General, fun and engaging games and activities for ESL lessons!
Activity Key: 'G' grammar, 'V' vocabulary, 'S' speaking, 'O' other, 'M' materials needed
10-Second Objects - V
Put students into groups of four or five. Shout out an object and students have 10 seconds to make that object with their bodies. For example, if you shout out ‘hamburger’, students must make a human hamburger with two students as the bun, one as the burger patty and maybe a piece of cheese. Some other objects include: car, house, clock, etc.
2 Truths, 1 Lie - GO
Students write three statements on a piece of paper. Two are true and one is false. Then, in small groups or as a class, they say their sentences and the other students have to guess which sentence is a lie. Encourage your students to be creative but to remember that the more believable the better! You can specify a grammar point if you want to concentrate on one area.
20 Questions - GO
Have a student think of a recent vocab word, e.g. an animal, place, etc. The other students then ask yes or no questions to find out clues about the word, e.g. ‘is it red?’, ‘can it fly?’ until they can guess what it is. The class tries to guess the word before they have asked 20 questions. This can be played in small groups as well.
3 Picture Story - SM
You will need a photo of an interesting couple, a photo of an interesting location, and a strange piece of realia. Students must build a story from these items. First show them the couple. Elicit ideas about their relationship, their careers, who loves whom the most, how long they have been together, etc. Once you have a pretty full picture, introduce the piece of realia (for example: a tennis racket), elicit how this is involved in the story, who used it and the result that it had upon the couple. Finally, show the class the location picture and elicit a suitable conclusion to the story. Ask students to summarize the entire story. The students will surprise you with how inventive they are. This can be done in small groups, as a whole class and with different pictures.
3 Things in Common - S
Students work in pairs to find out three things they have in common with each other - but not things like 'We both live on Earth', as these things are too obvious. You can extend this or make it more specific by giving them a topic (family) and they have to find three things in common. Try to put students together who don’t normally talk to each other.
3, 6, 9 - O
Stand everyone in a circle and begin counting up from 1, one student at a time. Any number which contains a 3, 6 or 9 isn’t voiced, instead the student claps. If the student says the number or claps when they shouldn’t, they are out and must sit on the floor where they stand. When a student loses a life, continue the game but increase the pace of the game.
ABC Word Race - V
In teams, students line up in front of the board. Give the first person in each line a marker. When you say ‘go’, students race to the board and write a word beginning with ‘A’, then run back to their teams and hand off the marker to the next student in line. The next student runs to the board and writes a word starting with ‘B’ and so on until a team has gone through the entire alphabet. You can make it more challenging by restricting students to words within a topic, e.g. countries, foods, or verbs.
Airplane Competition - GV
First, have your students make some paper airplanes. Stand the students in a line and let them test fly their planes. For the competition, assign different classroom objects points (e.g. table 5 points, door 10 points, trashcan 20 points). Ask a student a question and if they answer correctly then they can throw and try to hit one of the target objects to win points for their team.
All of Us - G
Students sit in groups of four to five. Write the following expressions on the board: 1. All of us are going to... 2. Four of us are going to... 3. Three of us are going to... 4. Two of us are going to... 5. One of us is going to...6. None of us are going to... In their groups, students ask each other about their plans for this weekend. They must complete the expression so that they are true for their group. When they finish, each group tells the class its sentences. The rest of the class listens and guesses who the people are, e.g. the group says ‘Two of us are going to play football this weekend.’ The class then says ‘We think that it is David and Rodrigo.’ The group confirms or corrects.
Alphabet Game - V
This game can be played in groups or as a whole class. Students try to think of an animal (or any topic, such as foods, etc) beginning with each letter of the alphabet, omitting letters that don’t have words or are too difficult (e.g. X, U, Q). Students get one point for each correct animal they say first. Extra points could be added for saying whether the animal is wild or domestic.
Around the World - GV
Elicit a bunch of topics to the board. Have two students sitting next to each other stand up. The teacher calls out one of the topics, e.g. ‘colours’, and the two students race to say a word under that topic, e.g. ‘red’. The student who says the word first moves one student to the left, who stands up (the losing student sits down in the winner’s chair). The aim it to make it around the whole room (though this may take some time!).
Back to the Board - GV
Divide the class into two or three teams. Place one student from each team at the front of the room in chairs with their backs to the board. Write a word on the board. The rest of the students must describe the word to their team mate (over the voices of the other teams describing the same word). Students may not use another language or spell the word (add challenge by making them sit on their hands so they can't use mimes or gestures). The first team member to guess the word on the board gets a point. This is sometimes played using a pyramid grid, assigning a point scale on each line, making the value of the points raise as the pyramid builds and the words get harder.
Balderdash - O
Write a difficult / new vocab word on the board. Assign one word secretly for each pair or small group to look up in a dictionary. Then call out one of the words on the board. Each group then guesses a definition for the word. When every group has written a possible definition, the group that looked up that word goes around the classroom and collects the definitions into a pile which includes the dictionary definition. The group then reads out all the definitions in random order. Then the players try to guess the real definition from the ones read. Points can be awarded to groups for writing the correct definition or for each person that guesses your definition.
Balls Between the Backs - V
Divide your students into teams. Give each team a soft ball. The first two people in each team stand back-to-back at the back of the room and put the ball between them. They must hold the ball with their backs and cannot use their hands or touch the ball at anytime. Once all the groups have the ball between their back, shout out a vocab topic e.g. colours, animals, foods, character adjectives, or adverbs. They must run together and race to the board where a marker is laying on the floor. They must bend down, pick up the marker and each write a word belonging to that category (passing the marker between them) without dropping or touching the ball with their hands. The first pair to do so gets a point for their team.
Banana-na - GO
Put two students at the front of the classroom. One student is the asker and the other the answerer. The student asking the question can ask any questions he / she wants. The student answering the questions can only answer by saying ‘banana-na’. The student answering questions cannot pause, answer or laugh, or else they lose the point. If they can answer questions for 1 minute without breaking, they get a point; otherwise the asker gets a point. It gets funny when the questions start getting personal. This can be played in small groups as well.
