They say you should write what you know.
But what about playing with what you know?
Getting playful with the English language is the best way to introduce, review and reinforce your ESL lessons.
By letting students test their English skills on the spot, you give them the chance to explore what they know—and identify what they don’t yet know.
You put their knowledge into practice, push their creative thinking skills and show them how useful their new language really is.
Most important of all, you show them that they’re already capable of getting things done in English.
In this case, they’ll be cheering each other on, eagerly shouting answers, gaining points and maybe even winning a prize.
Not to mention, games are active—perfect for getting the wiggles out—as well as fun and funny. There’s nothing like a classroom full of energy, friendly competition and laughter to make learning happen.
ESL games are indeed fun, both for your students and you.
They’re an essential component of the learning experience. They can be geared toward students of all ages and serve up essential ESL skills that leave students craving more.
Why ESL Games Are an Essential Part of Classtime
ESL games are as versatile as they are fun. They can be employed as warm-ups or end-of-class time-fillers, or they can take the center stage and occupy more classtime.
They’re invaluable for building on your presentation, the first part of your PPP lesson plan.
The ESL skills your students will cultivate, whether directly or organically, add extra value to classroom games and activities too. Your students will develop and build grammar, listening, reading, quick English thought, action and lay the foundation for future lessons.
Fun ESL games are also useful for those harder lessons. You can break up traditional book learning with games and activities to get your students up and moving as well.
Communication and confidence can be improved during game time. Your students will become savvy English communicators as they practice discussion and collaboration. Your students’ confidence levels will also begin to blossom as they practice asking and answering questions of all sorts.
5 Fun Little ESL Games That Students Look Forward To
1. ESL Question Volley
ESL Question Volley is a fun ESL game that allows your students to ask and answer questions on the spot. For most native English speakers, asking and answering questions comes easily. Developing your students’ confidence to do the same will give them the ability to do so when it counts.
In order to make the ESL Question Volley a classroom hit, you’ll want to present and practice forming English questions before starting the first round.
Pair this fun ESL game with a lesson plan that’s strongly focused on one specific topic.
Have a few topics in mind, and complement each topic with a few simple questions (like these).
Example Topic: Sports
- What sports do you play?
- What sports do you like to watch?
- Who is your favorite athlete?
Example Questions: Movies and TV Shows
- Who is your favorite actor or actress?
- What is your favorite movie?
- What is your favorite genre of TV show?
Once you’ve presented and practiced a few ESL Question Volley questions, it’s time to volley.
All you need is a small ball. You can start the game out by having a student toss you the ball and ask you a relevant question. You’ll answer it, toss or hand the ball to a student and then ask them a related question. You want to encourage quick questions and answers from your students to give this a real-life scenario feel.
For added fun, you can always change up what you’re tossing around. For a few laughs, toss around a potato. If you’ve got space outside (or a classroom without breakables) play with a soccer ball or frisbee.
This fun ESL game involves the entire class and reinforces a breadth of ESL skills. Your students will practice communication, learn about asking and answering questions, gain more confidence to speak, polish their grammar when speaking and develop those crucial listening skills as well.
2. ESL Flash Art
ESL Flash Art brings out your students’ creative sides while reinforcing key ESL skills. As the name implies, this fun ESL game is art-inspired, with a dash of quick, imaginative exploration. You’ll give your students scenarios in English and let them create quick interpretations through drawing.
This fun ESL game certainly offers a much-needed break from tough topics and traditional book learning. After all, most people develop a picture in their mind while speaking or explaining something. Why not have your students put it on paper artistically?
The materials needed for this fun ESL game will be: plenty of paper for your students to draw and color, crayons, markers and colored pencils. Your students may even find it rewarding to keep an ESL Flash Art journal. You can have them break out this journal once a week for the sole purpose of this activity.
Topics and scenarios you can utilize for this game include:
- There is a man running in the park and being chased by a dog.
- A mother and daughter are baking cupcakes.
- Many cars are stuck in traffic due to rain.
- A big wave takes a surfer on the ride of a lifetime.
You have a few options on how you can convey the topics and scenarios for your students to begin creating art on paper. You can simply say the sentence, you can write the sentence on the board without speech or you can do both at the same time. It’s important for your students to copy what you say aloud or write it down before bringing the proposed scenario to life.
Give your students enough time to draw the scenario before moving on to the next. You may find approaching one or two scenarios per session best practice. A presentation could be a fun way to spice up the activity for students, too.
Afterwards, give your students a chance to vote on their favorite classroom artists and their flash art. You can then reward those creative masterpieces with treats or points that add up over the course of the game. The ESL skills your students will build upon are creativity, listening and reading, among other vital skills.
