4 ESL Grammar Games for Learning Verb Tenses and Having Fun!

Let’s face it: grammar lessons are often a bore.

And not just for students!

If you’re tired of doing the same old exercises, we’ve got a solution for ya.

We’re going to help you integrate grammar games into your lesson plans for fun in the classroom.

How to Use Grammar Games in the ESL Classroom

Most seasoned teachers will tell you that learning games are an awesome resource for ESL students.

Grammar games are particularly useful in an ESL classroom to make sure that grammar points are being absorbed by students.

While traditional grammar exercises on paper are useful at the beginning of the establishment of a grammar point, games are actually even more useful at the end. While a student can usually successfully reproduce a grammar point on paper once he or she has learned it, it’s more difficult to reproduce a rule like this in a freer setting, such as a game.

Students have to think on their toes and keep their brains running faster than ever.

When games are properly explained and the rules are well-thought-out and established by the teacher, they can be a great way to reinforce grammar points that have already been introduced in class. However, as with any language game, it’s important not to let the fun of the activity eclipse its usefulness. Games may be fun for the student, but they do require effort and planning on the part of the teacher!

Before integrating a grammar game into your class, be sure that the grammar point has been established and absorbed by most, if not all of the members of the class. Make sure to appeal to all different learning styles and ensure that no student slips through the cracks (as best as you can).

And of course, choose games wisely: pick a game that reinforces a grammar point that you’ve recently taught. Be vigilant about enforcing the rules — not only rule of the game, but also grammar rules by making sure that students are producing grammatically correct sentences all along the way.

Of course, the game should be fun too, so don’t enforce grammar points that haven’t been covered yet. It’s also best to avoid grammar points that have very recently been covered and need more study time before students are prepared to use them in games. When students make mistakes with grammar points that aren’t the main point of the game, those errors don’t necessarily need to be penalized.

For more fun learning outside (or inside!) the classroom, FluentU offers a wide variety of videos, complete with an interactive dictionary, flashcards and learning games and quizzes to support students’ learning.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

Overall, the goal is to ensure that students feel comfortable and confident about speaking up and participating during the game!

4 ESL Grammar Games for Learning Verb Tenses and Having Fun!

1. Play Charades to Practice the Present Perfect

English is somewhat unique in that it has several present tenses. Students often get confused between the simple present — I walk — and the present continuous — I am walking. That’s because, in English, a true present event, one that’s still in process, isn’t expressed using the simple present.

Enforce this rule with a game of charades. Prepare slips of paper in advance, using well-understood activities that are easy to act out and using vocabulary that your students know. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Building a house
  • Making the bed
  • Setting the table
  • Cooking /making a meal
  • Doing homework
  • Driving a car

Have the student act out the activity on their given slip. Students can volunteer ideas as to what the student is doing, but they must be correctly formatted in the following way:

  • You’re making the bed!
  • Eric is riding a horse!
  • He’s mowing the lawn!

Any student who doesn’t formulate the sentence correctly will have to sit out that round, and they won’t get points for their guess — even if they mentioned the right activity. Examples of incorrect sentences are ones using an infinitive or partial infinitive (Make the bed!) a simple present (He makes the bed!) or a grammatically incorrect present continuous (He making the bed!).

2. Use the Storyboard Game to Practice English Past Tenses

English, like many languages, has several different past tenses. Use this to your advantage by playing a game of “Storyboard.”

The teacher will need to prepare the story in advance. Draw or find pictures that create a logical (or illogical!) story. Place them in a jumbled order on your whiteboard.

Students have to arrange the pictures in order to tell a story, but they can only do it by telling you what happened before and after.

For example, imagine that there are four pictures in this story (your story for class should have about ten but, for the sake of the example, we’ll start with four). The pictures are on the blackboard in the following order.

  1. A man standing outside his house in a bathrobe.
  2. A newspaper boy throwing the newspaper onto the porch.
  3. A man drinking coffee.
  4. A door slamming.

A student must talk about the first picture in relation to the others, so that you put them in the right order:

“The man was outside in his bathrobe because he saw the newspaper boy throw the newspaper onto the porch.”

When you hear this sentence — and ask fellow students to correct, as needed, for grammar and order — you’d put picture 2 first and then follow it with picture 1. Another student would then have to add picture 3 to the story:

“The man was drinking coffee before he saw the newspaper boy throw the newspaper onto the porch.”

You would then put picture 3 before picture 2. Another student:

“The door slammed and locked the man outside. The man was standing outside after the door slammed.”

Once the students understand the game, you can select a volunteer to take your place putting the pictures in order. Encourage fellow students to correct any mistakes you may hear by asking, “Is that correct?”

3. Write a Communal Story to Learn Helping Verbs like Could, Should and Would

Could, should and would can be difficult to understand for many ESL students. Many other languages use verb tenses to express these ideas, so the idea of using a helping verb can be difficult to grasp. Practice these words by having your students write a communal story.

The teacher starts the story by giving an idea to wrap the writing around: for example, a main character or plot point. Then students volunteer their ideas by using could, should and would. Imagine that the story is about an elephant who runs away from the zoo. Students may say:

  • What would he do? Maybe he would try to find some peanuts!
  • Could we make him a pink elephant?
  • Should we include a sidekick? Like a monkey?

Designate one student as the scribe to jot down brainstorming notes. When you’ve come up with the communal story through this blackboard brainstorming session, each student writes his or her own version down in their personal notebook, including all of the details that you’ve decided on as a class. Allow students to read one another’s stories or read their versions aloud to see just how many different versions of the same story you’ve come up with together!

4. Try “Mother May I?” to Learn English Helping Verbs Like May, Can and Could

Use this classic playground game to your advantage.

“Mother May I?” uses a familiar turn of phrase for a physical game that’ll get students up out of their seats and keep them from getting drowsy at their desks!

Start with the traditional version of the game. Students line up at the back of the room, and the “mother” stands at the front. You, the teacher, should be the first mother.

When a student wins the game they’ll become the mother. A student asks, “Mother, may I…” and then makes a request that’ll bring them closer to the front of the classroom — take two steps forward, hop once forward, take one lunge forward — and the mother either says, “Yes, you may,” or “No, you may not.” The student who reaches the front of the room first wins. Any mistakes send you back two steps!

You can then modify the game to use “can” and “could” in a similar way.

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