Games and Activities for the English as a Second Language Classroom

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Catching up on your ABC's

Level: Any Level

This game is short and simple. Write the alphabet on the board. Throw a bean bag to someone and say a word begining with the letter A. This person must catch the bean bag, say a word begining with the letter B and then throw it to another person This third person says a word begining with the leter C and so on.

Obviously the game is meant to be played fast. If played with higher level students you may not want to write the alphabet on the board. There are many ways to change the game to make it adaptable to your level of students.

Submitted by: Adam in China

Secret Code

Level: Any Level

I sometimes give instructions to my students written in code that they have to interpret before completing tasks. I've used this at various levels:

Here's an example: to revise alphabet and simple present verbs/vocab.

To make it more difficult, I've ... This activity can be used to review or practise vocabulary or structure or simply be a different way to introduce the topic for the day's class -- each student gets one or two words to decode and then the class work to put all the words together. Submitted by: Karen Mack

Crazy Story

Level: Any Level

This is an activity that will make your students speak in class and be creative.

Submitted by: Luciana Pinheiro

Classroom Rules: Must and Mustn't

Level: Easy to Medium

The winning group, the group that finishes first, reads their sentences aloud. (Each student of the group reads one or two sentences depends on size of group.)

It's an easy game and the preparation does not take too much time. You can make as many rules as you wish.

Submitted by: Sijeta Braha

Digital Camera Scavenger Hunt

Level: Easy to Difficult

This game may require students to leave the classroom depending on how you set it up.

Make a list of things students must take photos of. Then put your students into teams, each with their own camera and have them go out and take the photos. The team that comes back first with all the photos is the winner.

Some ideas for lists are:

For further review of vocabulary, have the students look at all the photos and identify other things that appear in each photo.


Level: Medium to Difficult

This game is a simplified version of the board game "Taboo".

Before class, create several index cards. On each card write one word in a large font with a circle around it, and underneath write 2-4 related words in a smaller font. The goal is for students to get their teammates to guess the circled word. They can say anything they like to try to make them guess, except for the words written on the card.

Divide the class into groups of two, and write each group on the board to keep track of points. Place a desk in the front of the room facing the class, so that someone sitting it has their back to the board and can't read it. Place another desk in front of it, so the teammates are facing eachother.

Pick a team to go first, and have them choose a card. Have the teammates decide who will guess and who will talk. The guesser sits with their back to the board. On the board, making sure the guesser can't see, write the circled word as well as the other taboo words. The talker then has to try to make their partner guess the circled word without saying it, or any of the other words. After they guess it have another group come up. When all the groups have gone, do it again and have the teammates switch roles.

My students really enjoy this game, so much so that they often give the guesser clues even when it is not their team! It's a great way for students to practice forming sentences, and it forces them to use words and structures they might otherwise not use.

Submitted by: Mike Amato, Boston, MA, USA

Beep Game

Level: Easy to Medium

Choose around 10 volunteers to come and stand in a line at the front of the classroom. The first student in line must begin counting from 1, and each student in turn calls out the next number. However, every 4th number must be replaced by the word "beep" (or buzz etc.). Following a "beep" the next student in line must call out the next number, and not the number that has been replaced. For example, 1, 2, 3, beep, 5, 6, 7, beep, 9 etc.

If a student hesitates too much or makes a mistake he/she must sit down, so eventually only one student remains. Whenever a student sits down, begin from 1 again. See how far you can get!

Submitted by: Caroline Berry

Words Beginning with a Given Letter

Level: Medium to Difficult

The teacher chooses a letter from the alphabet. Then each student must say a word that begins with that letter. If a student repeats a word that has already been said, then he/she is out of the game. The game ends when only one student remains. That student is the winner. In high level classes students lose if they say a past form of the verb. Example:see-saw. You can increase the difficulty by adding a timer. Only allow each student 5 seconds to think of a word.

Counting Liar Game

Level: Any Level

This game is similar to the Alphabet Liar game except it deals with numbers and adding the "S" sound at the end of plural nouns , all you need is a deck of cards.

Divide the students into groups of 4 to 6. Deal all the cards from the deck to the students. The player who has the 2 of Spades begins. This player puts down his 2 of spades and any other 2 he has in his hand FACE DOWN in a pile and procedes to say "one 2" or "two 2'ssss" then next player procedes to put down his 3, then 4, then 5 etc...

