Ever used a Trojan Horse in your teaching?
While there’s really not much about the Trojan War that you’d want to emulate in a classroom, the old story of the Trojan Horse can be a helpful metaphor.
Just like the sneaky Greek army, you can hide important English lessons inside something exciting that your students will want.
And there’s no need to build a giant wooden horse to pull it off.
All you need are some fun English games!
Whether you need to teach parts of speech, sentence structure or just provide fresh opportunities for English conversation, there are fun ESL games that can provide it all.
The following games are fun little English lesson Trojan horses. We’ll show you the basics of implementing them, plus tips for adapting them to your specific teaching goals.
5 Fun Games for Irresistible English Lessons
1. A Walk in His/Her Shoes
This activity is great for an elementary to intermediate level class. The game tests students’ knowledge of adjectives regarding physical appearance, verbal phrases to explain hobbies and clothing items, among other things.
For lower level classes, start with some review of vocabulary in the categories of jobs, clothing items and activities. Students can raise their hands to contribute vocabulary words as the teacher keeps lists on the board.
For higher level students, open the lesson with the question: What does it mean to “walk a mile in someone’s shoes?” With any luck a short discussion on the merits of empathy will ensue.
Following on from this, a great step is to introduce the topic of empathy with a short video or clip. It helps to break down what seems to be a difficult concept into an understandable way. With the FluentU library of videos, you’ll be able to find some great content (including a video about empathy between elephants) to help break down this concept for your students.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
After the short warm up, divide the class into groups of two. Give each pair of students a picture of a pair of shoes; for example, a photo of red high heels or purple rain boots. Then, instruct the class to imagine the person who owns that pair of shoes.
They must describe this person in detail. They should use adjectives to describe the person’s physical appearance and verbs in their proper tense to describe what the person does for work and in their leisure time.
The students should write down a full description of the person using proper grammar and word forms.
For more advanced students and more sentence structure practice, the students can write a small story about the character they’ve imagined. Toward the end of the lesson or during the next lesson, each pair of students must present their person to the rest of the class.
Tip: Before class, prepare a list of questions the students should answer regarding their imagined person. Questions might include “Where does this person live?” or “What does this person eat for lunch?” The questions can be tailored to focus on specific vocabulary.
2. Mad Libs
This is the ultimate parts of speech game. Teachers can buy Mad Libs books online, but they can also create their own. This game requires students to look closely at the positioning of different parts of speech and what makes up a sentence.
Each Mad Lib tells a short anecdote or story. Within the story, several of the words are missing. “Noun,” “adjective,” “name,” “adverb,” “color,” “food,” or some other part of speech or category is written under each blank space in the story. The students must fill in the missing parts of speech, which are then used to complete the story.
The fact that words get filled in before students hear any context has two benefits:
- You can first focus exclusively on parts of speech and how they’re used.
- The completed stories are bound to be funny and grab students’ attention!
Mad Libs can be done as a class with one student standing in the front of the room and asking for the missing words from his or her classmates. Once he or she writes in all the missing words he or she should read the story aloud to the class.
It can also be done in small groups of four or five students. One student in each group holds the story and asks his or her classmates for the missing words, then reads the completed story to the group. Toward the end of the lesson, encourage the groups to share their stories with the whole class.
Tip: The results are often silly. Occasionally a Mad Lib won’t make sense with the words the students chose. In this case, it’s important to have the students look at the sentence more closely and discuss why the chosen word doesn’t work.
3. Story Chains (Also Known as Fold-over Stories)
Story chains are a fun and easy way for more advanced students to review storytelling devices, and for lower level students to practice using the past tense. This game requires little preparation and can be used as a warm up or cool down activity.
Each student takes a loose piece of paper and writes the opening sentence to a story. Remind the students that when telling a story, they should use the past tense.
The teacher may offer prompts such as, “Write one sentence that introduces the main character.” Then the students fold the top of their paper over so that it can’t be seen and pass their papers to the student next to them. The next line in the story might have to do with setting, then an obstacle the character encounters, etc.
Continue to fold and pass the story until you reach the desired story length. Everyone should unfold the story in front of them and read it to the class.
Tip: The teacher can adapt the instructions to focus on specific devices or parts of speech, such as, “Use a prepositional phrase to explain where the character lives.”
4. Who Am I?
This game helps students become comfortable asking questions in English, with the added benefit of getting them up, moving and speaking to one another.
Each student writes down the name of a famous person or celebrity. The teacher collects the names, folds them and mixes them up. Then the teacher redistributes them to the class. Without reading the name of the celebrity, the students should hold the paper on their foreheads so others can see it.
The students should mix and mingle, asking their classmates one yes-or-no question at a time to try to guess who they are.
Questions can be as simple or as complicated as necessary. For example, a student might start by asking a classmate, “Am I a woman or a man?” and work toward questions such as “Was I in the last Batman movie?” The first student to successfully guess which celebrity he or she is wins.
Tip: The teacher should circulate to make sure the students are using the correct verb tenses and word forms in their questions and answers.
5. Extreme Situations (Also Known as You’re Stranded on a Desert Island…)
This game is best for advanced students. It requires students to read, reason, debate and persuade. Students are divided into pairs or small groups. They’re given a scenario in which they’re stranded on an island with five other people. They discover a boat on the island but there’s only room for the students in the group and two of the other five people. The students must choose which one to save.
Each of the five people on the island have a story, which makes the process of deciding challenging and invites debate. For example, perhaps Person 1 is a single father from New York City and Person 2 is only 22 years old, but she cheated her way into medical school, while Person 3 is almost seventy and just lost his wife, Person 4 is a best selling author and Person 5 is just a regular guy who sometimes drinks too much.
Who gets saved and who’ll be left on the island?
Students have to discuss and convince their classmates who should be saved. The whole group must agree. Once each group comes to a consensus, the students should share their results with the class. The teacher can ask follow up questions such as, “Was it hard to come to an agreement? Why?”
Tip: The teacher should type up and print out the scenario and short (one-paragraph) biographies for the five people on the island. The teacher may also create other scenarios in which the students have to debate moral and ethical issues.
Games can be a great tool in the ESL classroom. Students at every level and age will have a blast with these games for sentence structure and parts of speech practice.
For review, test prep or just a bit of fun, work these games into your lesson plans. Your students will be grateful for the variety and the chance to practice what they’ve learned in a new and interesting way!