11 Low-Prep ESL Games for Teaching Online

By Krzl Light Nunes
May 19, 2020
Online teacher playing a game with young student

Who doesn’t love playing games? Whether you use them to practice ESL vocabulary or simply break the ice with your students, games always make English classes more fun and engaging. Check out the following 11 great ESL games for teaching online that you can play with your young students and teenagers (or even adults) that require minimal to no teacher preparation.

  1. Find Something…
  2. Hidden Objects
  3. Objects Pictionary
  4. Odd One Out
  5. Tell Me 5
  6. Word Chain
  7. The Bragging Game
  8. Classmate Speculation
  9. The Sentence Maker
  10. Tic-Tac-Toe 2.0
  11. ESL Jeopardy

ESL Games for Teaching English Online to Young Learners

1. Find Something…

This ESL game for teaching kids online is great for practicing students’ listening and thinking skills, and for reviewing vocabulary.

How to play


Ask the online student to look around his or her room and find something of a certain color. For example, you can ask the student to find something that is pink. Give the student a minute or two to look around the room for an object that’s pink such as a hair bow or a marker.

Alternatively, you can ask the student to look for something that begins with a specific letter. For instance, he or she can find an object that begins with the letter P, like a pillow or a pen.

Variation


You can ask the student to find something in your online classroom. This object, of course, will have to visible on your screen where your student can see it without you having to move the camera around. It can be an object, a word, or a picture in your background.

2. Hidden Objects

This online ESL game is an effective and fun way to practice vocabulary and listening or reading comprehension. You can use this free online ESL game for reviewing nouns, adjectives, and even prepositions of place.

Hidden Objects Game for Teaching English Online

How to play


Before the class, find or prepare a photo with many different objects (e.g. a messy room, a crowded beach). Share this image with the student along with a list of ten objects which they have to find.

You can also describe the items with more details, for instance, “look for the big, red balloon.”

When the student finds an object, you can either enable the remote mouse control so he or she can circle the object or ask the student to describe the location of the item. For example, he can say, “The cat is between the bed and the nightstand.”

Variation


You can do a person hunt and ask students to look for specific people instead. For example, “Look for the tall man in a white t-shirt,” or “Where is the boy riding a blue bicycle?”

3. Objects Pictionary

This is a great online ESL game to practice vocabulary words.

How to play


Choose an object in the room that is not visible to the student. Then, draw this on the virtual whiteboard. As you draw, the student must guess what it is, just like the popular game.

To make the game more challenging, you can set a timer for one minute. The teacher and student can also switch roles to have the student draw the pictures and the teacher guess the object.

Variation


Another way to play this game is to act out the target word instead of drawing it. This variation offers a fun way to integrate the TPR method (Total Physical Response) into your lesson.

Learn about TPR and other teaching methods in the Specialized Bridge Teaching English Online TEFL/TESOL Courses. 

4. Odd One Out

This catchy ESL game helps your young students recall vocabulary and practice their listening skills, and also keeps them concentrated!

How to play


Call out a list of five objects, with all but one of which having something in common. For example, call out banana, apple, orange, peach, carrot. Ask the student to identify which one doesn’t belong to the group. Depending on the student’s level, you can also ask him or her to explain why the object is different from the rest on the list. For example, in the list above, carrot is the odd one out because it’s a vegetable and the rest are fruits.

Variation


For more advanced students, you can use similar-sounding words or various parts of speech (i.e. boot, food, room, moon, hot). You can also use pictures instead of reading the list out loud.

5. Tell Me 5

This game is good for practicing speaking skills and vocabulary.

How to play


List categories on the board such as colors, food, transportation, zoo animals, etc. Then, ask the student to choose a category. If the student chooses the food category, the teacher can ask, “tell me five vegetables” or “tell me five desserts”. The student must think of five items in less than one minute.

Variation


You can also write five letters that the items in the category should start with. For example, “tell me five vegetables that start with T, L, C, E, and K.”

6. Word Chain

This simple but fun online game for teaching English is excellent for building up vocabulary and checking pronunciation.

How to play


Provide a category. Then, the first student has to say any word in that category. The next player needs to say another word in the same category, but the word must begin with the last letter of the previous word. Let’s say, for the food category, if Student A says “tomato”, Student B could say “orange.”

If a student takes too long in thinking of a word, they must forfeit and take a challenge. For instance, they must sing a song or talk about a topic for two minutes.