Let's say the player doesn't have the card he is supposed to put down, for example a 3, the player must try to "lie" or fool the other players into thinking he has the card so he can play... if other students have any doubt they shout "liar" if the player was lying he then pick up the pile at the center of the table. If the player who is accused of lying was telling the truth it is the player who accused him who must pick up the pile in the center.

All players MUST put down a card when it is their turn, even if they do not have the required card. The game is over when one of the players has no more cards.

I use this game to help practice the "s" sound at the end of plural nouns cause most students have a tendancy to say "there are 2 dog" rather than "there are 2 dogssssss" this game really helps the message get through. ***For better explanations see the alphabet liar game.***

Submitted by: Jeffrey Kelso

Act Out an Activity

Level: Easy to Medium

This is a game-like activity to teach continous tense.

One student simply acts out some activity ( and the other students guess what that student is doing. The student who guesses correctly acts out another acitvity...

Submitted by: Lucia Liskova

Vacation Cards

Level: Medium to Difficult

For this activity you will need a deck of cards, and an imaginative theme that could be crafted into some sort of story. For example, I choose "send the teacher on a vacation". On the board or overhead projector make a list like the following. (You could ask your student for imput.)

Prompt the students a little to get them started; perhaps offer a beginning to the story. They then must continue making an oral story by drawing one card and continuing the story along those lines. For example, if they get 4, then the teacher/protagonist must do something heroic or some kind of heroric event must occur. If the students draw a K (or whatever card you stipulate), then they can change one option. This seems to help keep the momentum in the game. Continue through all cards, with the stipulation that the story must be concluded by the end of the deck. Obviously there is a lot of room for variation here. Your word list and theme could be related to your unit of study.

My students really enjoyed this game; it is most interesting if you personalize it and insert yourself or a student (assuming he/she wouldn't mind).

Submitted by: Rebecca

Headmaster Game

Level: Medium to Difficult

Have each student take out a piece of paper and their dictionary. Write on the board:

You are the new headmaster of this school. You have two years to make this the perfect school. You can have as much money as you want, but you must spend it all in 2 years. Be specific. For example, don't say hire better teachers. You must say how you would find better teachers or what kind of teachers you would hire. Also, remember you must think like a headmaster, not like a student! Making school easy and letting the students do no exams or homework will not make parents happy!

Give the students 15 minutes to work alone. Then put them in groups of 3-5 with a leader to organize their thoughts. Each group's leader will give its "report" to the other students during the following class period.

If your students have a small vocabulary you can help them out by listing on the blackboard areas of discussion: teachers, buildings, classrooms, activities, dorms, lunchrooms,curriculum, sports, playground, library, bathrooms,schedules,music, art,etc.

This is a great activity for all ages. We always run out of time!

Submitted by: Victoria Throop

Can You Find What Is Different?

Level: Easy

Ask a volunteer to go out of the classroom. While the student is out of the room, the other students change their sweaters, shoes, coats and so on. Bring the student who went out of the classroom back inside. He/she has to guess the differences (speaking in English, of course.)

Submitted by: Raquel Fiol

Guess the Letter on Your Back

Level: Easy

This game is used to practice the alphabet. Divide students into groups and ask them to stand in line and give the students in the front of the line a piece of chalk to write on the blackboard. Then write with your finger a letter on the back of the students at the end of the line. They must do the same with the student in front of him/her and so on. The students with the chalk try to guess the letter and write any word that begins with that letter on the board.

Submitted by: Raquel Fiol

Fold-over Stories

Level: Any Level

This is an old favorite. Give each student a sheet of blank paper. Write the following words on the board in a vertical line: WHO, WHAT, HOW, WHERE, WHEN, WHY. Explain that everyone will be writing a sentence story. Write an example on the board, explain, asking for suggestions.

