10 Creative Language Games for Kids

Playing games in the foreign language classroom is a great way to reinforce important concepts, and they’re the perfect complement to your more traditional lessons.

Read this post for 10 creative, fun and effective language learning games. Plus, I’ll give some practical tips about what you can do before, during and after playing to get the most out of them.


1. Where Are You?

Materials needed: a whistle (optional), blindfolds (enough for all students)

This game provides the kids with lots of opportunities to practice listening and speaking in the target language.

  • Create groups with three or four members and assign them a specific word or phrase.

If you have a smaller class, or if you just want students to take longer to finish the game, consider having pairs instead. 

The assigned word or phrase will be the group’s cattle call. They’ll call out those words or phrases as soon as the game starts.

  • Blindfold all students and then have them mix around.
  • Blow the whistle to begin the game.
  • Everyone tries to locate their group by calling out to them using their cattle call. The goal is to find all their members as quickly as possible.

And these target words or phrases could be anything. For example, in a Spanish class, you can use greetings: “¡Buenos días!” (Good morning!), “¡Adios!” (Bye!) or “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?). You can also use Spanish colors, days of the week, numbers, etc.

The words don’t even have to belong to the same category or topic. The important thing is that your students are actually walking and talking in the target language. They’re also honing their ears while listening for it.

  • Instruct the group to raise their hands if they think they’ve rounded up every last member of their team. The first one to do this wins.

You can have several rounds of the game and assign different words for the groups each time. That’ll give the kids more time to practice more words.

You can play this inside the classroom or outdoors—just make sure to clear the area from objects that may cause kids to stumble.

2. The Boat Is Sinking

Materials needed: none

This is a classic game that many already know:

  • The teacher cries out, “The boat is sinking! Group yourselves into three!”
  • The kids then scamper and assemble themselves accordingly.
  • Students who fail to find a huddle with the appropriate number of members are then sent packing.
  • This is repeated until the two last remaining souls on-board are declared winners.

The twist comes with the creativity of the grouping instructions. Groups can be formed by gender, shirt color, letters in students’ first names, etc. It all depends on your target vocabulary. You can even transition into a TPR-style (Total Physical Response) activity and encourage your kids to get moving by, for example, saying, “The boat is sinking! The boat is sinking! Everybody, jump three times!”

This game can be used to have restless kids up and about. It also allows you to have a comprehension check to see whether your wards have understood specific instructions barked in the target language. So for beginners, use simple, plain instructions.

3. Cups and Letters

Materials needed: pictures of 10 everyday objects, plastic cups, letter tiles (such as from Scrabble, or make your own)

This game helps students practice spelling simple words in the target language.

  • Prepare a list of 10 everyday objects you want your kids to review. Be ready to show a picture for each of these objects.
  • Divide the class into two or three groups and have them line up at the back of the room.
  • Put stacks of plastic cups, one for each group, at the front of the class. Each cup has a letter written on it. Make sure each stack contains all the letters necessary to spell all of your ten words.
  • To start the game, show the first picture.
  • The first students in line run toward their stack and spell the object in the target language.
  • The kids raise their hands as soon as they’re done. The student who raises his/her hand first (and with the correct answer) wins a point for his/her team for that round.

In the second round, students second in line will try their luck with the cups. The game continues until each student has had the opportunity to play.

4. A Bucketful of Stuff

Materials needed: two boxes containing the same types of everyday objects (like keys, rocks, books, soap, etc.)

This is a great game to play as an opening activity for a new lesson.

  • Prepare two boxes containing the same types of items. The items don’t need to look exactly the same, as long as they’re there.

You can also put curveballs in there, objects that really don’t have anything to do with the game, but muddle their options and make the game more exciting.

This is like the “Bring Me” classic game, where the teacher pretends they need items from the box.

  • Describe the item you want and its uses. Act it out and gesture about the item.
  • The class then figures out which item you’re asking for.
  • The group who first zeroes in on those clues and brings you the correct item gets the point.

With beginners, you’re going to be more upfront with your clues. Give them clear hints as to what you need. If you need a comb, gesture appropriately. For advanced language learners, you can be coy. You can say, “I need something to make me look beautiful.”

5. Make the Connection

Materials needed: balls of yarn, rolls of tape (one each per group)

This one is both chaotic and fun, but it’ll make for one memorable game.

