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.
Learn more about how to teach kids English.
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, and are not too complex for young learners.
This is a great 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 a 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, 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 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.
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.
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.
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 flash cards 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 students interested and engaged can be a difficult task, but it is a rewarding challenge that everyone in the classroom (including the teacher) can benefit from. If you stay excited about teaching English then your students are sure to follow your behavior. These games for teaching English can be helpful as you look to plan unique and rewarding lessons for your students, of all ages and skill levels!
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