Basketball - GVO
This game works well for any board activity, e.g. spelling relay, race to the board, split board games, etc. Divide your class into teams. Have them do a board race of whatever is appropriate for the class. The team that wins the round gets a chance to score some points. To score points, the team must throw a soft ball into a basket the teacher is holding. There are designated lines the students must stand behind (the further back the line, the higher the point value for making the basket. The team with the most points wins.
Betting Games - GO
There are many games to play using fake money. Just divide your students into groups, give them a set amount of money and begin asking or eliciting questions. Students then decide as a group what their answer is and how much they are willing to bet on their answer. If they are right, they get the amount they bet, if they are wrong, they must give it to you. Example question topics are: 1. How often do you...? 2. Student pretends to be someone else in the room 3. Questions about the teacher 4. What’s your favourite...? 5. Quizzes
Body Dice - O
Take two dice to class. Write a different body part on each number. Roll the dice and whichever two body parts land face up are the two everyone has to put together. For example, if you have one = head, two = arm, three = toes, four = hand, five = knees, six = elbows and you roll a four and a five, students must put their hands on their knees. Continue by rolling the dice again and students put new body parts together.
Body Letter - V
This can be played a number of ways, for example; The teacher shouts out a word and students race in teams or groups to form the letter with each other e.g. ‘H’ three students would lie on the floor forming an ‘H’. You can set gestures or actions to each letter and sing the alphabet. Make sure if you do this that you keep the same actions for each letter; changing the action could be confusing and more difficult to remember.
Can I Come? - O
Explain to the class they are going on a holiday but they are only allowed to go if they take the right items. They have to guess what items they can take. Take three students outside and tell them that the key to being allowed to go on the holiday is taking an item that is a fruit: apple, orange, grapes, etc. You model the structure to the students – ‘I am going on a holiday. I’m taking a ball. Can I come?’ The students who know the key reply ‘No, you can’t!’ If a students replies with a word that does contain a fruit, then the students at the front of the room reply with ‘Yes you can!’ Students try to work out the key. If they do they continue answering when it is their turn. They must not tell anyone else and they should use different words. You can extend the game by changing the key (and students at the front of the room): different colours, animals, words that start with the first letter of the name of the student speaking, a family member, a student in the class, plural words, words with double letters, or it could just be that you are crossing your legs when you say the item.
Change Chairs - G
All the students sit in their chairs in a circle. One student does not have a chair (there is one less chair than there are students). The student in the middle starts by saying ‘change chairs if you ...’ or ‘have you ever…’ and filling in the rest with some criteria, e.g. ‘change chairs if you are a boy’ or ‘have you ever been to the UK?’. Any students that the statement applies to must get up and change chairs. The person in the middle of the circle also races to sit in a chair. The last person standing without a chair starts the next statement using ‘change chairs if you ...’ and so on.
Change the Letters - V
Put a common four-letter word on the board. In pairs or small groups, students race to find as many new words as they can by changing only one letter at a time to form a new word. After a minute, the group with the most words wins. For example, the starting word is hand. Students can write hand – band – bend – mend – fend – feed – feet – meet and so on.
Circle Speak - SO
Students stand in a circle. One person has a ball and makes a statement e.g. ‘my name is ...’ or ‘I like ... but I don’t like ...’ then tosses the ball to another student who also makes a statement and so on. This can be used often at the beginning or end of class to remember or reflect on what students have been learning. It is also a fun way to see students’ language skills develop as they gain more ability.
Coffeepotting - O
This game should be modelled as a whole class but then can be played in small groups. One student sits at the front of the room as thinks of a verb e.g. ‘drink’. The other students as questions to find out what the verb is but they cannot state the verb, instead the must insert ‘coffeepot’ e.g. ‘can you coffeepot with two people?’ or ‘do you coffeepot everyday?’. The student then answers appropriately. The answers can be more detailed than yes / no but should not give anymore than necessary away. The student that guesses the verb gets to the next coffeepotter.
Cough Dictation - O
Tell the students you have a cough today but you are still going to do a dictation. If they don’t hear words, they will just have to guess what you said. Read out a joke like the one below and dictate as usual but don’t read all the words – cough instead of saying certain words e.g. ‘Eleven people were cough on a rope, under a helicopter, ten men and one cough.’ Students have to guess what the missing words are and write them in, either individually or in pairs. After checking whether they guessed correctly, they could discuss the joke and why / if they found it funny. They could also try telling jokes they know in their mother tongue in English. The joke: Eleven people are hanging on a rope under a helicopter, ten men and one woman. The rope is not strong enough to carry them all, so they decide that one has to leave, because otherwise they are all going to fall. They are not able to name that person, until the woman makes a very touching speech. She says she will voluntarily let go of the rope, because as a woman she is used to giving up everything for her husband and kids, or for men in general, and is used to always making sacrifices with little in return. As soon as she finishes her speech, all the men started clapping their hands.
Coup Co - GVO
This is a favourite game among students, so incorporating it into your class is always exciting. The actual game doesn’t have a lot of language value, so you must add some into it. To play, divide your class into two teams, each line standing at opposite sides of the room. Number off each student in each line (1 – 9 or however many students you have in each line). Place a small object in the middle of the classroom - the eraser works well. Call out a number. The students in each line with that number race to the middle to grab the object. Once the object has been touched, the other student wants to tag the student holding the object. If the student who grabs the object can get back across his / her team’s line before being tagged, they have the opportunity to win a point. BUT, they must first answer a grammar, vocab or language questions correctly. If the student tags the other person before he / she gets across the line, they can have a chance to answer the question for a point.
Croquet - GVO
Divide your students into two teams. This works best if they are divided boys vs. girls since determining who is on which team is difficult otherwise. Students stand in a circle (in any order) with their feet spread shoulder length apart. Their feet must touch the students’ feet next to them. The students are not allowed to move their feet at any time. The teacher throws a ball into the circle. Each student bends down making a fist with their hands. They can knock the ball only if their hands are in a fist, forming a mallet. The object is to try to get the ball through another student's legs. If the ball goes through their legs, the teacher (or a designated student) can ask a question. If they get the question right they are safe, if they get it wrong, the other team gets a point.