  • Write 10 object words on the board, five on each side of the board.
  • Group the class into two.
  • Give each group a ball of yarn and tape.
  • Instruct the groups to connect the words on their side of the board to the actual objects found in the classroom. They’ll need to tape both ends of the yarn, one end of it on the board and the other to the actual object.

If your list includes some objects not usually found in the room, you could bring them to class and secretly put them somewhere. You could also allow students to connect pictures instead of objects. So “auto” (car) in an Italian class can be tethered to a picture of a car found in a book, or even a toy car lying around. Your words can also be more specific to include more vocabulary. For example, you can specify a red car by saying “auto rossa.”

6. Pass That Question

Materials needed: none

  • Divide your class into two or three groups and have them line up in the middle of the room.
  • Stand front and center and ask the first students in each line to come to you.
  • Ask the student something in the target language—this can be anything. If you were a French teacher, for example, you might ask, “Quel jour est-ce?” (What day is it?).
  • Whisper your question and repeat it a few times until the students confirm they’ve understood your question.
  • The kids then go back to their lines.
  • As soon as you say, “Pass that question! 1, 2, 3, go!” the students at the front of the line will pass the question to the student behind them, who then passes it to the next.
  • The question moves through the line and reaches the last student who then runs to you to whisper the question and the answer.
  • The first team to give the correct answer wins the point for that round.

Your questions will, of course, depend on the level of your class—easy ones for beginners and more difficult ones for advanced learners. The thing is, your question may not even really reach the last student. It’ll change along the way and will probably not be identifiable by the time it gets to the last in line.

7. Something on Your Forehead

Materials needed: small photos or drawings of objects (about 3-4 per student), tape, timer, a coin

  • Tell the class to find themselves a partner.

This game is best as a review of past lessons, so you’ll need photos (or drawings) of objects or things you’ve already talked about in class. Be sure to prepare an appropriate number of picture cards that can easily be taped to students’ foreheads. Make sure they’re not so big that they impair vision but large enough to be seen by the class.

  • Each pair will perform in front of the class, but instruct the spectators not to coach their classmates.
  • The pair will draw twice. The first time will be to decide who will play what position and the second time will be to select a picture.

The student who flips “heads” on the coin will have the picture taped on his forehead. The “tails” will draw a card from a prepared deck of pictures and tape the card to his partner’s forehead. The “tail” will then provide hints to his partner to help him correctly guess the picture.

  • Each pair has 90 seconds to get to work. The “tail” can gesture all he wants, even talk (in the target language), as long as he doesn’t say the word itself.
  • Listen closely to the “head,” because the moment he guesses the word you’re looking for, stop the timer and mark the time.
  • If the pair doesn’t get the word, offer it up to the class so everybody else can give it a shot.

8. Mission: Possible

Materials needed: envelopes (one per group), paper or cards, a prize (optional)

Remember the Tom Cruise movie franchise, “Mission: Impossible”? Those films took you on an exciting action adventure, with characters climbing and jumping off buildings and driving cars off cliffs. Well, this is none of that.

But it does get your class to do their own “stunts” and “missions” Divide the class into groups of four and hand each group an envelope that takes them on a series of missions or tasks around class or even around campus.

Example tasks include:

  • Write the days-of-the-week on the board.
  • Do ten jumping jacks while counting aloud.
  • Recite any nursery rhyme as a group.
  • Dance “Gangnam style” for 30 seconds.
  • Fill a pitcher with water.
  • Find the most beautiful teacher on campus, give them a red paper flower, get their autograph and take their picture.

This game tests and reviews your students on two levels:

  • First, it checks comprehension of the instructions, which, if possible, should only be given in the target language.
  • Second, it checks to see if your kids are able to execute the tasks themselves. Do they remember the different days of the week well enough to write them on the board?

Adapt the tasks accordingly. For example, a German class might have students sing a specific German nursery rhyme or song.

The group who finishes all the missions first gets a prize of your own choosing.

9. Prolific Poster

Materials needed: plastic Easter eggs, post-its

Besides being able to teach your kids what the word “prolific” means, this game is a great way to get them up and moving about.

  • Before class, write targeted vocabulary on post-its and put them inside the eggs. (The words written on the post-its are of objects that can be found in class.)
  • Hide the eggs around the classroom. Make sure you have enough so that everybody will have a few words of their own.
  • Give your students five minutes to look for the eggs.

