What do surgeons, programmers and children have in common?
They all gain essential skills by playing games.
Surgeons play SICKO, a game designed to perfect fine motor skills.
Programmers can overcome fun obstacles while coding.
Children can level up on life skills, such as eating healthy, handling anger and gaining empathy, through games.
The smart ESL teacher recognizes the benefits to using games in the classroom, like providing motivation, interaction and context for the language being learned. One of the most important goals of the teacher should be to inspire their students in creative ways, and this will forward their learning skills.
Whether you’re choosing to teach English abroad or near your home, now is the time to gather an arsenal of interactive games to give your students, and their brains, a fun way to fully engage in the content and participate in the classroom.
The Best Online and Printable ESL Interactive Games
Online & Tablet Game Websites
Video games have become an increasingly popular activity for young and old people alike in recent decades. They’re more than just fun ways to pass the time, they can offer skill-building lessons in disguise.
With the advent of mobile phones, tablets and portable laptops, developers have created an almost endless library of games that can be played on these devices for short or long periods of time.
When learning or teaching a new language, daily practice is key. The good news is this daily practice can come in the form of almost any exercise, including games. There are several websites out there dedicated to providing the best interactive games available online.
- FluentU —FluentU isn’t just about passively watching videos—it’s about learning and actively practicing the language heard in videos with fun exercises.Students can use the interactive subtitles, flashcards and vocabulary lists to learn English phrases better than ever, and FluentU will track their progress for you! Available for web browser, iOS and Android.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
- Game Zone — This database of ESL interactive games has a special category that specializes in games optimized for use on mobile devices, but it also includes games that can be played on a laptop. As you browse the games, the website provides you the teaching topic of choice (such as vocabulary or grammar), the level of the game and the appropriate browser for each game.
- Arcademic Skill Builders — If you and your students like fast-paced action games that also enforce English academic skills, this website offers dozens. To browse quickly, the games can be sorted by grade or subject, such as counting, shapes or spelling. If you want to upgrade to the “plus” membership (which comes at a cost) teachers can create customized games that fit their exact lesson plans and receive reports that track student progress.
- British Council — This site is a must for teachers who have British English in their curriculum. The website is divided into interactive games, jokes and tongue twisters, an excellent way to practice pronunciation. Like the Academic Skill Builder website, you can sort the games by topics, daily routines and more.
- Freddiesville — Find any ESL flash game at Freddiesville. These games are designed for individual play, but a clever teacher can use a projector and modify the game format so they can be used with an entire classroom. Topics of games include self-introduction, verb tenses, classroom commands and noun categories.
- Digital Dialects — This website is entirely dedicated to iPad and tablet games for ESL learners and teachers, but there’s a link to another page dedicated for laptop use if you want to project them in the classroom. Topics are beginner categories, including food, numbers and animals.
- English Club — This conglomeration of English games includes everything from crosswords to matching pairs, and even hangman, almost all of which can be played on mobile. The main categories are grammar, spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary, and the games can be played on tablets, laptops and even smartphones.
Flashcards, PowerPoint Games & Printables
Flash games aren’t the only way to get interactive ESL games to your students. With quick and easy printables, or PowerPoint presentations that can be projected where the whole class can see, your interactive activities can expand to include a lot more options. These websites specialize in unique printables and PowerPoint games to suit whatever ESL needs you have.
Flashcards that you can print or display on the projector
Flashcards can be extremely handy in the classroom and, depending on how they’ll be used, are available in either printable or PowerPoint formats. Flash cards are simple to make—just print and cut out—but they’re an ideal resource for many teachers because they’re easy to transport and store, and their usefulness in class is impressively flexible.
Flashcards can be used for memory games (just print out duplicate sets), placed on the floor in a new style of hop scotch, plus they can be found online for almost every topic.
- ESL Flashcards — This site specializes in colorful and printable flashcards for students. Their total collection includes more than 100 available sets of flashcards, which are categorized by grammar topics and themes. They even have a collection series of flashcards dedicated to more difficult sounds in the English language, such as vowel diphthongs. All flashcards are available in PDF files.
- MES English — These flashcards are available either printed or displayed on a projector, and you can print/display them either in black and white or color. While our first list has an impressive collection of more than 100 sets of flashcards, this website features even more, with several flashcard files for almost every listed category. The topics are more focused on themes than sounds, and you can even find sets for holidays!
Use PowerPoint for visual learning with the game Hidden Pictures
Hidden Pictures is a game where you post the PowerPoint slides on a projector and the students have to carefully seek out the hidden pictures in the image. There are two major websites who specialize in providing a library of Hidden Pictures PowerPoint files:
- ISL Collective Projectables — You can find transportation, weather, space, fruit and sports projectables on this site. And while the topics are useful, the range available is limited. One great option is the Describing People Game, where you have to read a sentence and find the face that fits the description. What a great way to encourage student conversation!
