Let’s face it, learning English as a second language might not always make young learners’ and teens’ list of favorite activities. However, incorporating ESL games like these into your lesson plans can be a great way to help young students review their knowledge in an interactive, fun, and memorable fashion.
Get even more ESL game ideas for kids in the Bridge Micro-credential course: Games and Activities for the Online Classroom (Young Learners).
How do I make my class interactive?
Making your ESL lessons interactive is important for all levels of 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 a few ways to achieve this:
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.
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:
ESL/EFL Games for Teaching English to Young 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
In this memory game, 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.)
See The What’s Missing Game in action in this video from the Teaching English to Young Learners Specialized TEFL/TESOL Course:
This is a great ESL kids game to have your students practice vocabulary and spelling skills.
- Have one student think of a word in their head.
- 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.
- 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 is written above the corresponding underscore marks 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 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.
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. Chose another student to go against the winner, and repeat with a new category and letter.
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 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 called word or image on their card. The first student to mark their entire bingo card calls out “Bingo!” and is the winner.
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!
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.
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 out loud and see how close (or hilariously far) it is from the original sentence!
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.
EFL/ESL Games for Teaching English to Teenagers
Teenagers and students with more experience with English are typically better able to use it 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.
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/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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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. 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 own 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!