As a bonus, play a song in the target language while all this is happening.

  • After the time runs out, tell the students to write their names on the papers they’ve found.
  • Then it’s time to hunt for real life objects. So if a student finds the word “Schuhe” (shoes) in a German class, he’ll have to post that paper on any shoe.
  • When time is up, have the students bring all their objects to the front of the class, and go through them one by one. Show them to the whole class and praise the students for their work.

10. Pairs Charades

Materials needed: slips of paper or cards, a hat or bowl

This one is patterned after the classic game “Charades.”

It has “pairs” in the title because all answers come in pairs. Each word belongs to a specific language topic or category. For example, you can mix past lessons about adjectives with a recent lesson on animal names. You’ll then get items like “small monkey,” “fat cat” or “sad dog.”

  • Write the answers on pieces of paper and throw them into a hat or bowl.
  • Divide your class into two groups.
  • Each group sends up a representative who will have to muster up the creativity to act out the words—one at a time.

They’re not allowed to talk, only move. It would then be good for you to specify beforehand what the categories are. For example, tell the class ahead of time that the first words are all adjectives and the second words are all nouns.

To make things more challenging, skipping is not allowed. The team cannot skip to the second word until they’ve nailed the first one. Each team gets 90-120 seconds to solve their mystery phrases. If they fail, the other group has 30 seconds to give the correct answer and steal the point.

The group with the most points wins and has bragging rights until the next time the game is played.

Tips for Before, During and After Games

Games give us opportunities to review and practice past lessons, as well as introduce new ones.

Before the game

  • Invest time in making props and securing materials

There are games you can do on the fly that involve nothing more than spouting instructions to your students. Games like “The Longest Line” is one such example. But games that require props will need more preparation time. They may involve you arranging some chairs in a circle, like the game “Musical Chairs,” or something more elaborate.

Don’t shy away from making or gathering items for your games. Props, objects and pictures can be highly immersive and help your students engage with the activity.

  • Prepare appropriate game content

Games, if possible, should be conducted in the target language. For beginners, you may have to mix in first language material and instructions.

For example, in the game “The Boat is Sinking,” you may have to give a large part of the instructions in English, leaving just a few choice vocabulary words in the target language. For example in a Spanish class, you can say “The boat is sinking, the boat is sinking! Group yourselves in cinco!”

You could also show students a video clip of the game being played so that they have an idea of what game play actually looks like. This will also give students to hear the vocabulary used by actual native speakers of the language.

For that, you could try FluentU, which is an innovative language learning program that uses a large library of authentic native-produced videos to teach. Videos like news clips, vlogs and movie trailers have interactive subtitles that you can click to learn more about any word.

During the game

  • Be fired up!

If you’re excited about the game, it will show in your voice.

Passionate teachers make passionate learners. And the game will never captivate your audience if you aren’t enthusiastic about it.

So get into the game. Lead the whole class into it. Smiles and laughter are contagious. Give the students high fives and be lavish with your praise. Encourage the other team to catch up. Tell them you know what they can do, they just need to be a little faster next time.

  • Give “micro-lessons” during the game

There are teachable moments that happen during every game.

Maybe a team has misspelled an answer on the board. You don’t simply move on to the next question and get on with the game. You take the opportunity to teach the correct spelling. But you don’t go all out and give a lecture.

Keep it short and sweet. You can say, “Guys, success has two Cs in the middle. It’s spelled s-u-c-c-e-s-s. Repeat after me. Okay? Good! Let’s go to the next picture.”

After the game

  • Make everybody feel like a winner

You’re dealing with kids here, and the outcome of a game as innocuous as “Musical Chairs” could be on their minds long after it’s played.

You need to make everyone in your class feel like a winner after the game—regardless of their team winning or not. That’s why you celebrate each little point. That’s why you prove to them throughout the game that they’re making unbelievable progress in the target language.

So make your games fun for everyone. Make them uplifting and build the confidence of all your students.

  • Give prizes and rewards

A little competition is highly motivating, and a prize can get those adrenaline juices pumping.

So announce what prizes await the winners before the game. And these prizes can be anything, really—you don’t need to spend money on rewards.

You can reward them by stamping stars on their arms—they’ll wear them like a badge of honor. You can give them bonus points. Or you can keep a cumulative record of their class points and call it their “Awesome-O-meter.”


So there you have it—ten games to help engage your students in language class.

Have fun!

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