Cuisenaire Rods Pattern Game - GOM
Take enough sets of Cuisenaire rods to class for each pair or group of three to have one. Have one student be the pattern maker while the other student(s) is (are) the follower(s). The maker quickly makes a simple pattern with the Cuisenaire rods, hiding it behind a board or paper. Then the maker begins to tell the follower(s) how to make the pattern e.g. the big green rod is in the middle and the small red rod is on the green rod in the middle. Continue until the follower(s) is (are) finished. Then switch makers and followers and do it again. This is great practice for prepositions, colours and comparative lengths.
Dice Discussions - S
Write numbers 2 - 12 on the board and get students to suggest topics they like to talk about. Write one topic next to each number. Students take it in turns to roll the 2 dice, and talk for a pre-agreed time limit on the subject that corresponds to the number rolled.
Disco / Library - SM
The goal is for students to transmit a message to one another. Split the students into two groups. Put one group in a row at one end of the room, the other group in a row on the other side of the room. Pair the students together so one person is a speaker and another is a listener. Give one row mini-boards (they are the ‘listeners’) and one row a slip of paper with a message on it (they are the ‘speakers’). Decide if you want your students to be at the disco or the library ('disco' – the teacher plays loud music and students must shout to each other; 'library' – the students must mouth words to each other.). The first person to write down the message correctly gets a point for their pair. Continue with a new message and switch the listeners and speakers.
Do You Like Your Neighbours? - O
Ask students to arrange their chairs in a circle. Choose a student to stand in the middle. This student needs to sit down. He / She needs a student to free a seat so that he / she can occupy it. Explain that the student should point to a seated student and ask, ‘Do you like your neighbours?’ The seated student has two options: Option one: Student says ‘no’ in which case the students sitting to their right and left (their ‘neighbours’) have to change seats.
Option two: Student says ‘Yes, but...I don't like people who wear jeans.’ All students wearing jeans then have to change seats. Different examples could be ‘Yes, but I don't like people who wear leather shoes/watches/white socks/tights etc.’ In the scramble for seats which follows a ‘no’ or ‘yes, but...’ the student in the middle tries to find a seat leaving one of the other students without a seat.
Duck, Duck, Goose! - VO
This activity is aimed at low level young learners. Students sit in a circle. One student goes around the circle saying a recently learned vocab word, e.g. ‘duck’ tapping students lightly on the shoulder as they are passed. When the student taps a student on the shoulder saying a different vocab word, e.g. ‘goose’ the student who has been tapped must stand up and chase the other student around the circle. The student saying the vocab words wants to get all the way around the circle and sit in the other student’s spot before he / she is caught. If the student is caught, he / she must sit in the middle of the circle. If the student isn’t caught, he / she can sit in the circle with the rest of the students. The chaser then becomes the tapper. Play this game using newly studied vocabulary.
Find Someone Who... - GO
This is a good activity for a new class or to get students to practice asking questions. Have students brainstorm questions to ask each other, with help and error correction from you, or think of several questions for your students to ask each other and type them up on a handout. For example: Find someone who… 1. can speak Chinese 2. has two sisters 3. likes to play football 4. has a pet 5. has been to Singapore
Finger Bingo - V
Give each student a piece of paper and scissors. Have them trace their hand and cut it out. Then write five vocab words from whatever topic you have been studying, e.g. body parts. Divide your students into two teams and have them play Rock, Paper, Scissors to choose a winner. The Winning student now takes the hand of the opponent and rips off one of the vocab words, stating it aloud. Anyone else in the class with that same vocab word written down must also rip it off their hand. Continue with the next pair of students. Continue for about 10 minutes. Then have each team count up how many fingers they have left in total. The team with the most remaining fingers wins.
First to 20 - O
This can be done as a whole class or in smaller groups. Someone starts by saying ‘one’. Then another student must continue on counting consecutively to 20. No student can say two numbers in a row and if two students say a number at the same time, the group / class must start over. Getting to twenty is quite difficult and will be surprisingly challenging. Spice up the goal by rewarding the class / team if they can do it in a certain amount of time (this will also put more pressure on the students causing them to mess up more frequently).
Fizz / Buzz - O
Students stand in a circle and begin counting off. When a student reaches ‘5’ he / she must say ‘fizz’ and when a student reaches ‘7’ he / she must say ‘buzz. Students continue counting until they reach of multiple of five or seven. At every multiple of five, students must say ‘fizz’ and every multiple of seven students must say ‘buzz’. If a student messes up he / she is out and can monitor the other students. For younger classes it may be helpful to write the numbers on the board indicating when the multiples land. This can also be played in smaller groups and the winners of each group have a finale count-off to determine the class winner.
Flashcard Mystery - VM
Each student gets a flashcard and holds it on his / her back; the student does not know which flashcard he / she has. Students mingle and ask each other closed questions to find out which flashcard they have. For example, students may say ‘Do I have a tiger?’ to which the other student looks on their back and answers ‘Yes, you do’ or ‘No, you don’t’.
Flashcard Symbols - GVM
Draw or write a symbol, shape, letter or number under each flashcard on the whiteboard. You call out the symbol and the student has to say the word or structure for that flashcard.
Fruits & Vegetables - SO
This is a great warmer for new classes or new teachers or just something silly at the start of class to get students talking. Ask the students to write down the following words on a piece of paper, keeping what they write a secret from those around them: 1.A fruit 2. A vegetable 3. A number between 1 and 200 4. A yes / no answer to the question ‘do you like football? 5. How many pencils and pens they have with them 6. The first thing the do in the morning. Now tell them that these things are actually... 1. Their first name 2. Their family name 3. Their age 4 The answer to the question ‘are you married?’ 5. How many children they have 6. Their job. Now they must get up and go around the class and ask the personal questions and share information about their new selves. Encourage them to shake hands and make eye contact when meeting new people. You could do this exercise as a class survey so they have to write down the answer they hear.
Grids Taboo - VM
On the board draw two grids with 12 squares and write the numbers 1 – 12 in the squares. Divide the class into 2 teams. Each team needs a writer. The rest of the team are given a grid with words in it (12 grid squares with 12 words – each team has the same words, but in different places on the grid). The rest of the team have to take turns describing one of the words without using another language, spelling or saying the word. The writer has to guess and write the word in the correct square. The aim is to be the first team to complete their grid.