  1. Tell them to write someone's name at the top of their paper, i.e., their own, a classmate's, the teacher's, a famous person that everyone knows; fold the paper over once so no one can see it, then pass the paper to the person on their right.
  2. Write on the received paper what the subject did (suggest funny or outrageous actions), fold it over and pass it on to the right.
  3. Continue to write one line, how they did it (adverbs), fold and pass; where-pass; when-pass; and last of all, why (because...) and pass it one more time.
  4. Have the students unfold their stories, and read them silently. Help anyone who cannot read what the others wrote, or doesn't understand.
  5. Ask one student at a time to read "their" story aloud, or turn the stories in for the teacher to read. Funny!
Submitted by: Vicki Konzen


Level: Medium Submitted by: Nguyen Nhu

Guessing the Word from a Drawing

Level: Any Level Submitted by: Nguyen Nhu

Reviewing Tenses

Level: Any Level


The Activity: Example: Submitted by: Nguyen Nhu

Find Parts of Speech of Words in a Sentence

Level: Any Level Example: Your sentence:
I        WENT       TO       SCHOOL   YESTERDAY.    
pronoun   verb   preposition    noun     noun
Submitted by: Nguyen Nhu

Think Fast!

Level: Any Level

A game for revision (review). It also works well for the last 5 minutes of class

The teacher prepares a list of items for revision e.g. word fields, grammar, facts. In class he/she explains the procedure. Three to five volunteers leave the classroom and wait till their turn has come. The teacher appoints a student to take the exact time and another to take down a tick for every correct answer. No repetitions! (Set up or negotiate rules on pronunciation.) Then the first player is called in.

Once all volunteers have done their bit, award a small prize (e.g. a sticker) to the winner of the round. Then ask the class for additions before you pick the next item. Then pick the next item.

Allow more time (30 or 40 seconds) for longer answers: What have you done so far today? / What did you do last weekend? / School rules: What do students have to do? What are they not allowed to do? / etc.

If this game is played in groups, they should be evenly balanced.
Submitted by: Gertraud Muraoka

Alphabet Liar Game

Level: Any Level
Submitted by: Raquel Fiol

Survivor Spelling Game

Level: Any Level

Use this activity to review vocabulary:

Make a list of vocabulary covered in previous lessons. Have students stand. Call out a vocabulary word. The first student begins by saying the word and giving the first letter, the second student the second letter of the word, the third student the third letter, and so on until the word is spelled correctly. If somebody makes a mistake they must sit down and we start from the beginning again until the word is spelled correctly. The last student must then pronounce the word correctly and give a definition in order to stay standing. The student who is left standing is the "survivor" and wins the game. I usually give them some type of prize. If all the students remain standing we have a pizza party at the end of the week.

The students love it and it is a great way to practise vocabulary!!!
Submitted by: Josie Saieva (Canada)

What's Your Name?

Level: Easy (Raw beginners)

One student sits in the front of the classroom (usually in the teacher's comfortable chair) with his back to the other students. The teacher then points to students in the class and asks "What's your name?" The student indicated must respond "My name is__________" with either his own name or the name of someone in the class. The student in the front cannot see who is speaking. The teacher says to him, "Is it___________?" and he must say "Yes, it is" or "No, it isn't". If the student in front is correct, he gets to stay there, but if he's mistaken, he changes place with the student who fooled him.

To make the game more interesting, the students are encouraged to disguise their voices.

I always do this with my beginners at the beginning of the year, but always at the end of the class, and for not more than 5 to 10 minutes. (My beginners are elementary age.)
Submitted by: Nancy Quebec

Human Bingo - Getting to Know You Activity

Level: Any Level

Have the students divide an 8.5" x 11" paper into 9 squares (two vertical lines / two horizontal lines. The middle square is the "free" space. Next, put a list of 5 questions on the board (these can vary in difficulty). For example:

  1. What is your name?
  2. Where are you from?
  3. How long have you been in the USA?
  4. hat is the strangest thing you have eaten here?
  5. (they make a question)
The students must then interview 8 different people in the class to fill in the bingo page. Each square on the paper represents one person's answers. When they have written all the answers from one person, they go on to someone else until all of the boxes on the paper are filled. When everyone has finished, the teacher uses the class list to call off names. For example, if the teacher says, "Who has Rodrigo?", the students who interviewed Rodrigo would then provide the answers he gave to the bingo questions.

It's a fun game that gets students speaking right away. It usually takes a while to complete.
Submitted by: Rachel Scheiner

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