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16 Fun ESL Games and Activities for Kids & Teens

Students play a game of telephone.

Let’s face it, learning English as a second language might not always make the favorite activities list of young learners and teens. However, incorporating ESL games for the classroom into your lesson plans can be a great way to help young students review their knowledge in an interactive, fun, and memorable fashion.

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

How do I make my ESL class interactive?

Making your ESL lessons interactive is important for all levels of English language learners, but perhaps especially so for younger students and teens. This is because children have shorter attention spans and because teens may lack the natural motivation that older students have for language learning.

Keeping your class interactive ensures that students are engaged in the lesson. Here are a few ways to achieve this:

  • Encourage students to speak up by reducing teacher talk time and giving them plenty of opportunities to talk.
  • Find out what your students are interested in and use it in your class. For example, if you’re teaching teens a lesson, try using one of their favorite pop songs to demonstrate the language point.
  • Use a variety of media, such as podcasts, videos, news articles, and music, to keep things interesting and lively.
  • Offer small rewards or other incentives to motivate students. These can be simple, such as, “If everyone participates at least once today, you can choose three short English videos on YouTube to watch next class.”
  • Involve students in the lesson planning. For example, give them two options for activities for the next class and let them vote on which one they want to do. This will make them more invested in the lesson!
  • Incorporate fun ESL games and activities like the ones we’ll show you in this article!

Check out these 11 fun TEFL speaking activities to get your students talking.

What can ESL games do?

Incorporating ESL activities and games into your classroom is a great way to help students learn. Here are a few reasons why using games to teach English is a good idea.

  • ELL activities and games engage students. Because they’re having fun, students will pay attention and participate more. They probably won’t even realize they’re learning!
  • Learning through games helps students retain information. Associating English words or sentence structures with certain activities can help kids and teens recall them better.
  • English games for kids and teens create a lively environment where students are energetic and don’t feel as much pressure as they might during other activities. Focusing on having fun means learners might feel more comfortable speaking in English and making mistakes.
  • Playing ESL games with young learners and teens helps you connect with them. By promoting a fun classroom environment, you will cultivate an authentic relationship with your students and motivate them to learn.
Stefano, an English teacher from Jamaica, teaches young students in China.
ESL games for the classroom can help you connect with your students, motivating them to learn.

Where can I find ESL games for children and teens?

If you’re looking for ESL activities and games to incorporate into your classroom, consider the following resources:

  • Join Facebook groups for ESL teachers, like the Bridge Teaching English Online Group. Other teachers are usually happy to offer advice or share ideas. For example, if you have an upcoming lesson topic and don’t know which activities would be a good fit for it, try asking in a Facebook group!
  • Use websites that offer free ESL lesson plans. Sites like BusyTeacher.org and UsingEnglish.com are great options to get you started, as they have plenty of English games for kindergarteners through adult students.
  • Take a TEFL/TESOL course that includes activity and game ideas. For example, Bridge offers short, Micro-credential courses in Games and Activities for the Online Classroom.
  • Ask your students what games they like to play in their free time. Then, adapt these games for your EFL classroom! Just about any game — Bingo, Taboo, Tic-Tac-Toe, etc. — can be altered to incorporate English language learning concepts.

Find out more about creating materials for the ESL classroom.

ESL/EFL games for teaching English to young learners

Young children can be enthusiastic and active learners. Here are some ESL games for kids that are fun and engaging yet not too complex for young learners.

1. What’s Missing?

In this memory game, the teacher puts about 10-15 target vocabulary words on the board. This can be done by taping flashcards on the board or simply by writing the words or drawing pictures.

The students line up in front of the board and are given about a minute to try to memorize all the vocabulary words they see. Then, the students must turn around so they can’t see the board (no peeking!) and the teacher removes one of the words. Students turn back around and must guess what’s missing. The first student to say the correct word gets a point! (If you use flashcards, you can hand the student the card as an easy way to keep score.)

  • Pro Tip: To add variety, have a student come to the board and take the teacher’s place. You can also use this game to practice grammar, such as by putting verbs on the board and having students say the missing verb in the past tense to get a point.

See the What’s Missing? Game in action in this video from the Teaching English to Young Learners Specialized TEFL/TESOL Course:

2. H-A-N-G-M-A-N

This is a great game for English language learners to practice vocabulary and spelling skills.