Hangman - O
The teacher or student at the front of the class thinks of a word or phrase; the others try to guess what it is one letter at a time. The player draws a number of dashes equivalent to the number of letters in the word. If a guessing player suggests a letter that occurs in the word, the other player fills in the blanks with that letter in the right places. If the word does not contain the suggested letter, the other player draws one element of a hangman’s gallows. As the game progresses, a segment of the gallows and of a victim is added for every suggested letter not in the word. The number of incorrect guesses before the game ends is up to the players, but completing a character in a noose provides a minimum of six wrong answers until the game ends. The first player to guess the correct answer thinks of the word for the next game.
How Many Things Can You Think of That...? - O
In groups, students try to think of and note down as many things as they can that fit a given definition and that they know in English. For example, you might tell them to think of as many items as they can that are small enough to fit into a matchbox. After two or three minutes, pool all the ideas on the board, or have a competition to see who can think of the most items. Here are some examples: "How many things can you think of that ...?" 1. ...are bigger than you are? 2. ...are round? ...make a noise? 3. ...work electricity? 4. ...are made of paper / wood / glass? 5. ...people enjoy looking at? 6. ...you can write with?
Human Knot - O
Have students stand in a circle. Everyone puts their hands into the middle of the circle and grabs onto someone else’s hand, making sure that each student grabs two other students’ hands. Then they have to untangle themselves by stepping over or under linked arms until they are all standing in a circle holding hands. Students must tell each other what to do using language such as, ‘Pedro, put your right hand over Phuong’s head’, ‘Ivan and Minh, step over our arms’ etc.
I Spy... - VO
Divide the class into small groups. Have one student (in each group) start by saying, ‘I spy something ...’ e.g. ‘I spy something blue’. The rest of the class tries to guess what it is. If the first guess is wrong, the student continues with another clue, e.g. ‘I spy something big’ and students guess again. The student that guesses first gets to be the speaker.
I'd Rather... - S
Tell students they are going to have to tell their partner their preference to the sentences you write on the board. Write funny sentences on the board, e.g. ‘I’d rather eat a cockroach’ and ‘I’d rather eat a spider’. Students talk amongst themselves about which they would rather do. Other examples are: ‘I think of myself as the ocean’ or ‘I think of myself as a mountain’; ‘I’d rather be deaf’ or ‘I’d rather be blind’, etc.
Internet Chat - OM
Give each student a copy of the Internet chat handout. Tell the students to write their name in the ‘From (Username)’ spot. Then assign each student someone in the class to write to (they will be able to choose for the second round, but this ensures everyone gets an ‘email’ in the first round). Tell them to write a message. You aren’t going to be reading the messages so they can write pretty much anything they want (but keep it appropriate for class). When the students are done they raise the paper above their head. The teacher takes the paper and passes it to the person the email is for. The receiver must stop writing whatever message they are working on and reply to the ‘email’ they have just received. Once you have picked it up they can continue their own message. If a student doesn’t have a current ‘email’ they are working on, they can ask for a new piece of paper to which they can write an email to anyone they want. Continue for a while until students have had a chance to write a whole conversation to each other. This entails quite a bit of movement on the teacher’s part, and the teacher needs to know the names of all the students in order for it to work (see the Materials Page for the handout).
Irregular Verb Challenge - G
Have students stand in a circle. Start by saying a common irregular verb e.g. to eat. The class follows your lead: ‘eat’ <hands on heads>, ‘ate’ <hands on hips>, ‘eaten’ <hands on knees>. Then demo another verb that doesn’t change all three parts, e.g. think <hands on heads>, thought <hands on hips>, thought <hands on hips>. Do one more to make sure the students get it e.g. drink <hands on heads>, drank <hands on hips> drink <hands on heads>. Then the student standing to your right has to say a verb and the students say and perform the actions. If a student messes up, they are out. Continue going faster and faster. If a student shouts out a verb already said or a regular verb they are out as well. The shorter the time limits to say and do, the harder it is. See the Materials page for a long list of irregular verbs.
Jumbled Whispers Race - GS
Divide the class into teams. Have them stand in lines, the last students holding a marker facing the board. The first person in each team looks at the jumbled sentence e.g. ‘weather / is / today / What / the / like / ?’, decodes it and whispers it to the next person in line who then whispers it down to the next and so on until it reaches the writer. The writer races to write it on the board. The first team to finish gets a point for their team. Then move the last student to the first position and repeat.
Jump the Some/Any Line - G
One half of the room is ‘some’, the other half ‘any’. Read some sentences from a grammar lesson on countable and uncountable nouns aloud, omitting ‘some’ or ‘any’. Students listen and move to the correct side of the room. Any student who moves the wrong way or the last student to move loses a life for their team. Continue until one team loses all their lives. This activity can be tweaked to fit a number of language or grammar points.
Karaoke - OM
Enlarge the lines from the song and cut up phrases onto card paper. Divide the class into two groups and give a few people in each group several cards with phrases (each group get a whole set of song cards). Play the song and the students holding the song phrases hold it up as they hear it. The rest of the group sings the phrases as they are being held up. The group which sings the song the best according to the cards is the winner.
Label your neighbour - V
Take a bunch of blank stickers to class. In pairs, students must write as many labels as they can and stick them on their partner in the allotted time. The pair with the most correct labels wins. This is great for labelling body parts, colours, clothes, etc.
Ladder - V
Divide the class into teams. Draw as many ‘ladders’ on the board as there are teams. Each team lines up in front of their ladder. Give the first person in line a marker. Yell out a topic and students race to write a word in that topic on the bottom rung of the ladder. The student then hands off the marker to the next student who fills in the next rung, and so on. The first team to climb their ladder gets a point. The make it more challenging, tell students that as each word goes up the ladder, it has to be longer than the last word, e.g. the topic is animals, the first student writes cat, the next writes crab, then camel, then monkey and so on.
