space 2 at the bottom. If the student answers correctly on space 3, their team can go up the ladder.


ein Bild


4. Games to practice "Feel, Smell and Taste"

Blindfold a student at the front of the class and tell him/her to feel his/her way back to his/her seat. After, use the blindfold to elicit 'Feel'. Variations on this game are to turn the student around to disorient them and then
they have to find their way back to their seat within a time limit.

To practice 'Smell', pick a student and have then turn their back to the class. Take a dab of perfume and put it on the upper side of another student's hands. Let the first student turn around and have them smell the perfume on your fingers. Ask the first student to smell everyone's hands
and discover who has the perfume on their hands.

Variations on this are:
-- to give the student a time limit to find who has the perfume
-- to put the perfume on several students' hands and ask the first student to tell you how many other students have the perfume
-- to put the perfume on many students hands and ask the first student to tell you how many people do not have the perfume
-- to have a race between 2 teams to see which team can find the perfume first

To practice 'Taste', bring pictures from magazines of delicious food. Show students either a picture or a mundane object, like the board eraser. If what you show them is yummy, they must say 'taste'. If what you show them is yucky or inedible, they must say 'no'.


5. Bobbing Paper Game

Divide the class into 4 teams, get a piece of thread and have 2 tall students hold the ends. Use clothesline clips to clip 4 pieces of paper at spaced intervals along the line. Pick a student from each team and tell them to put their hands behind their backs. They then have to jump and
try to catch the card with their mouths. When they get the card, they have to say what it is and their team has to repeat. If the student knows the word and the team repeats properly, the team can get a point.


6. RC Car Game

For this game, you need a radio-controlled car. Divide the class into teams and place the flashcards on the floor. Say a word and the student has to drive the car onto the corresponding card; when the student has done this, he/she passes the remote control to the next student on the team. Say another word and the student has to drive the car onto
that other word. You can time the teams and find out which one is fastest. Also, you can give a student from the opposite team the chance to be the teacher and say the words.


7. Write it!

This game is good for practicing writing and spelling. Divide the class into 2 or 3 teams and pick a student from each team. Say a word and each student has to try to write a sentence of at least 5 words using the word.

I have seen other teachers using variations on this. They include having every student on the team having to write the same word, one after the other. Or to practice writing a sentence, each student could write 1 letter, like a relay race. The first team to finish wins.


8. True / False Game

This game practices speaking and listening. Divide the class into 2 teams. Ask 1 person from Team 1 to come to the front of the class and show him/her a flashcard. The student can either tell the truth (ie. say the word that corresponds to the card) or tell a lie (say a word different to what is on the card). Members of Team 2 have to guess whether the student is telling the truth or lying. If they think he/she is telling the truth, they stand up. If they think he/she is lying, they remain seated. See how many students are correct and give Team 2 that number of points.

For large classes, the teacher (or a student) tells the truth or lies up to 10 times. Again, students stand for the truth or sit for a lie. Then show the card. If students are correct, they give themselves a point. Afterwards, see who has the most points in the class.


9. Guess it!

Simply hold a bunch of flashcards in your hand but students are not allowed to see. Ask them to guess which one you have. The student who guesses correctly gets the chance to do an action. You can play this game many times, using a different action each time you play it.

a) Basketball- try to throw a ball into a bucket
b) Football- try to kick a ball into a goal
c) Try to knock over a stuffed animal with the ball
d) Throw a dice and their team can get the number of points that they throw
e) Bowling- Line up several cassette tapes on the floor and the student has to try to knock them over with a ball. Their team can get points according to how many tapes fall over.
f) Darts- Blow up a balloon and stick it on the board. The student who guesses correctly gets to throw a dart at the balloon. If it bursts, their team can get points. You can make a dart from a chopstick, tipped with a straightened staple, and piece of a plastic bag to act as the tail.
g) Golf- student tries to hit ball between two markers

h) Hit the hat - the student and her neighbour come to the front of the class. The student's neighbour stands with her back turned. Place a paper hat on her head. The first student stands 2 metres away and throws a soft ball, trying to knock the hat off her neighbour's head. She gets two tries; if she succeeds on the first try, her team can get 3 points, 2 points for the second try, and 1 point if she fails to knock the hat off.


