ESL Games & Activities for Kids

By Bridge
December 10, 2019
Kindergarten Students of English Teacher in Wanli, China, Erin Coyle

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

ESL/EFL Games for Teaching English to Children   

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.

The What’s Missing Game

This interactive, competitive game from the Bridge Teaching Young Learners Specialized TEFL Certification Course is also good for reviewing recently-learned vocabulary.



The teacher puts about 10-15 target vocabulary words on the board. This can be done by taping flashcards to 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.)

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 past tense to get a point.

H-A-N-G-M-A-N

This is a great game to have your students 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, this is written above the corresponding underscore and that student then gets a chance to guess what the word is.
  5. If they guess an incorrect letter, this letter 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, this is written above the corresponding underscore, and that student then gets a chance to guess what the word is. If they guess an incorrect letter, this letter 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.

ESL Teacher Using Songs

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 called is the winner and remains standing. Chose another student to go against the winner and repeat with a new category and letter.

Bingo

For this classic game adapted for young learners, you can either create bingo cards and a call sheet or print them out from a website such as this one: https://bingobaker.com/. For your call sheet, you can use the usual numbers and letters, or get more creative with vocabulary you have recently studied. For very young students, use pictures instead of words.

Cut out 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 called word or image on their card. The first student to mark their entire bingo card calls out “Bingo!” and is the winner.

Alphabet Relay

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!

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.

EFL/ESL Games for Teaching English to Teenagers

Teenagers and students with more experience with English are typically better able to use English in a more productive and communicative fashion. 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.

Teen ESL conversation activity

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!

Balloon Sentence Race

This high-energy game (from the Bridge Specialized TEFL 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 their question wins!

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 “the correct past tense ending of an infinitive verb” – the more irregular the better. 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.

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 the bag – you decide, though it is best to stick to one format for the duration of the game!

TEFL Teacher with class in Asia

Roll the Dice, Make a Question

Write 1-6 on the board, and a different question word (who, what, why, where, when, how) next to each. 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.

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 can help plan effective lessons for your students of all ages and levels!

Are you interested in becoming a specialist in teaching English to kids? Earn a BridgeTEFL Certificate in Teaching English to Young Learners and Teenagers!