Last weekend - S
Elicit 5 words from each student to describe their weekend. A different student tells the class or small groups what the other did. The original student verifies the story.
Line up in Order of... - GSO
Ask all the students to stand up and form a large semi-circle at the front of the class. Then ask them to rearrange the semi circle as quickly as possible from left to right depending on their birthday, with the left end of the semi-circle representing January 1st and the right end of the semi-circle representing December 31st. You can then ask them to arrange themselves according to the first letter of their names or in alphabetical order. They must ask each other questions to do this. Repeat the exercise with other criteria, e.g. how many minutes it takes to get to school, how many people are in their family, how old they are, how long they spend on homework, how tall they are, or any comparative you can think of. Make this competitive by dividing the class into teams who race to be the first to finish.
Machine Gun - GVO
Using a grid with words on the top and on the side, students select tiles on the grid and create the correct sentence in hopes of attaining points and avoiding bombs, skulls etc. A variation is to write numbers on the side and letters along the top. Then students answer your questions to win the chance to choose a square. Behind each square is an icon which affects their score which starts at 100. Suggested icons (see the Materials page for an example grid.):
Skull = lose 50
Gold Bar = +50
Two-sided arrow = choose any 2 teams to swap scores
Bomb=lose all points
Broken heart = choose another team to lose 50
Evil face = steal 50 points from another team
Mallet's Mallet - V
Put four chairs in a small circle in the centre of the room. Call forward one student from each group. Give them a category e.g. colours. The students take it in turns to say a colour. If they hesitate too long or repeat a colour already said, they are out and must sit back down with their team. Continue with the remaining three students. The last student remaining wins a point for their team. Repeat with a new student from every team and a new category.
Memory Words - VM
Bring a physical box of vocab items to class. Spread them out on a table and let students look at them for around a minute - they aren’t allowed to write anything in the minute. They have to remember as many words as possible. Collect everything in the box and then the students write down as many words as they can remember in pairs. The pair that can remember the most words wins.
Mime, Draw, Explain - V
Split the class into teams. Have one student come to the front of the room. Give the student a vocab word. The student begins to mime the word. If the students can’t get the word, the student then draws the word or clues to explain the word. If the students still can’t get the word, the student then explains the word (without saying what it is). If a team gets it when the student is miming = 3 pts, drawing = 2 pts, and explaining = 1pt.
Music Chart Discussion - SM
Connected to the theme of music, a great piece of material to have at hand for your teenage groups is the recent top 20 music singles charts. Hand out a copy to each group of three or four students & get them chatting at the beginning of a lesson. You could set some guidelines for discussion e.g. ‘What kind of music is most popular this week?’, ‘how long do you think this song will be at number one?’, ‘which songs are going to move up the charts or down the charts?’ etc.
Musical Categories - O
Elicit some topics or general questions to the board e.g. ‘what’s your name?’ or favourite animal, worst fear, ideal job, etc. Place pairs of chairs (facing each other) around the room. Have students walk around while playing. When the music stops, students race to sit in a chair. The teacher shouts out a topic or question and the students must talk to their partner about it for 30 seconds. Continue to play and stop the music. If there is an odd number of students, have the last student standing choose the topic for discussion.
Musical Gap Fill - OM
Give students a copy of a song with some words blanked out. In pairs, students listen to the song and fill in the missing words. You may have to play the song several times. The class can then sing the song together once it is completed.
Name 2 Things - VM
Divide the class into pairs. Give each a mini-board, chalk and eraser. The teacher then says, “Name two …”, e.g. “Name two animals”, or “Name two things that start with b”. Students race to write down two things fitting into the criteria you stated. The first team to do so gets a point for their team. Have the students change writers and repeat with a different criteria. The pair with the most points wins.
Number Drawing Relay O
Divide students into two or three teams. The student at the back of the line starts. Show the students at the back a number e.g. 87. The student runs to their line and ‘draws’ or ‘writes’ the number on the back of the student in front of them with their finger. When the student knows what the number is, he / she can write the number on the next students back. Continue down the line until the student at the front of the line knows the number and can shout it out or write it on the board. The first team to do so gets a point.
Opposites Quiz - VM
Organize the class into teams. Say an adjective, the first student to call out the opposite wins a point for his/her team. The team with the most points at the end wins. See the Materials Page for a word grid.
Ordering Music Sentences or Words - OM
Cut up a song either by lines, phrases or individual words. In pairs or small groups, students listen and put the song in order. You may have to play the song several times. The class can sing the song together once it is ordered.
Over & Under Ball Race - O
Students stand in two lines. The first person in each line gets a soft ball. They start by saying number ‘1’ and pass the ball to the next person over their head. The next person grabs the ball and says number ‘2’ and passes it under his / her legs to the next person. The next person grabs the ball, says number ‘3’ and passes it over his / her head, and so on until it has reached the back of the line. The last student then must run to the front of the line and continue passing the ball saying a number until the team reaches the goal e.g. 20. The first team to do so wins or gets a point. This can be done for sequencing too, e.g. counting by 2’s, 10’s, etc.
Pass the Eraser - V
Stand all the students in a circle. Explain that they must pretend the eraser is a different object and show us what it is. For example, take the eraser and put it up to your ear and start talking into it like it is a telephone. The other students should guess what it is. Then pass the eraser to the person next to you and they will continue to make objects from the eraser. Some ideas to help students if they get stuck are: toothbrush, banana, marker, hat, brush, etc.
Pelmanism Cards - VM
Divide the class into groups. Give each group a set of matching word cards (you can also use picture-word matching, word-definition matching, etc.). Students lay them out in the form of a grid e.g. if there are 24 cards, they lay the cards down 4 across and 6 down. One student starts by turning over two cards and reading them out loud. If they match, the student keeps them as a pair. If they don’t match, the student turns them back over as they were. Then it is the next student’s turn. Continue until all pairs are matched. The student with the most matches wins.
Phonemic Ball Toss - S
Write several phonemic sounds on the board, e.g. /z/, /s/, /ɪz/, /t/ etc. Students are divided into teams. One person from each team stands behind the line placed towards the back of the room. You (or another student) shout out a word ending in one of the sounds on the board, e.g. plays, walks, horses, or watched and the students throw the ball at the correct phonemic sound. The first person to hit the correct sound gets a point for their team. Continue with a new set of students for each group.