- ESL Games Plus — This website includes dozens of categories, like animals, music, insects, jobs, colors, countries and so forth. No matter what your weekly or monthly ESL theme may be, there are sure to be great match-ups for your classroom. For example, if you’re teaching how to read time, use the Time Hidden Pictures PowerPoint to slowly reveal a clock, adding excitement and frenzy to the kids desire to read the time correctly.
Create customized, printable puzzle worksheets
Extend the practice of basic skills with these fun, puzzle games that you can modify to meet the needs of your students.
- AtoZ Teacher Stuff — Make a customizable crossword puzzle with your relevant vocabulary list.
- The Teacher’s Corner — Practice spelling and make it fun with custom word searches.
- ESL Games Plus — Bring a whole new game to class with the word spiral puzzle, a twist on the crossword puzzle.
- My Free Bingo Cards — Take the incredibly popular game Bingo and modify it for your classroom. You can generate cards with content related to your curriculum, or generate blank cards and have the students draw or write in the content on their own.
Large Group Games That Can Be Played Anywhere
Sometimes you have extra time in your class, or there’s an emergency such as a loss of power. During these times, you may not have resources or planned activities available that are required for computer and printable games.
Luckily, there’s a long series of tested games for the ESL classroom that don’t require anything other than students who are willing to play.
This game is an excellent way to use physical activity in the classroom while also engaging the brain in language learning. This game is particularly good for beginners.
- Line up the students in the front of the classroom. If you have a large classroom, have them line up in groups of six students at one time. While each group of six students plays, the other students are encouraged to watch and be engaged in the game.
- Assign each student a different word. Encourage them to repeat the word back to you.
- Now the game begins. The teacher (or a designated higher-level student) must say one word at a time.
- The student who is assigned that word must repeat it back and do a squat right away. A deep squat means they hold their arms out in front of them and bend their knees until the thigh bones are horizontal.
- If the student forgets, says the word incorrectly or is extremely late, they’re out and must sit down.
This game can be made more challenging by having the teacher speak faster, or having the students say and spell the word.
This is one of the most popular games in classrooms and works for any level. In this game, the students aren’t allowed to talk. You’ll be able to use an often ignored sense in the classroom–touch–to encourage spelling and vocabulary skills.
- Put the students into equal teams and line them up facing the blackboard. All the students must face the blackboard and cannot turn around.
- Inform the students that they cannot speak during the game, or their team is out.
- Give a word to the last student in each team (the student furthest from the blackboard). Usually, it’s best to write the word down and have them read it, so nobody can overhear it.
- When the teacher tells them to begin, the last student must silently write the word on the back of the student in front of them. Once they’re done, the next student then writes the word they “felt” on the student in front of them. This continues until the first student has the word.
- The first student goes to the blackboard and writes the word, spelled correctly.
- The first team to complete the task correctly is the winner.
I Took a Trip to the USA
This speaking game puts an emphasis on listening, focus and memory-building skills while also encouraging students to recall vocabulary.
- Teach the students the speech they must learn for every turn in the game: “I took a trip to the USA, and with me I took…”
- The first student says the sentence, and names an object starting with an “A.” For example, “…and with me I took an apple.”
- The next student must repeat the first word, then add a word that starts with a “B.” For example, “…and with me I took an apple and a banana.”
- Every following student must repeat every word previously said, and add a word starting with the next letter of the alphabet. For example, “…and with me I took an apple, a banana, and a cat.”
- The game continues until a word cannot be named or a word is forgotten.
This is a very flexible game that can be adapted to any classroom. First, be specific on wanting students to use articles and the word “and” before the last word. Also, you can give the classroom a category to follow, such as asking them to name animals or foods.
This game focuses heavily on spelling and team skills, and it’s a great way to cement the difficult words on your vocabulary list.
- Divide the students into teams. The number of teams doesn’t matter.
- Approach the first team and give them a word to spell. The following steps should be conducted with each team, one at a time. The other students may listen, or practice silently spelling the words, but there shouldn’t be talking from the other teams.
- The first student on the team may only give the first letter.
- The next student says the second letter, and so on.
- Once the word is complete, the next student must repeat the whole word, to signal they’re done spelling.
- Each correctly spelled word earns the team a point.
This game can also be made more or less challenging by choosing higher or lower level words. Also, for more advanced students, they can be asked to spell the word backward.
No matter what style of classroom you have, or what your resources are limited to, it’s easy to add interactive games to your classroom. Students are the most engaged when they’re less focused on having to learn and more focused on winning a game or overcoming a given challenge.
Don’t stop there either; there are dozens of ways to make homework assignments fun and engaging too. Use these projector games, customizable printables, and resource-free games to be the best teacher in school.