The ESL classroom can be a lively, dynamic environment.
With the right guidance, students can work and learn together — pushing each other farther, faster.
However, getting a group of students to cooperate and stay positive is easier said than done.
Are your ESL lessons plans getting a little bit tired?
Do your students need an easier of coming together and getting to know each other?
Then it’s time to experiment with some ESL classroom games. Check out our 5 favorite games for in-class team-building and improving overall English fluency.
Why Use Games in the Classroom?
Some teachers may wonder about the reasons for using ESL games in the classroom. After all, isn’t it better to give students more serious assignments?
Don’t we want to keep their noses in the books and their minds focused on working productively?
Actually, most teachers have begun to see that games can be a highly effective way of teaching vocabulary and grammar. Best of all, when you find some simple games and plan them out properly, you can help even your shyest students to open up a bit and try out their new English skills in the classroom. Once you’ve explained the rules, students will feel more comfortable participating. The rules allow them to volunteer information or opinions in a safe, structured space.
Specific games for getting to know one another can be an excellent way to establish an open, free space for communication in your ESL classroom. By using one of these games within the first few lessons, you let students know that they’re welcome to put aside their fears and insecurities, participate and have fun learning English!
5 Fun ESL Classroom Games for Getting to Know Each Other
1. My Name is X, and I Like X
When you’re teaching beginner ESL students, this game can be great for the first day.
The game can be carried out in several ways. The first and simplest is perfect for true beginners. Start by introducing yourself using this format: “My name is x, and I like x.” Then ask every student to go around and use the same format. The student has learned two sentence structures (one with “to be” and one with a transitive verb).
If you have more advanced students, you can include memory recall in this game. Ask students to introduce themselves in this way, and then ask students to introduce their neighbor: “His/her name is x and he/she likes x.” This way, students learn not only a first-person sentence but a third-person sentence as well.
The most advanced way to play this game is to include questions. Go around the room, either in a circle or at random, and have students ask a classmate: “What’s your name? What do you like?” The student who asked the question has to introduce their fellow student using the answers they provide, and then the student who answered asks the questions to someone else. With this version of the game, students learn how to ask two different kinds of questions.
With such a simple game, the key is to make sure that all students are formatting and pronouncing their sentences perfectly correctly. This can be used in tandem with a vocabulary lesson on foods, movies and television shows, animals or colors. Students can use their newly learned vocabulary to fill in the blank at the end of the “I like” sentence.
With this game — as with many classroom games — the more random you can make the order in which students are called upon, the better. When students realize that the order is random, they’re much more likely to pay attention to other students’ answers instead of counting how many more turns until they have to participate.
This game is a great way to get students using their newly acquired oral expression skills and listening comprehension. Pair up the students and have them interview each other. Depending on the level of your class, you may want to start with a 5-10 minute brainstorming session to come up with questions before having them begin.
If you want students to work on their oral expression, they may present their partners to the rest of the class by using the answers provided during game time. If you’re aiming for students to practice their written expression skills, they can write out their partner’s answers during the interview and hand this in to you afterwards.
You can turn this into an even more elaborate game by making the interviews homework and having students present their partners to the class without giving the identity of the partner. The class then has to guess the identity of each person based on the details that are presented.
Not only does this game force students to ask questions and reformulate the answers, but it also gives them a great way to practice either oral or written expression.
3. Two Truths and a Lie
This getting-to-know-you ESL game is a lot of fun for more advanced students. Each student must tell the class two truths and a lie about him or herself and have the class guess which statement is the lie. Students must be able to express themselves orally in order to succeed at this game.
This game allows students to get very creative, which means that they usually have a lot of fun playing. Be sure to correct them only on grammar and vocabulary that you’ve covered in class unless they ask for a word or phrase. Letting students express themselves, even if they’re not 100% correct, is important for this game. Teachers should not hesitate, however, to correct grammar and vocabulary points that have been covered already in class.
This game can be played to get students up and moving, which is a big help if your ESL class has a tendency to be tired, lethargic or quiet.
First, ask each student to write down a secret on a piece of paper. Go around and make sure that the secrets are written down correctly, but don’t betray students’ secrets to their classmates!
Have each student fold their paper and put it in a hat. Each student then draws a secret from the hat. Once each student has a secret, have them walk around the classroom asking other students questions to find out whose secret they have. They’re not allowed to directly say what’s on the paper in their questions!
For example, if a student’s secret is “I have five cats,” the person holding the secret might ask “Do you like animals?” or “How many animals live in your house?”
5. Find a Partner
This game is similar to the above, but it’s perfect to link with a vocab lesson on food, movies, books, colors, animals and so on…
Each student writes down their favorite (book, food, movie…) on a piece of paper and hides it in their pocket or textbook. Each student then goes around and asks their classmates questions to find someone who has written down the same answer. The only trick is that they can’t use the words they’ve written down when asking questions to other students!
To make sure that none of these games gets out of hand and that students are really practicing correct English, the key is for you to moderate effectively. Wander around the room and listen to students’ conversations, correcting them as needed based on topics that you’ve covered in class.
As mentioned with other games, it’s ineffective to correct students on topics you haven’t covered. Only do so if they explicitly ask for a word or phrase. By drawing attention to things that they don’t know and have no way of knowing, students will become more nervous to participate and other games may be less effective.
Use these games to encourage oral expression amongst your students and to encourage them to speak to one another in English. Soon, calls to participate in other ESL activities will be met with excitement!
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