Pictionary (v1) - GVOM
Divide your students into pairs, sitting, facing each other in 2 lines. Give one line of students a mini-board and chalk. Show them a flashcard or a vocab word. The students draw the picture as their partner guesses what it is. The first to guess correctly (from any picture) gets a point. Change this into a more challenging game by having the students draw whole sentences e.g. ‘The cat is sleeping on the TV.’
Pictionary (v2) - GVO
Divide the class into 2 teams. Bring one student from each team to the front of class and show them a word or phrase. The students at the front draw a picture of the word or phrase on the board for their team to guess. The first team to guess wins a point. Repeat with the next student.
Picture Flash - VOM
Take a large poster or picture to class. Let the students look at the picture for only a few seconds. They have to remember as much as they can and write it down. Flash the picture again and then they can continue writing ideas. Have students race to write all their ideas in teams. Teams get points for every original word they come up with (duplicates are crossed off and no team receives a point for that word).
Pronunciation Grids - SM
Put students into teams. Draw a 4 x 4 grid on the board, get one student from each team to copy the grid and stay at the board (you will have several grids on the board, depending on the number of teams, so size them accordingly). Give the other students in the each team a grid completed with minimal pairs (each team has a different grid, or they’ll cheat!). The teams stand at the back of the classroom and must shout their words to their team-mate who writes the words in the grid on the board. See the Materials Page for an example and a grid template. The following restrictions apply:
Students cannot use native language.
Students cannot spell the word.
Students cannon mime the word or point to it
The students cannot move any closer to each other – they must stay at the board and the back of the class respectively.
Proxy Interviews - GSO
Ask one student to become one of the others in the class. The rest of the class then interviews him. The 'real' student then compares the answers given by the 'fake' student. Switch up students. You can also put the students into small groups and do the same activity.
Question Dice - GO
Designate different question words for each number on the dice, e.g. 1 – who, 2 – what, 3 – where, 4 – when, 5 – why, 6 – how. Take a dice to class and divide your students into small groups. This can be done as a speaking race or a writing race with small blackboards. Ask one student from any team to roll the dice. Whatever number the students land on, they must form a question using the questions word designated to that number e.g. 2 – what questions, students could write ‘what time do you get up in the morning?’. The first team to make a correct sentence gets a point. Continue by throwing the dice again for a new question word.
Quizzes - GVSOM
The possibilities for quizzes are extensive. Here are a few ideas: 1. Bring a quiz to ask. Read out the questions and students work in groups to decide the answer. 2. Hand out a quiz and students race to answer them all 3. Have students build their own quiz in groups based on a topic or vocab words. 4. Have students fill in and correct each others quizzes. 5. Use paper money, points or stickers for rewards to answering questions. See the Trivia Questions page for 200+ questions.
Revision Taboo - VM
Keep a box of vocabulary cards in the classroom. As an end of the week review or a filler for those last five minutes of class, select a student, hand him or her the box and set a time limit of thirty to sixty seconds. This student draws a card from the box, then proceeds to describe the object, action, emotion, etc. to the class. As soon as the class guesses the word, the student proceeds to the next card (or the student who guesses the word can choose the next card). If a student does not know the meaning of a vocabulary word he or she draws, he or she may skip it. This activity works well as either a team or an individual exercise. For added practice, you may randomly ask students to use reviewed words correctly in sentences at the end of each timed turn. See the Materials Page for a set of Taboo cards.
Riddles - O
Students love play on words. Riddles are a great way to get students thinking about words and their meaning. You can find many online or you can make up some of your own. For a further challenge, ask the students to make up some riddles or translate some from students’ native language.
Scattegories - V
In groups, give the students a bunch of categories. Tell them they have 3 minutes to write as many answers as they can, starting with a certain letter (you will have to make sure there are answers for all your categories with the letter you give the students). Each team gets one point for every original answer they have (similar answers negate each other and no team gets a point for that answer). This will encourage students to be creative in their answers. All answers are up for debate and can be voted on by the rest of the class. Continue with a new letter. The team with the most points wins.
Shark! - GO
Draw a circle on the floor big enough for lots of students to stand in. Draw another circle on the floor big enough for 2 – 3 students. Draw one more circle big enough for only one foot to stand in. Divide your class into two teams. Each team starts with 5 points. Tell the students they are going to do the action you say but they cannot touch the ‘islands’ on the floor. When you shout ‘there’s a shark!’ the students must race to fit in the circles. The students left out of the circles lose a point for their team. The team who loses all their points first loses the game. This is great for practicing present continuous or ‘I can’, e.g. ‘we are hopping’ or ‘I can roll on the floor’.
Sheep or Ship? - S
Divide the class into teams. Write two similar sounding words on the board (one on the left of the board, and one on the right), e.g. ship and sheep, number the words one and two. Say one of the words, e.g. sheep. The students must decide what word you said and then say either word one or word two. To make this activity into a game, draw a start line and a finish line at either end of the class. Use the tiles on the floor as stepping stones connecting the start and finish lines (or mak positions with bits of paper). Ask a player from each team to come forward to be the counter. If a team chooses the right word, their counter can move forward to be the counter. If a team chooses the wrong word, the counter moves back a square. The winner is the team who arrives at the finish line first. Here are two lists of words to write side-by-side on the board: Left side: sheep, eye, cap, spots, box, ear, cash, wash, sheet, cheap, chief, leaf, and, tree, tanks - Right side: ship, high, cup, sports, books, hear, catch, watch, seat, chips, cheap, leave, hand, three, thanks
Shout it Out! - V
Divide the class into teams. Have one student from the first team come to the front of the room and draw a card. The student tells their team the topic and the students have 30 seconds to shout out as many things on the list as possible. The number of words on the list they get is the number of points they get for that round. You can let the other teams have a 15 second chance to come with any more they can think of for extra points. Then have another student from the next team come to the front and draw a card. The team with the most points wins. See the Materials Page for a word grid.