  1. Have one student think of a word in their head.
  2. Have this student count how many letters are in the word and then draw underscore marks on the board for each letter in the word.
  3. The other students then take turns guessing letters from the alphabet that they think may be in the chosen word.
  4. If they guess a correct letter, it is written above the corresponding underscore marks and that student then gets a chance to guess what the word is.
  5. If they guess an incorrect letter, it is noted on the board, and one part of the stick figure hangman is drawn.

The goal of the game is to guess the word before a full stick figure is drawn, “hanging” the man.

To put a little twist on the game, draw a person with a parachute. Draw the same number of strings attaching the person to the parachute as the number of letters in the chosen word. The other students then take turns guessing letters from the alphabet that they think may be in the chosen word. If they guess a correct letter, it’s written above the corresponding underscore, and that student then gets a chance to guess what the word is. If they guess an incorrect letter, it is noted on the board and one of the parachute strings is erased. The goal of the game is to guess the word before the person loses all of their parachute strings.

Try these last-minute ESL lesson plans that can be adapted for any class.

an ESL teacher leads a song activity.
Learning through an ESL class game helps students retain information long-term.

3. Categories

This is another fun game for practicing vocabulary. Brainstorm with your students to come up with a list of categories (maybe from new vocabulary you have recently taught), and write each category on a flashcard. Examples could be colors, jobs, or verbs. Choose two students to stand up. Call out a category and a letter of the alphabet (for example, “colors” and “b”). The first student to come up with something from within that category that begins with the letter is the winner and remains standing. Choose another student to go against the winner, and repeat with a new category and letter.

Get even more ESL games for young learners by downloading the free eBook, Teaching Online Games and Activities (TOGAS) – Young Learners.

4. Bingo

For this classic game adapted for young learners, you can create bingo cards and a call sheet or print them from a website like Bingo Baker. For your call sheet, you can use the usual numbers and letters or get more creative with the vocabulary you have recently taught. For very young students, use pictures instead of words.

Cut up the call sheet and put the squares into a hat. Give each student a bingo card as well as something to mark their card with. Allow each student a turn to be the “caller.” Have the caller pick one square at a time from the hat and call out what is on the square. The other students listen for what is called and mark the word or image on their card. The first student to mark their entire bingo card calls out “Bingo!” and is the winner.

What is task-based learning? Find out about this popular teaching method!

5. Alphabet Relay

To play this ESL game for children, divide your students into two groups. Have each group write the letters of the alphabet on pieces of paper you give them to make flashcards. Shuffle each group of flashcards and place them in two piles on one side of the room. Have each group line up on the opposite side of the room. On the word “Go,” the first student in each line has to run across the room, find the letter A, and bring it back to their group. The next student finds the letter B, and so on. The first group to get to Z wins!

Anna, teaches kids English in Vietnam.
Fun activities for ESL students build rapport between the teacher and students and among the students.

6. Memory

Pick five small objects and hide them under a piece of cloth. Show the objects to your students for a minute or two and then cover up the objects again. See how many of the objects your students can remember. Add more objects to make the game more challenging.

7. Telephone

Students form a circle and one student starts by whispering a sentence into the ear of the student next to them. Have students incorporate at least one new vocabulary word or the newly learned grammar structure in their sentence. The second student then whispers the same sentence in the next student’s ear, and so on. At the end of the circle, have the last student say the sentence aloud and see how close (or hilariously far) it is from the original sentence!

Need ideas for the virtual classroom too? Here are 11 low-prep ESL games for teaching online.

8. Ball Toss

Keep an inflatable ball in your classroom (or use something else, like a balled-up piece of paper, in a pinch!). Choose a question/instruction based on the lesson/level you just taught, e.g., “Name a fruit!” The student must answer and then toss the ball to another student to answer. Change the question mid-game. The random nature of the ball toss keeps students on their toes.

Need more game and activity ideas for young learners? Check out the Micro-credential Games and Activities for the Online Classroom (Young Learners).

EFL/ESL games for teaching English to teenagers

Teenagers and students with more experience with English are typically better able to use it more productively and communicatively. These ESL games can be a great way to get your teenage or intermediate learners involved in the classroom and prompt them to use their knowledge of English.

Teaching online? Take a look at this 5-point checklist for planning online ESL games for teens.

Teen ESL students play a game of charades.
Teen ESL students play games.

9. English Only!

Turn it into a competition to speak only English during the whole period. Keep a tally on the whiteboard for each time a student speaks in their native tongue. This keeps them focusing on English, and fellow students even turn into “English police.” To turn it into a reward/consequences game that everyone can enjoy, have the student with the most tallies bring a treat for the whole class next time. Cookies for everyone!

