15 Fun MFL Games That’ll Make Your Mondays Feel Like Vacation
Running out of game ideas for your modern foreign language (MFL) class?
Think you’ve played all the games there are to play in a language classroom?
Well, you’ve come to the right place, then.
I have 15 more games for your toolbox, and they can help make the language really come alive for your students.
Oh yeah, and they’re sinfully fun, too!
- 1. Hush
- 2. Three-word Throw
- 3. Category Cards
- 4. Question and Answer Roulette
- 5. Longest Line
- 6. Shoot It Right
- 7. Word War
- 8. Charades
- 9. Pictionary
- 10. Bring Me a Thing
- 11. Translate-athon
- 12. Post It!
- 13. Scavenger Hunt
- 14. Simon Says
- 15. Two-step Boggle
- Teachable Moments During MFL Games
This comprehension game is played in silence, hence the name. It involves two competing teams performing a task (written on a card) in front of the class.
Ahead of time, you’ll need to write five group tasks on 3×5 index cards, making two copies of each (one for each team). Fold the index cards and number them to ensure you hand out the same task to each group during the game.
On a PowerPoint slide, write the tasks and their English translations. Make one slide per task. You’ll be showing these slides to the whole class during the game. If a computer and a projector aren’t available, you can opt for a poster instead.
Possible tasks include:
- Dance the Macarena
- With eyes closed, point to the most charming person in the room
- Pose as a supermodel
- You’re a mime—what would you do?
- Recreate a scene from “The Titanic”
Vary the instructions according to the language level of your students.
How to Play:
Make two groups, ideally four or five students each. Each group stands in front of the class with their backs to the other team. (No peeking!)
Hand each team a piece of paper with instructions written in the target language. Give the teams 10 seconds to “discuss” (or rather, gesture) how they’re going to perform the tasks.
Meanwhile, inform the class of the task about to be performed by showing them the slide or poster you prepared earlier. Make sure no one from the competing teams sees the English translations.
After 10 seconds, prepare the groups and say, “Ready? One, two, three!” (But in the target language, of course.) The teams now perform whatever instruction was written on the paper to the class.
The non-competing students are allowed to talk. They can cheer on their friends and shout out encouragement.
Next, the students in the audience will decide which of the teams did the task better. Determining who gets the point can be done via raise of hands or the very unscientific volume of shouts (or applause) for each team.
The first to five points wins the game!
2. Three-word Throw
Students throw balls at word matrices to obtain three words they’ll need to use in a sentence. This game is a fun way to practice crucial sentence construction skills while also sparking student creativity.
Write three 7×5-word matrices on the board. One matrix contains only words that are nouns, another contains only verbs and the third only adjectives.
You’ll also need three clay balls, sticky balls or even wet paper balls. Students will use them to hit the words on your matrices.
How to Play:
Call on individual students to come up to try their luck, throwing one clay ball onto each matrix (one at a time) from about six or seven feet away.
The words in the middle of the matrix may get hit most often, so you can decide to cross them out after a couple of hits so that the other words can be used as well.
When the student has their three words, they’ll have to use them in a sentence. Each student is given 10 seconds to come up with a grammatically sound sentence.
The sentence doesn’t be realistic, practical or even logical. The important thing is to come up with a statement that demonstrates correct grammatical relationships between the noun, verb and adjective.
So, for example, a student might end up with the words “cat,” “laugh” and “red”—among which there are really no inherent relationships. “The red cat laughs at the moon” would be a very correct answer. Don’t go questioning, “Is there really a red cat? Can a cat even laugh?” etc.
If a student runs out of time and fails to come up with a grammatically sound sentence, open it up to the whole class and ask for a raise of hands. This makes sure everyone remains actively involved even when it’s not their turn.
This game mixes students’ excitement of not knowing the words they’re going to get with the chance of honing their sentence construction skills.
3. Category Cards
In this game, you give students a jumbled set of words, and their job is to group them into neat categories. Students will demonstrate their ability to spot similarities or relationships between words in the target language.
Print or write on index cards words that are thematically related. Write one word per index card, and pick seven words per category. The number of categories is up to you.
You’ll need four copies of each card, such that all four groups can receive the same cards.