Shout The Answer - SO
Stand your students in two lines, one at one side of the room, the other line at the other side of the room. Give your students a set of topics or pieces of information they need to find out about their partner standing in the other line, e.g. birthday, full name, favourite food, etc. They must ask / shout to their partner the question they want to know. Their partner tells them by shouting the answer across the room. This can also be done for any kind of information gap fill. It works best when the pairs are students who don’t know each other as well (to avoid them already knowing the answers).
Singing & Dancing - O
This is very simple and easy to prep. Teach your students the song and put some actions to the lyrics. Practice singing and dancing. Younger students really like this activity and it helps them to remember the words if there are actions with them. But you can play it with any age or level, and remember most students will do anything you are willing to do
Snowball Fight - SO
Give your students 5 A5 sized pieces of paper. Students then write information about themselves on the 5 scraps of paper. They can write anything but their name (or something that clearly identifies them) e.g. age, favourite food, favourite colour, etc. Then have all the students crumple the papers into balls, stand up and throw them at each other creating a big paper snowball fight. After a minute, everyone sits back down. Explain to the students that they are going to pick up a piece of paper, read the information and then find who it belongs to by asking questions in a mingle e.g. ‘how old are you?’, ‘what’s your favourite colour?’, etc. Once they have found the owner of that paper, they pick up another and repeat the drill. The student with the most identified pieces of paper wins.
Spelling Relay - V
Divide the students into two or three teams. Line them up at the back of the room. Give the first student in each line a board marker. Shout out a vocab word, e.g. ‘apple’. Students race to the board to write the first letter of the vocab word, e.g. ‘a’. They must then race back and hand off the marker to the next student in line who runs to the board to write the next letter, e.g. ‘p’. The first team to finish writing the word gets a point for their team.
Spin the Bottle - GVS
Take some skittles/bowling pins to class if you have them (or use pencils) and put students into 3 teams. Sit them in 3 circles. One student spins the bottle. Whoever the bottle points to can ask a question or practice the vocabulary / grammar point. E.g. 'I am thinking of an animal beginning with T' - the rest of the group has to guess the answer. They can keep a tally of correct answers for points if you want it competitive. You can also vary this activity and have the bottle spinner ask a question to whomever it points to. Then the student who answers can spin the bottle and ask a question to the next person.
Steps Board Game - GVO
This is a good way to show progress in almost any kind of competitive game. Draw a set of steps for each team - up to 10 levels. Each team is at the bottom (draw a sad face). Revise vocabulary/grammar with any kind of board race or game. First team with the correct answer gets to move up one level. The first team to get to the top (draw a happy face) gets to (for example) choose something funny for the other teams to do e.g. sing a song.
Stop the Bus - VS
There are several variations of this game. Here is one way to play it: Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Across the top of the board, write five categories e.g. hobbies, verbs, adjectives, animals, foods, etc. Choose a letter from the alphabet e.g. F. The teams race to think of words beginning with F to fit each category e.g. fishing, fly, fat frog, French fries. The first team to finish shouts ‘stop the bus’. They get a point for each answer they have that no other team has gotten yet. To avoid cheating, make sure they write down their answers onto a mini-board or scrap of paper (not just think of them). Repeat with a new letter of the alphabet. This can also be adapted to practice pronunciation or word stress by having topics related to them e.g. words with /θ/, /ʃ/, /k/ /silent e/ sounds, etc. or first syllable stress, last syllable stress, etc.
Story Telling - S
A good game for revising past simple tense. Sit the students in a circle on the floor. Tell them that they are going to tell a story. The story will be told one word at a time, with the students taking it in turns to say a word. You start e.g. ‘Yesterday’. The next student then says a word to continue the story e.g. ‘I’. The next student says a word and continues the story.
Taboo - VM
Write down a list of vocab words from previous units or lessons. Divide the class into teams. Call up one student from each team. Show the two students the same word e.g. in-line skates. They have to stand in front of their teams and try and describe the object without actually saying the word (or any words that are in the word) or using any actions. The rest of the team has to try to guess the word. The first team to guess what is being described wins a point. If a student describing the word actually uses the word, they lose a point. Make sure you monitor the teams closely for any blatant cheating. Repeat the game with new students and a new word. The team with the most points wins.
Talk for a Minute - S
Put the class into two rows facing each other. Write a topic on the board e.g. sport. The pairs have to talk together for a minute about sport e.g. ‘What’s your favourite sport?’, ‘How often do you play?’, ‘Where do you play?’. After a minute say stop. Ask each student to move down one person to their left so they are facing another student (the person on the end goes to the opposite end). Give them a new topic and repeat the procedure. Continue with more topics.
Talk or Die - S
Elicit several topics to the board e.g. hobbies, school, sports, family, etc. Stand your students in a circle, you standing in the middle. Point a marker at a student and call out a topic. That student must talk continuously without stuttering or stopping on that topic until you point the marker at another student and call out a different topic. If a student stops or cannot speak on the topic, he / she ‘dies’ and loses a life (takes a step back out of the circle). This is best for smaller groups.
Target Practice - GSO
Cut up paper into small strips. Divide the class into 2 teams at opposite ends of the room and draw a box on the floor in front of each team (or use a basket or outline floor tiles). Students write questions on strips of paper related to the language/topic. They then take turns scrunching the paper up and throwing them into the opposing team’s basket - keep a track of the scores on the board. Teams then write answers to the questions and repeat the process. You can have students read out answers that made it into the basket and use them as prompts for open discussion or debate.
Teacher Says - O
Start by standing in a circle with the students. You say ‘teacher says ...’ and give them a direction e.g. ‘...touch your toes’ and bend down to touch your toes All the student then repeat ‘touch your toes’ and they touch their toes. Continue with more directions. If you don’t say ‘teacher says’ the students shouldn’t follow your instruction. Any students that do lose a life for their team. Stop when one team loses all their lives. One student can then take your place as the teacher.
That's a Lie! - S
Tell the students that they will be telling a true story to their friends but they will include one lie. Give the students time to think about their story (they can make notes but shouldn’t write the whole story) because they should make it believable. In pairs or small groups, one student tells his / her story. The other students try to guess the lie from the story. Give time for all the students to tell their stories. Switch up the groups and have the students retell the same story while new students try to guess the lie. To debrief, ask the students if they did a better job telling the story the second time. Ask them if they were better liars the second time. Etc.