  • Pro Tip: You can extend learning beyond the classroom with a language app like FLOW Speak, which provides a fun, low-stakes way for students to practice conversations in English. Students complete short, 2-7 minute conversation activities while the app uses voice recording technology to analyze responses and provide instant, AI-powered feedback. Students enjoy the conversation activities and can practice lessons repeatedly to work on sounding natural. Teachers can access the app’s admin dashboard to track progress and plan activities around areas of need highlighted by the app. Language apps like these are a fun, simple way to build students’ confidence and supplement classroom instruction.

10. Balloon Sentence Race

This high-energy game (from the Bridge Specialized TEFL/TESOL Certification Course in Teaching Teenagers) incorporates balloon popping and cell phones, so it’s perfect for teens or young adults. It can also be adapted to a variety of language levels and target grammar.

Students play the game in the following way:

  • When the teacher says “go,” the students race to the board to grab a balloon and bring it back to the table.
  • Each student pops his or her balloon to access the paper strips inside, which have words on them.
  • Students must race to arrange the words on the pieces of paper into a correctly-formed question (for example, “What’s the longest word in the English language?”).
  • Once they’ve formed the question correctly, students must use their cell phones to look up the answer.
  • The first student to tell the teacher the correct answer to the question wins!

Find out how to create ESL grammar lesson plans.

11. Around the World

Have one student stand next to a seated student. The standing student must make it around the world (around the class) by correctly answering the question before each of the seated students does. An example of a question might be “What is the correct past tense ending of [insert an infinitive verb]?” Change the verb with each turn. If the standing student can answer correctly enough times to make it around the class, they have won! If a standing student is defeated by the seated student, they switch places and it is the new student’s turn to try to make it around the world.

Read about the most popular and effective ESL teaching methods.

12. Hot Potato

Pass a ball or other object around the room and when the music stops, the student with the ball has to answer a question, make a question, or draw a prompt out of a bag — you decide, though it is best to stick to one format for the duration of the game!

An EFL teacher playing a game with young students in Asia.
Incorporating ESL games creates a more engaged, relaxed atmosphere for English language learners.

13. Roll the Dice, Make a Question

Write the numbers one through six on the board and a different question word (who, what, why, where, when, how) next to each one. When a student rolls the dice, he or she needs to make a question with the corresponding question word. Then, the student will call on a classmate to answer it.

Get even more ESL games for teens by downloading the free eBook, Teaching Online Games and Activities (TOGAS) – Teenagers.

14. Minimal Pairs

Use minimal pairs (words that sound similar and are often mispronounced by EFL learners) to make a list on the board. Examples: 1. very 2. berry 3. kitchen 4. chicken 5. three 6. tree 7. sixty 8. sixteen 9. sit 10. six. Students must write a number five or six digits long and then say their number using only the corresponding words. For example, if the student’s number is 23354, they’d have to say “berry, kitchen, kitchen, three, chicken.” Students take turns listening and trying to guess the other student’s number.

Check out other ESL pronunciation games.

15. Never-Ending Story

Students form a circle (this can be as a whole class or in small groups). Write a sentence that could start a story, ideally incorporating vocabulary or grammar from the day’s lesson. Give the sentence to the first student, who continues the story by writing the second sentence before she passes it to the next student, who continues. At the end of the circle, have a student read the completed story. It is sure to get a laugh!

16. Your Day in Emojis

Using your phone, make a pictorial representation of any day in your recent past using only emojis. Take a screenshot, and then share it with your students (either give them handouts or display it on your screen if teaching online). Individually, with partners, or in groups, have students make simple past sentences about your emojis.

emoji ESL game

For example, using the photo above, which represents a Saturday, they could say something like, “She slept in. She woke up and ate breakfast. She watched some TV and took a shower. Then, she went to the park for a run. Next, she went home and read while she listened to music. Later, she got a coffee with her friends. Finally, she went home and slept.” It’s funny to see what your students come up with! Whichever student/pair/team is closest to correct wins.

Afterward, have students make an emoji pictorial of their weekends (or any day in the near past) on their phones. Then, see if the other students can figure out what they did from the emojis.

Keeping young students interested and engaged can be a difficult task, but if you do, everyone in the classroom (including the teacher) benefits. These games and activities for teaching English to kids and teens can help plan effective lessons for students of all ages and levels!

Looking for more ESL games for teaching teens? Check out the Micro-credential Games and Activities for the Online Classroom (Teenagers).

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