“Fluffy cat sneaky mouse yummy cheese.”
What’s missing from that sentence?
Well verbs, of course!
Adding verbs between “fluffy cat,” “sneaky mouse” and “yummy cheese” immediately lets us enjoy the colors and energies of both language and imagination in full action: “A fluffy cat saw a sneaky mouse eating some yummy cheese!”
For our students to enjoy these perks of English as well, we need to get them more comfortable with verbs.
ESL Verb Games: A Great Way to Learn and Play
Combining the variety of English verbs (action, linking, auxiliary, modal, etc.) and their complex usage, it is obvious that learning English verbs is a process riddled with challenges for our students.
For us ESL instructors, teaching students about English verbs requires creativity that may often take us beyond conventional classroom activities, into the wonderful land of ESL games.
Why Teach ESL Verbs with Games?
Language learning is hard work – especially learning English, with that tricky grammar! Using games to teach English not only alleviates the pressure and stress of language learning, but also encourages teachers and students to create a friendly environment in which the language is both meaningful and useful.
Teaching verbs with ESL games will also:
- Provide a welcome break from the usual routine of language instruction.
- Encourage students to interact and communicate in meaningful manners.
- Model real-life context of language use.
- Create opportunities for lesson review in a pressure-free environment.
- Make language come alive while helping students to sustain the effort of learning.
When you integrate games – such as ESL verb games – into your lessons, students are invited to take part in personalizing new English verbs by putting them in meaningful contexts. Through experimentation, interaction and live communication, ESL verb games can provide excellent opportunities for learners to learn, use and understand how English verbs work in real-life situations.
If you are looking for some creative ways to engage your students in the rules and varieties of English verbs, here are five fun but powerful verb games to start using in your classroom today.
5 Quick and Fun Verb Games for Your ESL Class
1. Hot Verb-Tato
Ever heard of the game Hot Potato? Well, Hot Verb-Tato is actually the variation of this timeless schoolyard game. But instead of just tossing a bean bag, balloon, ball or even a real potato to each other, the student with the “potato” needs to say a verb before passing the “potato” to another student.
Arrange the students in a circle. Pick a round, easy-to-handle object as your “potato.” Put on some lively music (ESL music or nursery rhymes are great choices). On start, each student must say a verb and pass the “potato” to another student. When time runs out, the student holding the potato is subject to some lighthearted punishment.
To make the entire experience educational and fun, the punishment can be anything from singing the ABC song to answering three questions in English. Students may also be given three random verbs and asked to use them in three meaningful and related sentences (like a three-sentence story).
In classes with more advanced students, you can challenge students by limiting verb varieties by only allowing verbs that start with certain letters. For example, you could say, “For this round of Hot Verb-Tato, we can only say verbs begin with a, b and c.”
2. Pantomime Verbs
This is the perfect game for all levels, but especially for shy beginners. The game is great for expanding verb vocabulary, while teaching students about rhyming in English.
Explain the meaning of “rhyme” to your students and start practicing with nouns. After the students get the hang of the game, start with verbs by dividing the class into two to three teams (depending on your class size).
Begin by saying, “I’m thinking of a verb that rhymes with ______.” (Try to use single syllable words and verbs). Students will raise their hands when they have a guess. The first student who asks, “Is it this?” and acts out the right verb, earns a point for his/her team. Set the goal for points and the team that reaches the threshold wins the game.
For advanced classes, the student who first pantomimes the right verb can start the game.
3. Visual Verbs
Visual verbs is a great verb game to help ESL students practice different verb forms.
Have a list of level-appropriate verbs ready before the game, and divide up the students into two teams. Write the teams on the board and draw three columns under each team, labeling the columns as “base,” ” past” and “past participle”. Each team will choose one player to go to the front of the class. Give each representative a different verb and ask them to act out their verbs without speaking.
The teams have to try to guess what verb their player is acting out. The student who guesses the verb correctly for their team will have to come to the front of the class and fill out the three forms of the verb in the columns.
The game continues until the team runs out on their list of verbs, then they can start to steal from the other team’s list by guessing their verbs. At the end of the game, give a point for every correctly spelled and formed verb. The team that has the largest amount of points at the end is the winner.
If you have a more advanced ESL class, you can prepare two lists of verbs: one easy and one hard. Assign point values to the verb list based on their difficulty (For example, two points for “easy” verbs and five points for “hard” verbs). If students can’t guess the hard one, they could pass and suffer a one-point deduction.
4. Verb Snip
This is a great activity for all ESL levels. Verb Snip is a perfect game to challenge students to think creatively and expand their verb inventory. Because of the nature of the game, you may also use Verb Snip as a game for spelling practice!
Arrange the students in a circle with one student in the center. As the pointer, the student in the center will count to five, point at someone, and ask him/her to spell a three-letter word (For example, “Dog, D-O-G”).
Then the student in the center will slowly count to ten, and then point at a different student and say “Snip!” The selected student must name three verbs that start with the letters spelled in the previous word. So for the dog example, D-O-G, the student can say, “Draw, Order, Go.”
Then the pointer will sit down and the student who just answered the pointer will continue the game by choosing a new three-letter word for someone to spell.
In a more advanced class setting, allow the pointer to choose words with four letters or more. However, students are not allowed to repeat words. You also could ban words with certain letters (like “x”, “y” and “z”).
5. Story Time
Story time is a combination of story and memory game. Students love the game because it challenges their language skills and linguistic creativity.
Prepare a bag with verb cards. Form a circle. The teacher begins by picking a verb card from the bag and forming a sentence with the verb.
The bag will be passed to the next student in the circle who will pick a card, repeat the teacher’s sentence, and form another sentence that contains the verb on his/her card.
The game continues with more sentences that need to be repeated (this is where the memory part comes in). The goal is for students to use verbs to make meaningful sentences while connecting them to the other people’s sentences to form a story.
You can also turn Story Time into a written game by dividing the class into different groups. Each group should have their own bag of verb cards. At the end of the game, each team will send a representative to the front of the class to read their story aloud. The class then gets to vote for the “Most Creative Story.”
By spicing up your ESL lessons with some of these games, your students will learn verbs in a fun, interactive way – which is sure to make the words stick. And now that you have seen the power of ESL verb games, it’s time to enjoy the creativity and even make some of your own!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked these fun games, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. 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.