Bingo has stood the test of time.
When I was a student, if my teacher broke out the bingo cards, there was a smile on everyone’s face.
Now, as an ESL teacher, it’s great to see how little things have changed in this regard!
You’d expect that today’s students would all prefer some addictive, flashy bingo app, but I digress…
Bingo is a simple, versatile game that’s popular in many classrooms, but it’s especially useful for language educators. You can adapt it to teach anything from basic numbers to books to spelling, as we’ll show you below. Plus, nothing gets your students reading, listening and talking in English like a fun game where the winners get to shout “Bingo!” at the top of their lungs.
Curious about how to transform plain old bingo into ESL teaching gold? We’ll show you bingo variations and add-ons you can use to target listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.
Mix and match, pick the ideas that work best for your students and get ready to energize your classroom!
Why ESL Bingo is a Great Game for English Learners
I’ve already mentioned that bingo is a classic, so now here comes the question: why should this oldie but goodie that dates back to the 1500s be used in the modern, 21st-century classroom?
To start, it can be used with almost any age group at any level of ESL. All you need to do is adapt the game to the current concept in the classroom. As we’ll demonstrate later in this post, you can target a range of specific language competencies and learning goals with bingo since it’s an incredibly versatile game. By switching up what’s on the bingo cards, you can do everything from teach vocabulary to reinforce concepts from a book your class is reading.
Gameplay also requires listening, reading and usually speaking, so your students will be getting well-rounded English practice.
Plus, even college-aged students can become excited when playing bingo if you make the reward enticing enough.
But what sort of enticing reward should you offer? Well, what drives your students may simply be the break from a normal lesson or the simple joy of winning. However, if you do want to offer prizes to your students you don’t have to splurge. My students always go crazy if I put a gumball in as a prize. But if you think students are sugared up enough these days then pencils, stickers or even passes that gives students an exception from homework work just as well.
Websites That Help Teachers Make ESL Bingo Cards
A big factor of playing bingo in the classroom that turns teachers off is the prep time. How are you going to make multiple bingo cards when you’ve got papers to grade, lesson plans to write and all of the other tasks that being a teacher throws at you.
Well, thank goodness for technology! The internet has several options that can give you the type of bingo card you’re looking for. Below are just a few that I’ve suggested to help you narrow down your options.
Bingo Baker is great because it lets you add pictures and words simultaneously. It’s the one I use when making cards and it takes about an hour to get through the process. It lets you print the first eight cards free, so it’s particularly great for small groups.
If you have access to a color printer or just want to get fancy with a fun layout, give My Free Bingo Cards a go. They let you print 30 cards for free, and if your group is bigger than that and you don’t mind spending a bit then you can get 100 cards for only $10.
For ease and simplicity, you’ll want to head over to Orsric.com. The easiest of the three websites, Osric prints a simple layout and displays all of your bingo cards as soon as you’ve put in the words you want to use. There’s also no limit to how many you can print, and it’s all free.
B-I-N-G-O! Unique Ways to Implement ESL Bingo in Your Classroom
Another great piece of proof of the versatility of ESL bingo is that you can implement and practice any of the essential ESL skills—reading, writing, listening and speaking—when playing this game.
Some require a little more creativity than others, but with a bit of thinking your students are sure to have fun while exercising these abilities.
1. ESL Bingo for Listening Comprehension
Let’s start with one of the most crucial skills when it comes to bingo: Listening. You can’t mark your bingo card if you’re not listening to the letters and numbers being called out!
A traditional way to play ESL bingo is to put English vocabulary words on the cards. Students then need to listen for those words as you call them out so they can mark them off.
For beginners, you can use pictures on the bingo cards instead of written vocabulary words. Younger students may not be able to spell or identify the letters in the word “cat,” but if you’ve been working on basic ESL words there’s a good chance they’ll be able to pick out the picture of a cat when you call it.