Possible categories include:
- Words related to food
- Modes of transportation
- Days of the week
- Names of girls
- Parts of speech
- Sea creatures
- Famous landmarks
After you’ve prepared each group’s cards, shuffle them well.
How to Play:
Divide the class into four groups.
Give each group a set of cards and five minutes to sort out the mix of words. You may or may not tell them how many categories there are.
When time’s up, hands must come off of the cards so that students can check their work together with the whole class.
First, ask the class what categories they came up with. Afterwards, reveal the categories that you had in mind.
As a teacher, you might be surprised how students decide to group the words! They might have seen a relationship between words that you hadn’t considered. And that’s not a bad thing! As long as the group is able to give a rationale for their work, be as open as possible.
Next, go through the words as they were grouped in your “original” categories, one category at a time. Stick the index cards on the board so the whole class can see them.
You’ll notice that many of the groups will have the same answers, so you may feel like you’re constantly repeating them as you go through the groups. That’s exactly the purpose of this game: Repetition.
In the end, the group with the most correct answers wins. A lot of ties may happen, but that’s really a good thing, isn’t it?
4. Question and Answer Roulette
As the music plays, two objects will be passed around by students sitting in a circle. Whichever two students are holding the objects when the music stops will complete a question and answer. This game is good for practicing Q&A skills and honing the interrogative forms of the language.
Get two objects that students can easily pass around; these can be anything really. One object represents the question and the other represents the answer.
You’ll also need a music player. This could be a radio, a CD player, a computer, a phone or even a guitar that you play.
How to Play:
Have students sit in a circle. Play the music and release the objects from different points in the circle.
After about 15-20 seconds, hit “pause.” The two students holding the objects will do a quick Q&A in the target language. One asks any question and the other answers.
Encourage creativity! The question can be anything from “Who is your crush?” to “What is 5 times 3?”
If a student fails to ask a grammatically correct question or gives an incorrect answer, they’ll be asked to do a fun task given by the class. Step aside and let the class decide what one of their own should do.
After the task is done, start another round. Make sure to position the objects at various points from each other every time. And there’s no point system here because everybody wins!
5. Longest Line
This game involves putting objects from end to end on the floor, with the goal of creating the longest line of objects within one minute.
How to Play:
Before the game, make sure the students understand two important rules: They can only place objects whose names they know in the target language, and duplication of objects in the line isn’t allowed.
Now, divide the class into three teams.
When you say, “Longest line go!,” students take any object they find inside the classroom (whose name they know in the target language) and lay them from end to end on the floor.
In one group, you might see a line of a pencil-book-eraser-potted plant-broom-chalk-etc. Another group may select chalk-belt-shoes-sweatshirt-pencil-etc. Anything they find in the classroom, as long as they know its translation, is okay to use to make their line longer.
With this game, and particularly if you have some really competitive and creative students, you could easily see lines of objects snake out of the classroom. (Once, I had a student who happened to have yarn for another class project. Needless to say, her team was very happy!)
Just make sure that the teams start and follow identical pathways so you can actually compare who has the longest line. Again, repetition of objects isn’t allowed. If there’s already a book in the queue, students can’t place another one, even if it’s of a different title, size or author.
When the minute of pure ruckus ends, check the lines one at a time. Ensure that at least one member of the group knows the translation of the objects in their line. If the group fails the oral inquiry, they’ll forfeit that object.
After the whole line has been checked, teams should readjust the line to cover for any objects which were removed. The team with the longest line, of course, wins!
6. Shoot It Right
Students shoot objects into specific boxes stationed in front of the class. Every time there’s a moment in a language lesson where you feel students need some skills to differentiate one linguistic class/concept from another, you can use this game.
You’ll need to prepare two things: Boxes and objects.
Boxes will serve as baskets that students will try to shoot the objects into. How many boxes will depend on your purpose for playing the game.
For example, if you teach French and you want students to get the hang of differentiating gendered nouns, place two boxes in front of the class and label them “Le (Masculine)” and “La (Feminine).” For languages with a neuter gender, like modern Greek, add a third box.
Maybe you’re teaching English and want students to remember that there are regular and irregular ways of forming plural nouns. Place three boxes labeled “-s,” “-es” and “Other” in that case.
Next, prepare 20 relevant objects that students can toss into the boxes. If you find it difficult to secure objects that’ll work well in the game, you can write the names of the objects on Styrofoam balls or plastic balls instead.
