So you landed your first TEFL gig for adults. You might be thinking: “What the @#$% am I going to teach now without my arsenal of fun TEFL games?” Fear not, dear TEFLer! While adults may appear serious and boring, they enjoy a good game just as much as your average elementary-schooler. Perhaps even more so: get an adult to enter a space of childlike wonder and playfulness and you have one happy student on your hands.

Not all games work well with adults (you can toss Simon Says aside), so I’m going to share a few favorites that are guaranteed to get your adult students out of snore mode and into play mode.

Two Truths and a Lie

This always seemed to get my adult classes going, especially when I (the teacher) participated. They were so curious to learn juicy facts about me! Here’s how you play: Students pick three unusual statements about themselves: two must be true statements, and one must be false. The goal for the rest of the students is to determine which statement is false. This is a great ice-breaker or time filler when your lesson goes shorter than expected.

Movie Trivia

I happened to teach adults in Buenos Aires where most people are huge film nerds, so this game was always a crowd pleaser. The more obscure and artsy the film is, the better. Students divide into teams. One person from each team writes facts about a movie on the board. “It involves time travel.” “It takes place in the 80’s.” The other team members have to guess the movie. If they can’t guess, the other team gets a chance. A variation on this game is movie Pictionary or Charades. Movie titles are often translated differently in different countries, so this can be the challenging and tricky part of the game.

Jeopardy

Jeopardy might be the holy grail of ESL classroom games. I first discovered its powers when teaching eighth graders in Patagonia. It was pure madness! And lo and behold, Jeopardy got a bunch of adults in Buenos Aires just as fired up as the kiddos, if not more so! Here’s the version I used:
  • Prepare one or two rounds of Jeopardy, depending on how much time you have. I set it up just like the TV show, with clues valued at $100-$500 for regular and $200-$1000 for double Jeopardy. Then, I create categories such as “past-continuous,” and “food vocab” etc. I write the value of the clue on one side of paper and the question on the other side.
  • Students divide into 2-3 teams, depending on the size of the group. One team will call out the clue, such as “Past-continuous for $300.” I read the clue, and the first person to raise their hand gets a chance to answer. (Just like real Jeopardy.) The team that answers correctly first gets to choose the next clue.
  • I keep track of the score on a whiteboard. I do subtract money for wrong answers.
  •  We end with a final jeopardy clue; typically something from a class discussion or reading that will test their memory. They get to choose their wager just like the real show.

Have fun, and be prepared for your adults to be fired up and jumping out of their seats on this one.

The Great Debate

This is a great one for more advanced students. Show photos of a controversial subject matter, such as a photo essay of an area with civil unrest, war, etc. Divide students into two teams and assign each team an opinion on the matter. For example, one side is pro-war in Afghanistan and the other side thinks the war should stop. It is important to assign opinions so students will speak freely in their roles and not feel like they are actually sharing their personal thoughts. I find that adults can get really passionate about this one, especially when discussing relevant current events. You can also read an article about the topic beforehand to pre-teach key concepts and vocabulary in English.

How-To Game

This game can be really fun and it is great for practicing imperative commands. First, pre-teach an example of simple how-to instructions (how to tie your shoes) and have your students actually follow along with the steps. You can also use videos to pre-teach; check out YouTube and Howcast for some fun ones. Next, divide students into teams. Have each team write up a set of instructions for a secret task. Encourage them to be creative and outrageous (How to travel through time; how to make $1,000,000 dollars, etc.) Teams take turns delivering the instructions to each other and then guessing what the task was. My students got really creative and wrote instructions on how to turn Sarah into a porteña…

These are some of my favorites for getting adults to loosen up and have fun. Try them and let me know how they work out! What are your favorites?

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