10. Guess a card

This is good for practicing the order of the sentences in a song, dialog or rhyme. Place the sentences in random order on the board, but facing the board so the students cannot see them. Over each card, place another card with 2 numbers-the first number corresponds to the card number,
the second to the number of points that that particular card holds.

From the first team, pick a student who has to pick a card, ie. say a card number. Look behind the card to see if this is the first sentence in the rhyme. If it is, turn the card over and the team stands and says the sentence. If they do it properly, they can get the points on the card.

If the card is not the first sentence, do not turn it over but ask a student from the next team to guess a card number. When the first sentence is guessed, go onto the second sentence. And so on.

 

11. Traffic Game

This game can be used to practice Stop/Go or the colours red and green.

Pick two people in the class, one wearing red clothes and one wearing green clothes. They act as your traffic light. They face the class and you stand behind them and show the class a flashcard with red or green. The class says Stop or Go accordingly. If you show red, the class says Stop, and the person with red clothes remains standing but the person with green has to stoop down. And vice versa if you show green.

Pick some people and give them drivers wheels cut from paper. They are your cars and they drive along the 'road' in front of the traffic light. If the class says Stop, they must stop in front of the traffic light. And Go if the class says Go. Anyone who breaks the traffic light gets arrested byt he police (another student) and taken to jail.

(Credit is given to Elizabeth who provided the initial idea of using students clothes as traffic light colours.)

 

12. Erase it!

Divide the class into 2 teams and draw 2 human figures on the board. Play Guess it! with the students and which team guesses correctly gets to erase part of the other team's figure, either an arm or leg etc. The team who erases the other team first wins.

 

13. Raining Rice

This game is like the trick of balancing a bucket of water above a door.

Count the number of students (Z) in the class. Write down on a piece of paper 1, 2, 3, ..., Z. Cut the numbers out and place them in a hat. Mark a blue X on the floor. Pick a number from the hat and ask that student to answer a question. If she answers correctly, give her a ball and stand her on the X. Pick another number from the hat and have that student sit about 3 metres away from the X.

Use a stiff piece of wire to join a cup at one end and a heavier, stiff piece of plastic (or metal or stiff card) at the other end. Wind the middle of the wire around one end of a broomstick so that it is slack and can move. Place some rice in the cup and hold the other end of the broomstick so that the cup is over the student's head.

The student with the ball has to throw it and try to hit the piece of plastic. If the ball hits the plastic, the cup will tilt over and the rice will fall on the seated student's head, generating laughs.

(Note: Ask the seated student to place her hands on her ears so no rice falls in.)


14. Cliffhanger

This game can be used to practice words or sentences. Draw a gorge with several stepping stones (2 or 3) in between. Divide the class into 2, 3 or 4 teams, and draw a man for each team at left end of the gorge. On the stepping stones and on the other side, you can write a word. Pick a person from one team and they must come to the front of the class and pick a word from you. (They cannot see the words.)

For their team to cross to the first stone, the student has to pick the word on that stone. Otherwise they cannot move. If they pick the correct word, erase their man and re-draw him on his new location. Then another student from the next team tries to pick the correct word. The team to reach the other side of the gorge first wins.

A variation on this game is to tell students that a tiger is on the left side of the gorge and wants to eat them. So they have to jump. If they pick the wrong word, their man jumps into the gorge and dies so the team is eliminated from the game.

 

15. Shooting

Load a rubber band onto a ruler and students have to aim and fire at cards on board. Whichever card they hit, they must say the word or phrase associated with that card.


16. Darts with a ball

Draw a multi-coloured dart board on the chalkboard. Students have to perform a task like saying a rhyme etc. If they are correct, give them a ball and have them stand a few metres away, aim and throw the ball at the board. Their team gets points based on where the ball hit.


17. Battleship

This is a take on the boardgame Battleship. Divide the class into 2 teams and draw two 7 X 7 grids on the board, labeled A-G on top, and 1-7 on the left. On a sheet of paper, also draw two 7X 7 grids and in them, write 3 words. Pick a student to guess a square, like B2. Check B2 on your paper; if it has a letter, write it in the square on the board. If there is no letter in B2, then write an X in it on the board or colour it red. A student from the next team can then guess. When all the words have been discovered, that team wins.