How to Play:
Place the boxes in front of the class and have a decent shooting distance between the students and the boxes.
Get an object and call up a student. Hand them the object and let them shoot it into the proper box.
After each shot in this game, you’ll have a teachable moment, by the way. Whether the student gets the correct answer or not, you can come in and deliver a quick lesson or two.
When a student gets it wrong, give them another shot. Ask the student to take the object out of the wrong box, walk back to the shooting line and shoot it into the proper box.
This may seem trivial, but the visual aspect and the movement of actually shooting the object into the right box will benefit not only the student playing, but also the rest of the class observing.
7. Word War
This game is good for learning the synonyms and antonyms of words. Two groups will sharpen each others’ vocabularies by challenging them to give the synonyms or antonyms of specific words.
How to Play:
I like to play this game boys versus girls, but you can obviously adjust as needed for your classroom. Huddle the teams on opposite ends of the classroom.
A representative from each team comes in front to play rock-paper-scissors to determine who goes first.
The winning team huddles for 10 seconds to choose a word that they’ll “throw” to the other team. The whole team can mimic throwing a baseball to the other team as they reveal their word. Their representative would then shout “synonym!” or “antonym!”
Let’s say the girls’ team won rock-paper-scissors. After the huddle, they throw the word “bad” to the other team, and their representative shouts out “antonym!”
Anybody from the boys’ team would then have to shout a reply of “Good!” within five seconds.
If the boys’ team gives the correct answer, it will then be their turn to challenge the ladies. They’ll quickly huddle and give their vocabulary word. If they say “big” and “synonym,” the girls can counter with any of the word’s synonyms—like “large,” “huge” or “enormous.”
However, if the boys fail to give a correct antonym for “bad,” the challenge will volley back to the girls and you’ll require them to answer their own question. Give one point if the ladies successfully do this. Otherwise, you’ll hit them with a 2-point deduction for not knowing the answer to their own word.
And as the teacher, you’ll judge and determine whether a given word is an acceptable answer or not.
A classic language learning game (and similar to Hush above), Charades is played in two teams of equal sizes. One person from each team will act out a word or phrase while their teammates attempt to guess what it is. This is especially exciting for classes with extroverted students.
You’ll need some slips of paper as well as a bowl or bag to put them in. On each paper, you’ll write a word or phrase that the students will have to act out.
Charades is particularly fun for learning verbs, so words like dance, catch, run, shout, eat, swim and jump are awesome inclusions. You can also use active phrases such as “wake up,” “brush your teeth,” “eat dinner” and so on.
Make sure to create enough papers so that every student or pair of students will get to play at least one or two times.
How to Play:
Divide the class into two teams. The best setup is to have the teams face each other with space in the middle.
You can choose to have one team play at a time, in which the opposing team can have a chance to steal if the original team runs out of time.
Alternatively, you can have the teams face off at the same time for a less pressured acting performance.
For each round, one member of each team will come to the middle. You’ll show them a word or term selected at random from the bowl of papers. Set a timer for 45 seconds and see which team can guess what their teammate is doing first.
Remember that Charades is acted out in silence—that means no talking or sound effects from the actors!
Pictionary is another classic, competitive game, also played between two teams of equal sizes. Team representatives will have to draw a given word or phrase for their teammates to guess. Rooms with a whiteboard are ideal for this game.
Just like Charades, you’ll want to prepare slips of paper with a vocabulary term to be reviewed on each one. Put these slips into a bowl or bag.
If you want to do less planning, though, simply make sure you have a relevant vocabulary or phrase list handy.
Pictionary is very useful for learning nouns because objects are typically easier to draw than verbs or adjectives. This makes it a fun way to review simple vocabulary that can boost your students’ confidence levels.
How to Play:
Pictionary can be played in much the same way as Charades. You can do one team at a time and allow a chance to steal, or have a player from each team come to the board at the same time.
Provide the drawer(s) with the vocabulary term they are to draw, then time them for 45 seconds. No writing words or letters—pictures only!
The first team to correctly guess scores a point. Play until all vocab terms have been exhausted.
10. Bring Me a Thing
Here’s another game that’s great for reviewing and/or learning nouns—particularly objects that can be found in the classroom or immediate environment. You’ll ask students to bring you a thing (anything!) and whoever does so first wins the round.
