It can be a challenge for ESL (English as a second language) teachers to keep students engaged in the classroom. It is important to find ways to make learning English and teaching English fun.
When students are learning a foreign language, they can be shy or nervous about speaking or making mistakes. This is normal for anyone learning a new language. Teachers can use games to help take away pressure by making it fun.
Fun games and activities are a great way to make both teaching and learning enjoyable. They will liven up your lesson and ensure students are excited to come back to school and learn more.
As well as being fun, they are very helpful to test vocabulary or grammar, to practice conversation and to learn tenses and sentence structure; or used for more advanced learning with English idioms exercises.
Best Ways to use ESL Games
WARM UP – Games can be used to begin the class by helping everyone feel comfortable, relaxed and excited. Use them as physical health games to get students moving and get their brains energized for the class ahead.
BREAK – Use games to give students a break when concentration is starting to go, or if you are delivering a particularly tough lesson.
REWARD – It can even be used as a reward for when the class is doing well and they deserve a treat. You can even use prizes as encouragement to give to the winners of the games.
WRAP UP – Games are also a great way to end the class or fill the last moments if a lesson has finished a few minutes earlier than expected. Your students will leave in a good mood, happy and looking forward to coming back.
There are dozens of games you can use in the classroom, which can be adapted to suit all ages and levels.
Here are 10 of the most popular classroom games for ESL teachers; for adults and kids and how to implement them in your classroom.
Best ESL games for Adults
These games are also suitable for older children; but will be particularly useful with adult students as they can be made challenging enough to engage an older or more advanced learner.
This is a popular ESL game and can be tailored to whatever is being taught. It gets the students moving and energised.
- Divide the class into two teams and assign a topic, like applying correct grammar, listing words in a category or using words in a sentence.
- Students from each group race to the board in relay style, taking turns to write the correct answer in their team’s column.
- The team to finish with all correct answers first wins.
This game practices speaking and listening skills using synonyms and descriptions.
- Split the class into teams.
- Students take turns to sit in the hot seat facing their team.
- Write a word on the board behind the student.
- Their team tries to help the student in the hot seat guess the word by describing it.
- Then a student from the next team takes their turn in the hot seat and so on until all students have played.
Two Truths and a Lie
This game helps to improve speaking skills. It is a good ice-breaker to help students get to know each other.
- Each student writes three statements about themselves on a piece of paper. Two of them should be true, and one should be a lie.
- Call them up one by one to write their statements on the board.
- Their classmates then question the student about their statements to try to guess which one is a lie.
What’s My Problem?
Speaking and listening are improved with this game and students can practice giving advice.
- Write out a range of problems and ailments on post-it notes or cards. Stick one note on each student’s back or have them hold the card to their foreheads.
- The students walk around the classroom and exchange advice with each other to solve their problem.
- Everyone then has to guess their answer based on the advice they got from their classmates.
Charades or Pictionary
These vocabulary games break up the routine of standard lessons, generating a high level of energy and excitement.
- Divide the class into teams.
- One student comes up to the board and picks a prepared word.
- The student draws or acts out the word and the rest of the team guess what it is.
- Then a student from the next team draws or acts out another word.
- The team with the most points wins.
Best ESL games for kids
These games can also be used with adult learners but tend to be much easier and therefore more popular and helpful with young learners.
How Old are You?
This is a beginner game, for very young learners in a large class. It helps students remember numbers through repetition.
- Give each student a sheet of paper with 9 squares.
- In the middle square they write an age, from 1 to 12.
- They go and ask their classmates, “How old are you?”
- Each student answers “I am…” followed by the number in their middle square.
- The student who asked the question writes this new number in a free square.
- The game is over when everyone has filled their squares with different numbers.
Find the colour
This game is also perfect for very young learners as it is very easy and a lot of fun, practicing only colours.
- Gather all the students together and then call out “find something…,” and finish with a colour.
- The children must run to touch something in the classroom with the correct colour.
Stand Up If You…
Another active game that tests vocabulary skills, easily tailored to whatever lesson you are practicing and is best for large groups.
- Form a sitting circle with the class and stand in the middle.
- Call out the instruction “Stand up if you…” and finish with a description like “have brown hair.”
- Everyone with brown hair stands up and runs to switch places with each other while you steal a spot.
- Whoever is left in the middle has to call out the next question.
A game that practices the students vocabulary and writing.
- Write a word vertically on the board.
- Call students up to the board to write a word starting with each letter of the vertical word.
- To make it more challenging, only allow words related to the vertical word you write.
Last Man Standing
This is an active game that practices vocabulary and encourages peer learning.
- Form the class in a standing circle with a ball.
- Name a category, like food or countries.
- Toss the ball to one student.
- They must think of a related word, shout it out and toss the ball to someone else.
- Each student, in turn, must shout a new word.
- If they repeat a word or can’t think of a new one quick enough, they sit down.
- Last one standing wins the game.
Let the Fun and Learning Into your Classroom
When students are having fun, it is actually easier to learn and they remember more. Your students will be more focused and enthusiastic; more connected and engaged.
It also improves interaction and participation, even from the most shy, so it improves confidence and allows for co-operation.
You really can’t go wrong with ESL Games for adults or children to keep the class fun, active and challenging. Introduce these games into your classroom or come up with your own and watch your students flourish.