18. Who's the Rabbit?

Divide the class into two teams. Pick a student to read a rhyme or whatever it is you are teaching. Then blindfold that student and put a piece of carrot in his hand. Pick 2 more students, 1 from each team and set them in front of the first student, on his left and right. Place a set of rabbit ears on each student. The blindfolded student must choose a rabbit to give the carrot to. If he gives it to the rabbit who is on his team, his team can get 3 points. But if he gives it to the rabbit from the other team, the other team gets 1 point.


19. Postman

Divide the class into two teams and place 3 sentences on the board. Have everyone take a small piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, the students write either 1 or 0. On the right side, they write 1, 2 or 3. Then they fold it. Tell students this is their letter.

Pick a student (S1) from 1 team and that student has to choose a student (S2) on the other team to give their letter. S2 can either accept or refuse the letter.

If S2 accepts the letter and the number in the left column is 1, S2 must read the sentence corresponding to the number in the right column. So if the number in the right column is 3, S2 must read sentence 3. You can then award his team 3 points (2 points for sentence 2 etc.).

If S2 accepts the letter and the number in the left column is 0, then S1 can read the sentence and get the corresponding number of points.

If S2 refuses the letter and the number in the left column is 1, then S1 can read the sentence and get the corresponding number of points.

If S2 refuses the letter and the number in the left column is 0, then S2 can read the sentence and get the corresponding number of points.

You can vary this game by changing the number of sentences. At the end, tally up the points and see which team wins.


20. Spin the Wheel

Take a paper plate, make a hole through the centre and hang it on a piece of stiff wire. Also thread an arrow / pointer through the wire. Divide the plate into 8 sections and write numbers 1- 8 on each section.

On the board, line up 8 words or sentences. Pick a student from each team. They must spin the plate. (Hold the plate vertically so the whole class can see. Otherwise you will lose their attention.) When it comes to rest, they must read the sentence corresponding to the number the arrow is pointing to. Then you can give their team that number of points.

A variation on this game is based on the game show 'The Price is Right':

Divide the class into 2 teams and pick a student from each team. Each student can have up to 2 turns of the wheel. If the on the first turn, the pointer lands on too low a number (say 2), the student can spin again. If he spins again (and gets 4), add up both numbers (to make a total of 6).

The other team's student then spins and tries to get a higher score than the first student.

If the total of the 2 spins exceeds 8, that team automatically loses because there are only 8 sentences on the board.

 

Good games that I did not think of


1. Clap Hands Game

Place 4 or 5 flashcards on the board and point to one of them and say a word. If the word corresponds to the card, then students clap their hands twice. If the word you say does not match the card, then students thump their desks twice and say the correct word.


2. Ugly Face Game

This game is good for practicing question and answer patterns. Divide the class into 2 teams and draw 2 big blank faces / circles on the board. Show a flashcard to Team 1 only and someone from the Team 2 asks a question about the flashcard. Like, 'Is it an apple?' Team 1 replies
'Yes, it is.' or 'No, it isn't. It's a pear.' If Team 2 has guessed wrongly (ie. No, it isn't.) then one person from Team 1 gets to draw 2 eyes on the face of Team 2's face. If Team 2 guesses correctly, then the person asking the
question from Team 2 gets to draw 2 eyes on Team 1's face.

Then, switch and Team 1 gets to ask Team 2. The aim is to draw the other team's face as ugly as possible. So first eyes, then ears, then nose and mouth, then hair. The team which has the uglier face at the end loses; ie. the team that draws the uglier face wins.

Alternatively, on Halloween, you can play scary faces.


3. Four Boxes Game

Place 4 boxes in front of the class and ask each student to write on separate pieces of paper a time, a place, and an action. Put their names in the first box, the time in the second box, the place in the third box, and the action in the fourth box. Then each student comes to the front, picks a piece of paper from each box, and makes a sentence from them.