The Long Sentence Memory Game - G
Start the sentence by saying ‘Yesterday I got up early’ (any sentence will do depending on your language focus or topic). Nominate a student who repeats what you said and then adds another activity, e.g. ‘Yesterday I got up early and had a shower.’ They nominate the next student who repeats this and adds another activity and so on. Once everyone in the class has added something, try to see if everyone in the class can say the final sentence.
To be or Not to be... - S
Split the class into two rows. Write a controversial statement on the board e.g. cars are better than motorbikes, movies are better than books etc. Tell one row they must agree with the statement and the other row must disagree with the statement. The two sides then debate with each other. You can make this a less structured activity where all students are talking with each other at once or a team vs. team structured activity where sides take turns talking and rebutting.
Tongue Twisters - S
Write or hand out some tongue twisters to the students. Practice saying them a few times and then have the student try saying them as fast as they can. You make it into a game or competition, but the focus should always be on accuracy. Here are some examples of tongue twisters: 1. Peter Piper: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick? 2. Woodchuck: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? - You can find more on the Materials page.
Tower Words - V
Draw 6 horizontal lines, one above the other. Now write '10' to the side of the first, third, and fifth lines, and '5' to the side on the second, fourth, and sixth lines. Write in the first 3 letter word e.g. cat, pet, bat, pen, she etc. Divide the class into small teams. Teams race to think of the next word (5 letters) which must include the 3 letters of the first word e.g. CAT – TRACK. The 3 letter words are 5 points, 5 letter words are 10 points. Each new word must be formed using 3 letters from the previous word. Words cannot be repeated. For the final 20 points teams must think of the longest word they can using the previous 3 letters. The longest word wins the points. Play a few rounds, changing the first word each time! To vary the activity, this can be played as a board race and will get students moving. Draw 2 or 3 grids on the board and have the teams race to complete their own grid. First to finish correctly wins the round. To make the game more challenging you could change the length of the words e.g. draw the tower made up of 5 letter words and 7 letter words etc.
Vocabulary Charades - V
Students write new vocabulary on cards from the lesson associated with the topic. Collect the cards and divide the class into teams of two or three. One student from each team comes to the front of the class. Choose a card for each student. Show student 1 a card. He / she mimes the meaning of the word to his / her team, who win a point for a correct guess. If the team cannot guess, the other teams can raise their hands to guess. Student 2 and 3 then take turns to mime their words. Continue with different team members and words. The team with the most points wins.
Vowel Body Spelling - V
The aim is to spell words without saying the vowels but putting actions in for the vowels instead. First, decide what action is going to be used for each vowel e.g. ‘a’ is putting arms above heads, ‘e’ is putting hands on knees, ‘i’ is putting arms straight out, etc. The teacher then says a recently learned vocab word, e.g. ‘banana’. The class then begins to spell the word saying the consonants and miming with an action the vowels, e.g. ‘b’, <arms above heads>, ‘n’, <arms above heads>, ‘n’, and <arms above heads>.
Whispers Race - S
Divide the students into teams and line them up. Show the first person in each line a word, phrase or sentence, depending on ability. The students whisper the word, phrase or sentence to the next student who then whispers it to the next student and so on. The first team to produce the word, phrase or sentence gets point (the last person either shouts it out or writes it on the board).
Who / What is it? - GVSO
One student starts thinking of a well-known person or thing. He / She then says, ‘I’m thinking of someone / something that ...’ and give a clue. The other students get to try to guess what it is. If they can’t, the first student gives another clue. The student who guesses what is being thought of first gets to become the speaker.
Who Would...? - G
Divide the students into groups of about 8 students. Give each student some blank slips of paper. Read out a question using the second conditional, e.g. who would you go on a dream date with? What would you buy with a million dollars? What would you change in the country if you were President / Prime Minister? Students write their answer on a paper. Collect the papers of all the group members. The papers are mixed and passed to another group who guesses who wrote which answer, e.g. we think Simon would buy a Ferrari. Teams get points for correct guesses (the other group confirms if their guesses were correct).
Word Association Tennis - V
Split the class into two teams. The first person on each team will shout out the answer first, and then the second person the second answer and so on. The teacher shouts out a topic e.g. ‘clothes’ and the first student on one team says a word in the topic e.g. ‘shirt’. The first student on the other team says another word from the topic e.g. ‘trousers’. Then the second person on the first team says another and so on until someone messes up. The other team gets a point. Continue with another topic e.g. foods. Have students spell words instead of saying them to practice spelling.
Word Association Train - V
Divide students into groups of three or four. Student A thinks of a word from the previous unit, e.g. suitcase. Student B has to say a word associated with suitcase e.g. travel. Student C has to say a word associated with travel e.g. train and so on... Student can challenge each other to explain their word associations. The last person to be able to continue associations wins.
Word Stories - SO
In groups, students note ten words they have learnt recently. Allow them to look back at the previous units. Write all the words on the board. In groups, students then make a story (spoken or written) using at least five of the words on the board. Set a five-minute time limit. Students tell the class their story. Hold a class vote to decide which story is best.
Words From Words - V
Write a fairly long word on the board. Students work in pairs to make as many words as possible from the letters in the initial word. For example, from the word ‘grandmother’ the following words can be made: and, red, hot, her, grand, heat, rat, meat, hate, dragon, mate, etc.
Writing Storm - O
The teacher tells the students they have 5 minutes to write about something, and sets a subject that will encourage personal rather than general responses e.g. 'the best thing to happen to me today'. The teacher tells the students they are looking for ideas and is not going to correct language. Make this a group activity by having students work together to make a story.
Yes / No Game - S
The aim of the game is to make your partner say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, while trying not to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ yourself. Demonstrate with a strong student first. If your partner says yes or no then you win a point. If you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ your partner wins a point. You can make this more competitive by putting the class in two lines with one end for winners. When a student loses they must go to the other end while everyone else moves down one place. Set a five minute time limit.