Variation


For higher-level students, you can do sentence chains by using the last word of a previous sentence as the first word of the next sentence

ESL Games for Teaching English Online to Teenagers (or Adults)

7. The Bragging Game

This activity not only helps your students expand their vocabulary and practice using comparative and superlative adjective forms but also helps them to be more creative.

How to play


Start by saying a simple sentence. For example, you could say, “I live in a house.” Then, the student has to “brag,” by saying something greater or more exaggerated than your sentence but still within the same topic, such as, “Really? I live in a bigger house, with a pool.”

Continue this bragging game by going back and forth trying to top each other’s claim (for example, you could then counter with, “Well I live in a mansion with a pool and a jacuzzi!”). The circle ends when a person cannot think of anything to top the last example.

Variation


Instead of using the regular comparative forms, you can make it more challenging by using the “as … adjective … as” form. For example, if someone says, “My best friend is as clever as a fox,” the next person could brag, “Really? Well, my best friend is as intelligent as Albert Einstein.”

8. Classmate Speculation

An interactive activity for reinforcing grammar, speaking, and listening skills, this guessing game challenges how much you and your students know about each other!

How to play


Provide a verb that students can easily make sentences with. Then, think of information about your student using the given verb and start the sentence with the phrase “I think that you…”

Let’s say the verb is “like.” You could say, “I think that you like chocolate.”

The student says if the information you said about him or her is true or not. If it’s true, you get a point. The first person to get five points wins.

Variation


You can also prepare sentence starters for a variety of topics and target grammar or vocabulary. For example, if you wanted to practice the past tense with your student, the sentence starters could be, “I think that you traveled…” or, “I think that you ate…”

9. Sentence Maker

This game is best for reviewing vocabulary or grammar concepts that you’ve taught in previous classes.

How to play


Write a list composed of 15 words with mixed parts of speech (i.e., nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions). Then, ask the student to choose any word from the list and make a correct and logical sentence with it. You can encourage students to be creative and have fun with their sentences, to keep the game interesting. Provide a point if the sentence contains the word and is grammatically correct.

Circle or cross out the first word that the student previously chose so it can’t be used anymore.  Afterward, choose two new words from the list and him or her to make a new sentence using them. Give the student two points for a grammatically correct sentence containing these two new words then circle or cross them out from the word list.

Then, the student must choose three new words from the list and create another sentence. Follow the criteria for the previous rounds.

The game ends when the last remaining five words are used in a sentence.

Variation


Alternatively, you can also show a picture and ask the learner to describe something in it using only three words. Then, raise the word count.

10. Tic-Tac-Toe 2.0

This classic game adds a twist to your regular vocabulary and grammar practice exercises.

How to play


On the virtual whiteboard, write nine verbs arranged in a 3×3 grid. Then, ask the student to choose a symbol (X or O) and put their mark on any verb on the grid. Then, the student must make a correct sentence using the word he or she chooses.

The next player has to choose a box to mark and similarly make a sentence. If you’re playing the game one-on-one with your student, you can use the verb to make questions for him/her.

The first player to mark three boxes in a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal row wins.

Variations


You can personalize this game in many different ways! You can use question words, for instance, or challenge your students to various speaking tasks.

11. ESL Jeopardy

This ESL game for teaching online, which is inspired by the popular TV game show of the same name, is effective for reading comprehension, vocabulary, and even math skills.

How to play


Before class, get the game set up on your whiteboard.

  • Decide on about 4-6 categories for which you’ll come up with questions for the student.
  • Make sure some of the categories are suitable for grammar/vocabulary questions, such as “verbs” or a flexible category like “name three.”
  • Make other categories fun topics you know will interest your student, such as “movie characters.”
  • Write these categories vertically along the left side of the virtual whiteboard.
  • Along the top of the whiteboard, make columns for increasing point categories (i.e. 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 points).
  • If you have 5 point categories (from 10 to 50), you’ll now need to come up with 5 questions under each of your chosen categories.
  • As you write your questions, remember that the higher the number of points, the more difficult the question becomes.

When you’re ready to play, explain the categories and points to the student. Then, ask the student to choose a category and a number of points. (You can have the student use the language from the TV show: “I’ll take ‘name three’ for 50 points.”) Ask the student the corresponding question. He or she earns the points if the answer is correct.

If you’re playing with more than one student, another player can “steal” the question if the first student doesn’t answer it correctly, by attempting to answer the same question.

Variation


Instead of questions, you can use photos to reinforce vocabulary, especially for beginner students.

Looking for even more ESL games for teaching English online? Many classroom-based games can easily be adapted to the virtual setting! Check out these ESL Games and Activities for Teaching Kids.