4. Police and Thief

Divide the class into 2 teams. Pick a person from each team, one to be the police, and one to be the thief. Line up flashcards on the board and set the police a distance away from the cards. The thief has to go to the board and say one of the words on the flashcard, then snatch the card and run back to his/her seat. As soon as the thief snatches the card, but not before, the police has to try to catch the thief before he/she sits down. If the police succeeds, then their team can get a point, and vice versa. Switch roles and the other team gets a chance to be the police.


5. Don't say Yes or No Game

This game produces a lot of laughs but the students must be able to speak some English. Divide the class into 2 teams. Pick a student to come to the front of the class and students from the other team must ask any kind of question for a minute. The student can answer anything but cannot say Yes or No. If he or she says Yes or No, then they go back to their seat. If the student succeeds, their team can get points.

 

6. Jump Around!

Divide the class into 2 or 3 groups and give a person from each group a card to place behind their back. Their opponents cannot see their card. Then they have to jump around trying to see what card their opponent/s has behind their back. When they see, they say the word and their opponent sits down. You can give points to the winner's team.

A variation is to divide the class into 2 groups and pick 2 students from each group to play the game together.

 

7. Rice Heist

This game is good for practicing spelling. Give each student a bit of rice and write a word on the board. Using the rice grains, they have to spell out the word on their desks. When they are finished, they stand and spell out the word, then say it. The first 5 students can get a sticker.

8. Stop!

Show students a card and say a word. If the word corresponds to the card, students say nothing, or they can show a correct / tick sign with their fingers. But if the word you say doesn't match the word or picture on the card, students stretch out their hand, palms facing you and shout "Stop!" and say the correct word. You can give a student the chance to be the teacher.


9. What's Missing?

Initially show students 6 cards, less for younger kids. Then pick a student and show only 5 cards. Ask what the missing card is. To make it even harder, you could show less cards like 4 cards and ask the student what the two missing cards are.


10. Buzz it!


The idea for this game came from the buzzers on Family Feud. Divide the class into 2 teams and pick a student from each team. Place 2 upturned bowls on a desk in the front of the class. Have the students stand next to the bowls and hold a spoon behind their backs. Describe something or do an action. The students have to hit the bowl with the spoon if they know the answer to your riddle. If they are right, you can give their team 2 points, if wrong, you can minus 1 point from their team.


11. Join the dots

Divide the class into 2 teams and assign each team one piece of chalk, either red or blue. Draw a grid made of unconnected dots on the board. Say you have 5 words. Think of a word and ask a student to guess a word. If they guess correctly, they can use their team's chalk to connect two of the dots. Then continue guessing a word. When the team has formed a triangle (or rectangle), you can give them points.


12. Tic tac toe

Divide the class into 2 teams, one team is X, the other is O. Draw a 3 X 3 grid on the board and write a word in each square. Pick a student from a team and they must say the word on which they want to put an X or O. The first team to get three Xs or Os in a row wins.


13. Bingo

Write 20 or 25 words on the board. Tell students to draw a 3 X 3 grid on a piece of paper, pick 9 words and write 1 in each square. Write all the words on paper, cut them out and fold them, and put them in a bag. Pick a student to come and pick a word from the bag. If students have that word on their grid, they can cross it out. When they get 3 in a row, column or diagonally, they shout Bingo.

To make this game longer, play until all 9 words have been crossed out.

 

14. What time is it, Mr. Wolf?

I used this well-known game to practice the question and answer "What do you hear?", "I hear a cow. It goes moo moo." Students must put their pencil boxes on the desk, then sit up with their hands behind their back. They ask 'What do you hear?' and I make an animal sound. Then they reply, "I hear a ... It goes ..." But if I roar like a tiger, then I will try to grab some pencil boxes. The students must try to grab their pencil boxes and put it behind their backs before I can.


15. The ancient game of Tug of War

Divide the class into 2 teams and pick 2 students from each team to perform a song or rhyme, or whatever you are teaching. If they are successful, hand them a skipping rope. Two students must hold one end, the other two the other end. Say go and each side must try to pull the other students across the middle line.

 

New games will be added as I think of or hear of them.


A good website for ESL games is Dave's ESL cafe
(www.eslcafe.com)

However, these games are in a jumble. Here are some of the better ones

Chinese Whispers
Dunken Lukes "Blind Body Parts"
Ghosts and spiders

 
  Updated July 9 2017





 
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