How to Play:
If you remember being a kid and helping your mom in the kitchen, this game is a bit like that. Only now, you’re the “mom” and your students have to figure out where the “ladle” is and how it’s different from a “spatula.”
Stand in an easily accessible place in the front or middle of the classroom.
Ask students to bring you an object. It could be “a book,” “an eraser,” “a jacket” or anything else available to you.
You can make use of teachable moments during the game by explaining, for example, that Jack is holding “zapatos” (shoes) when you asked for “sombrero” (a hat).
For this game, it’s best if there are no teams, but rather every student for themselves. You can choose to keep score with tallies or simply move on to the next word once you’ve received the thing you asked students to bring you.
This exercise introduces students to popular songs from the target language while testing their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. The goal is to translate as many words as possible. It is best played individually or in pairs.
Find an appropriate song in the target language at the correct level for the class. Print enough copies of the lyrics for each student or pair of students.
Note that you can make the game easier by using a specific, pre-selected section of the lyrics instead of the whole song. You can also vary the rules by asking them to only translate a certain part of speech: verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.
To make it extra challenging, flip the game and have your class translate from English into the target language!
How to Play:
If playing in pairs, determine partners first.
Play the song (or section of the song) for the class to hear. Explain what they need to translate—as much as possible, only verbs or whatever you choose.
Give the class about 15 minutes to work on their translations. When time is up, have them exchange papers, and then grade out loud as a class.
When you give the correct translations, take time to explain the lyrics as a whole. If there’s a story behind the song, tell it to the class to provide context for the vocabulary words. This will also help anchor the words in their minds.
You can play just for practice, or the student/pair with the most correct translations is the winner!
12. Post It!
Another great MFL game for teaching vocabulary, this one is a bit more organized than Bring Me a Thing. It also provides a visual component to vocab terms by associating them with the actual objects—table, chair, book, wall, pen, etc.
Prepare a list of 20 or so nouns (depending on the number of students in your class). Write each one individually on a small piece of paper, such as Post-it notes. Fold the papers and drop them into a bowl or container.
Make sure that the objects referred to are highly visible and available in the immediate game environment. You may wish to bring some items to class and set them on a table—mix them up with some dummy items to add to the challenge!
How to Play:
Individually, students will take turns drawing a paper from the bowl. The student then has 15 seconds to locate the object and stick the paper to it.
You can allow students two to three tries to get the correct answer. If they fail, a classmate is given the chance to find the correct object.
After a student successfully finds their vocabulary word, take the object, show it to the whole class and engage in a quick vocab lesson. Do brief word repetition, definition, translation and usage examples.
For instance, if the word is “cuchara” (spoon), focus and explore the topic by asking questions like, “Who can give me examples of food that we ordinarily eat using the cuchara?”
Then, have the next student draw their paper and repeat the process.
13. Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are awesome for practicing vocabulary. A scavenger hunt inside the classroom is chaos with a capital “C,” so you’ll want to do this activity in a park, a playground, a field or another large open space with lots of objects.
Prepare a list in the target language of 10-15 items available in the designated game space.
For example, if you go to the park with your German class, you can include words like stein (rock), blume (flower) or holz (wood). Feel free to throw in some shockers that earn triple points, like wurm (worm) or vogel/biene (bird/chick)!
They don’t have to physically collect the objects, either. Once they find the items, they could take pictures, write a list, do drawings or some combination.
You can also throw in adjectives to add specificity to the task. For instance, students aren’t just looking for any flower, but instead, they want to find a “rote blume” (red flower).
Make sure you have enough copies of the list for each student/team.
How to Play:
Give each student, pair or group a list of the scavenger hunt items. Go over the terms together or let them try on their own first (though be sure to offer help if they need it).
Start a timer for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the difficulty of the search and what they need to do once they find each object.
When time is up, gather the class at a pre-determined meeting spot. You can give some leeway for getting to the location, but hurry them along with point deductions for late arrivals.
The student or team with the most found items wins!
14. Simon Says
If you’re unfamiliar with this super popular game, the rules are simple. As the teacher, you’re “Simon” and you’re giving the class commands. If the command begins with the phrase “Simon Says,” the command should be obeyed; if not, then nobody should move.
