12 Best ESL Classroom Games to Engage Your Students

For many people, Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) is such a rewarding opportunity. It really allows you to try out different approaches to language learners of all ages.  As you can imagine, playing games is the best way to not only help young ones learn, but to make learning English fun and accessible for learners of all kinds and ages.

Here are some of the 12 best ESL games to make part of your classroom activities,  guaranteed that it’s going to be as fun for you as it is for them.

It’s important to note that these games are not an exhaustive list. These are simply some of the preferred classroom games by experienced teachers. Any of these can be adapted towards whatever topic or lesson you have been teaching that day. So they’re always relatable and educational while promoting fun.

1. Charades 

ESL games Charades

Charades is great for encouraging healthy competition against classmates. You can do it in groups or partnerships. Someone has to mime the action displayed on the card  they pull from a hat, and their teammate(s) has to guess what the action is.

This is great for customizing to each lesson and can be scaled into small or large teams as needed.

2. Pictionary 

Similar to Charades, Pictionary requires no communication and will work with the person drawing a representation of the action on their chosen card/paper from the hat. 

This is great for those who are self-conscious as well as those who are artistically inclined.

3. Telephone 

This popular game requires for students to sit in a circle.  The teacher must develop a medium to long sentence using new vocabulary or a related lesson topic. The message is whispered from ear to ear around the circle. The last person to hear the message says it out loud and then it is compared to the teacher’s original statement. 

This is great for those days where students are tired or have a hard time focusing.

4. Hot Potato 

ESL games hot potato

Similar to Telephone, Hot Potato works by someone tossing something soft around a circle (in order, or at random) and each person must say a word of phrase related to a central topic that is chosen by the teacher. The more words that are said by the time the counter runs out, the higher the reward.

This can be a group activity in a large circle, or it can be done in smaller groups to encourage teamwork and healthy competition.

5. Chalkboard Acronym 

Chalkboard classroom games can be more basic too. In Chalkboard Acronym, a teacher writes a word vertically on the board.  Students must come up with a word for each letter relating to the central topic chosen by the teacher. 

This can be done at their desks, or on the chalkboard for a more interactive approach.

6. Hangman 

Hangman is a classic game that requires the teacher to write a series of lines  on the board, forming an (untold) word. Then students guess a series of letters. Each letter that is guessed correctly gets put on the appropriate space(s). Each incorrect guess gets a piece of the “hangman” drawn on its pole. Students can guess the word at any point, but incorrect guesses create another add-on to the hangman. When the hangman is anatomically correct, the game over and the students lose. 

This can be customized to just about any lesson at any point and is especially useful for spelling and writing comprehension.

7. Bingo 

ESL games Bingo

Bingo works by having a scoreboard determined in topic by teacher. It can be simple as coded pieces of paper and each code relates to a certain lesson from the week. The teacher will start pulling out hints or codes at random and the first person to fill a straight line wins a prize.  

8. Hidden Objects 

A true classic that allows for students to work together as a group, this game involves collecting several items together from the classroom, especially relating to the most recent lesson. The objects are laid out and then covered after a few minutes. The students have to guess the objects that were on display.

The more objects, the harder it is. For bonus points, students can also guess the location of the objects in relation to each other.  This allows students to help each other, too. 

9. Quizalize 

Using technology, teaching games can be used for live-time action. This game allows for one quiz to be accessed by several students at time on tablets and the results of the questions answered are displayed in real time. 

This is great for teamwork, as the teams can compete each other to get the most answers correct in the shortest amount of time.

10. Two Truths and a Lie 

ESL games Two Truths and a Lie 

This game involves students telling two truths and a lie and others having to guess which is the lie. This can easily be related to classroom topics as needed. It can also be done in groups or as a class.

This is especially useful for those students that love to talk!

11. Simon Says

A great full class activity, Simon Says requires a student to instruct their classmates to do something (related to the central lesson theme if possible) using the precursor “Simon Says”. Without saying that, and indicating the action to do, the students who follow the instructions are either “it” (aka Simon), or tagged out of the game.

12. Problem Solving 

ESL games Problem Solving 

By using labels on headbands or on their backs, students must guess the term on their label by asking questions to their fellow students. Students cannot offer advice, only answer their questions.

This is great in groups or as a classroom.

Bonus: New game ideas from Linguish 

Summary

ESL classroom games are always fun for the teacher and students. Finding the right ones can be a fun challenge and you can customize each of these to be whatever you want. Designed to help students learn and enjoy it at the same time, these 12 examples ESL games are fun for learners of all ages. 

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