For more advanced students, you can use entire sentences—including some with only minor differences (like tense changes or plurals)—to really hone their listening skills.
2. ESL Bingo to Boost Speaking Skills
If the students want to tell you they’ve won, then they need to know how to say it. Most likely they’ll shout “Bingo!” but you can designate any tricky-to-say vocabulary word instead. You can also work on pronunciation by designing your bingo board around vocabulary words and having students repeat each word as it’s called out.
If you have older students, though, saying individual words might not fit the bill. I usually have older students spell their winning words out, and for the ones who really know their stuff I tell them to give me a sentence using the words. You can also ask them to tell you what kind of bingo they have (up and down, side-to-side, four corners, diagonal).
To make sure the whole class is getting speaking practice, you can have everyone practice creating sentences (in pairs, groups or one-by-one) with the winning words. You can also give students the chance to call out the bingo words instead of you, which not only creates an opportunity for speaking practice but can also be very motivating for students who like to participate or flex their skills.
3. ESL Bingo for Reading Comprehension
For a reading-focused variation on bingo, grab an excerpt from a level-appropriate text and hand it out to your students. Then, ask them to read the passage and make their own bingo boards using only nouns, verbs or adjectives (as you like) from the text. This way, they’re getting active reading practice with the motivation that a game—and possibly a win!—will come next.
You can then call out words from the text at random until someone wins! When they do, ask the winner or the class as a whole to summarize the text that they read.
Another fun thing you can do to challenge students who are unfamiliar with certain words is crack open a dictionary. Have your advanced students read the entry to the class, and then you can even come up with some fun word association games.
Here’s an example for you: one of your students got bingo using the words old, beautiful, silly, soft and cold, but doesn’t know what the word beautiful means. They look it up and read the entry. Then you can ask your students:
- What are some things that you think are beautiful?
- What’s another word that can be used to mean the same thing as beautiful?
Finally, a great way to play bingo that really focuses on reading and comprehension skills is using something that you’ve read in class as your bingo template. First, you’ll need to pull common or essential vocabulary words from the book and use them to make cards with one of the bingo board makers mentioned earlier.
Then, as you play, you can sprinkle follow-up questions about the book throughout the game. This will both assess whether your students have completed and understood any readings you’ve assigned, and will also add to their overall comprehension of the book. You can even play this game chapter-by-chapter to set them up for future readings.
For example, this summer my class read “Flat Stanley” by Jeff Brown. In “Flat Stanley,” the word “thieves” doesn’t occur until Chapter Four, but I used it in a “Flat Stanley”-themed bingo game before students had read that chapter. This didn’t take away from my students’ learning experience. Instead, they learned what thieves were early on, and when we got to Chapter Four they already knew who thieves were and were more engaged to learn about what their purpose in the story was.
4. ESL Bingo for Writing Practice
Writing is probably the trickiest skill to sneak into ESL bingo.
One of the easiest ways to get the students writing is to have each student make his or her own card. Some might even prefer it because it gives them a sense of control in the game. You can do it the old fashioned way and write out numbers between one and 75. Otherwise, you can provide a set vocabulary list or a category of basic nouns so that you know you’re calling out words that are on students’ boards.
You could also print out cards that have letters missing in each word, and when you call the word the students have to fill in the blanks.
But what if they spell a word wrong? To ensure accuracy and assess their writing you can do a number of things. When my students make their own cards I usually sit with the ones who struggle a bit more so I can be right there to assist them, and then anyone who has a question is more than welcome to come up to me to ask.
You could also go through the words before sitting down to make cards and then write them as your students say the words. That way, they can look to the board if they have any questions.
With the right tools, ESL bingo can be a great way to encourage language learning. Use it to reinforce vocabulary or introduce something new. No matter the level or age, this classic is sure to put a smile on their face from the first word all the way until someone shouts, “Bingo!”
And One More Thing…
If you’re looking for entertaining ESL teaching resources, then you’ll love FluentU! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities. You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.