How to Play:
A fun way to play is in two teams. For each round, teams send one representative to the front of the room. You’ll say three commands for each round and then another set of representatives steps up.
This game is a great way to learn or review verbs, nouns and even adjectives, but you’ll want to calibrate the commands according to the levels of your students.
For early beginners, for instance, you might want to include some English. In a German class, you could say: “Simon says, touch your ohren (ears)!” or “Simon says, sitzen (sit) on the floor!”
The game works best if you can bring a high energy level and be quick with your commands, demanding urgency. If you do this well, your students will fall all over themselves following a command that doesn’t even need movement!
You can also play Simon Says as a whole class, with every student for themselves. In this scenario, you can play towards a singular winner—if students move when you haven’t announced “Simon Says,” they’re out!
15. Two-step Boggle
This is an added twist to the classic game Boggle. Boggle is played with random letters in a grid, where players must “chain” letters to form as many words as possible within a given time limit. With some slight variation, this is a great MFL game!
To play as a class, you’ll need to prepare some letter matrices ahead of time. The traditional Boggle board is four letters by four letters, though you can adjust this to suit your needs if you’d like.
Your grids will need to be large enough to be seen by the whole class (you might use Manila paper, for example). You can make as many letter matrices as you want.
The key here is that the letters should not all be random. Embed vocabulary words that you want students to learn within each matrix. For instance, the letters of one grid might lead to words like cat, car, can, cane and so on.
How to Play:
Explain the following rules for “chaining” letters to form a word:
- The included letters must be touching—diagonals are okay!
- Words must contain at least three letters.
- You can’t connect to the same letter square twice in one word.
Here’s where the “two-step” part of the game comes in. Now, students need to translate their English words into the target language. In a Spanish class, for instance, the words above should come out as: gato, coche, lata, bastón.
For an extra challenging round, you can have them search for words in the target language directly!
I recommend about seven minutes for each matrix. When reviewing the words they found, invite students to the board to point out how they chained the letters. The student(s) with the highest number of correct answers is the winner!
Teachable Moments During MFL Games
Teachable moments are those unique opportunities that arise during gameplay where you can drive home a linguistic lesson.
They’re short, quick bursts of teaching—no arduous lectures, just focused information that’s quick and painless but robust with useful content.
Students may tend to focus more on winning than realizing what language they’re learning. But as the teacher, you should always be on point and remember that games are vehicles for lessons.
Sure, you can use games to bring up the energy level or to hike up interest in the topic, but the best games are those that also educate (whether or not the students know it at that time).
Long after the course, they’ll remember the vocabulary words or grammar lessons that came by way of games—especially the last word in a hotly contested competition! Whether they win or not, the word will hold a special significance for them, and they’ll be better able to use and understand these pieces of the language when confronted by them in real situations.
Below are three times you can incorporate bite-sized learning into your MFL games, but they don’t end there. Take advantage of the times when students are so engaged in the activity that all eyes and all ears are on you.
When a student commits a mistake or gives a wrong answer during the game, don’t let that error go to waste.
Be quick to explain why the answer was wrong and provide the correct answer. Explain why it’s easy to make the mistake. Never embarrass a student, but make sure to capitalize on any errors so that the whole class can benefit.
Even when a student gives the correct answer, you can still use that moment to teach! Congratulate the student and explain to the class why the answer is correct.
For instance, in Shoot It Right, when a student shoots the object into the correct box you can highlight what was done right and engage in some repetition in order to sear the lesson in students’ minds.
Sometimes you might need to slow down the game in order to do this, so pick your spots such that the dynamics of the game are maintained. Just know that even a correct answer can be a teachable moment.
Another teachable moment during games arises when two competing teams provide different answers to the same question.
Think of Category Cards, for example. When one team places a word in one category and another team places it in another, it could well be a sign that you need to clear something up.
When you give the correct answer, briefly explain why it’s correct. And once again, mention how easy it is to make the mistake. This isn’t only to console the team that guessed wrong, but it’s a good way of creating memories for lessons and teaching life skills like compassion and understanding.
These 15 awesome games will help make your language classes an absolute hoot. Remember to use “teachable moments” to make the most of having students totally engaged in the activity.
I wish you a wealth of fun and learning from these games. And, of course, may the best team win!