3. Am I Telling the Truth?
Am I Telling the Truth is a fun ESL game that opens the path to peer communication in a natural way. It allows students to learn more about one another and builds speaking confidence in an exciting, interactive way as well. You may find this fun ESL game perfect for the beginning of the school year, or the start of any new English class where students still need to break the ice.
You certainly don’t need a bag of materials to get this game underway. You simply need a whiteboard or chalkboard (or something to write on) and a classroom of enthusiasm. You may even find your students wanting to play this fun ESL game many times over the course of a program or school year too.
Here’s a breakdown of how you can present this game to your students:
- In your presentation, define “truth” and “lies.” This will lay the foundation for the game.
- Next, you’ll be the teacher guinea pig, writing two truths and one lie on the board for your students to analyze.
- Tell your class that one statement about you is not true and open the floor up for interrogation, letting students ask you non-specific questions regarding what you wrote. For example, if one statement is, “I enjoy running every morning,” students can ask you what kind of running shoes you have or what time you begin your run?
- Once they have developed their conclusions, have them write down which statement they believe to be a lie.
- Each student will share their answer and why they came to that conclusion.
- A student will take your place and the game will continue.
This fun ESL game not only serves as an icebreaker, it serves up valuable ESL skills as well. Your students can build their speaking confidence, writing, listening and comfort level when asking and answering questions.
4. ESL Funny Papers
ESL Funny Papers is a fun ESL game that allows students to explore phrases in a unique way. By putting your students’ creativity to the test, you can build on skills learned in class that day or over the course of the week. The simplicity and the imaginative properties of this fun ESL game are what make it a classroom favorite for all ages and levels.
You’ll need to do a bit of teacher homework to get this game off the ground, but it’s most certainly worth it. With the Sunday funny papers in hand, white out the text of each character’s speech bubbles or dialogue boxes. You may also find a few excellent examples you can print out online too, in case cartoons aren’t accessible. Once you have your ESL Funny Papers printed and ready to go, it’s time to employ them in your lesson plan.
Here’s how you can bring this fun ESL game to fruition in your classroom:
- This activity can be an individual, pair or group game depending on class size. It’s certainly more fun in pairs or small groups of three or four.
- Give your students an ESL Funny Papers example. Show them the comic strip and ask them what they think is happening in the scene. Take some of their advice and write in the content in the speech or thought bubbles above each character.
- Next, hand out the comic strips and let them go for it.
- You can cruise from group to group offering insight, and answering questions that your students may have. Finding comics with potential for new vocabulary will offer up an added challenge.
- Once the comics are complete, have your students showcase their creativity to the class.
This fun ESL game builds a wealth of skills with an emphasis on communication. Your students will practice grammar, writing, quick English thought, collaboration and even vocabulary building.
5. Vocabulary Showcase Game Show
If building vocabulary is on the lesson plan agenda for your class, the Vocabulary Showcase Game Show is the perfect activity. This fun ESL game puts your students into action as they learn new words through firsthand communication. The defining word for this game is action, and your class will crave it week after week.
Building vocabulary the traditional way—lists, flashcards, writing words thousands of times over—can be dull for students after a long school year or English program. Combine word building with this activity and let your students learn new vocabulary while employing a breadth of ESL skills at the same time. All you need is a list of vocabulary words from the week’s lessons and a whiteboard.
Put the Vocabulary Showcase Game Show into action with the following steps:
- Since the vocabulary words will be from the week’s lessons, your students should have a fairly good comprehension level for these already. However, you can choose to go over a list you’ll use for the game if desired.
- Divide your class into two teams. The team that will begin will choose their first contestant.
- Student A from Team A will stand with his or her back to the whiteboard.
- You’ll write a vocabulary word on the board and start the clock. Two minutes per word is best practice, in order to get multiple students involved.
- Once the clock starts, Team A will do their best to describe the vocabulary word without using the word or spelling it out to Student A.
- If Student A gets the vocabulary word correct, Team A gets a point.
- Team B will elect a team member and the Vocabulary Showcase Game Show will continue. The team with the most points will win.
The ESL skills your students will build upon are quick English thought, listening, communication and, of course, valuable vocabulary building which is necessary for the future.
Working some fun ESL games into your lesson plans every week gives your students a break from traditional methods and creates an atmosphere of enthusiastic learning.
You can cover nearly every ESL skill in the process, too.
From artistic creativity to comedic scenarios, your students can experience English in whole new ways through these games.
So, get started with these games, and have your class bring learning to life!
Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.