Coming to an ESL Classroom without games or activities is like bringing a butter knife to a gunfight: your lesson will lack bang.
From experience the most successful teachers are the ones who use a sprinkling of games in their lessons. Drawing inspiration from the ‘skeleton’ of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation provided in most lesson objectives, activities can be cultivated to bring energy and entertainment that both help to lift the mood of your class and promote more effective learning.
Below I’ve listed some of the most popular activities that have featured in my lessons. I’ve included personally crafted worksheets that accompany them.
Share the love and happy teaching!
**For information on how to effectively secure an ESL teaching job in Vietnam, click here.
*For insight into my experiences as a teacher, click here.
- Stop the Bus.
Stop the Bus is everyone’s go-to warmer. It gets students working in groups, communicating with one another, and working towards a shared outcome. Not to mention it sends students into enthusiastic fits of passion.
The aim of the game is simple.
Split your class into teams. They are given a table of subjects – these can be everything from animals to food, changing them to fit your classes’ level. If you are focusing on a specific subject, for example health or technology, you may want to think about using this as an activity for students to review new vocabulary.
In each round of the game the teacher prescribes a letter of the alphabet. Students must then work together to find examples of an item in each subject beginning with that letter.
E.g: Letter: C. Food = Chocolate, Animal = Crocodile, Country = China etc.
When a team completes their table, they shout “Stop the bus!”.
The game is then paused, and the teacher will check their answers. If all examples are valid, the team wins a point.
This game can get VERY competitive. So be warned.
- Fill in the lyric.
A very straightforward activity.
Print out the lyrics to a popular song and blank out some of the words. Students will listen to the song and actively attempt to fill in the missing words. This activity allows students to practice their listening and comprehension.
You have three options here when it comes to choosing a song:
- Grammatical Relevance: many songs make strong use of certain tenses or grammatical points. Beyoncé’s ‘If I were a boy’ for example is chuck full of the Second Conditional.
- Thematical Relevance: teaching a lesson about airports? ‘Summercat’. Money? ‘Ka-Ching’. Love? thousands to choose from. Making your song relevant to your topic allows a chance for exposure to new vocabulary, as well as introducing your students to songs that they otherwise may have never heard of. It’s a chance for a little cultural exposure. When I was taking Vietnamese lessons, my teacher showed me a song about Vietnamese iced coffee which gave me a real sense of place and culture in Saigon.
- Student Rapport: Certain countries seem to be obsessed with certain songs and artists. In Vietnam, if you play a Westlife or Shayne Ward song even the coldest class will warm up to you a little.
Here’s a little Taylor Swift to get you started. You can’t go wrong with this:
- Giving Directions + Map
Learning how to give and follow directions is a fundamental practical skill in languages, and one that students benefit more from with some practical activity.
I’ve provided two worksheets that work best when used together.
The first is focused on expanding students’ vocabulary. Looking at signs and symbols, students must attempt to fill in the blanks with words associated with directions (left, right, go straight ahead, take the 2nd exit etc). There is a key with commonly used phrases which they can use to have a fuller vocabulary in context.
The second worksheet is a map. Using what they’ve learned, the students work in pairs to guide each other to destinations within the town map. One students gives directions using the target language, whilst the other listens and follows from the starting point. Once they have arrived at the correct destination they swap roles.
And why yes, I did draw that myself. Thanks for asking.
- Noughts & Crosses.
Ahhh noughts and crosses. Or tic tac toe. Or whatever you used to call it. The game we all secretly played with the person next to us when the teacher’s lesson got a little boring. Some ingenious people in the ESL world have taken this scribble-on-the-back-of-a-jotter doodle and turned it into a fully formed English Language activity with grammatical goals.
Split your class into 2 teams. Team 1 = X. Team 2 = O. Any more than this and it gets messy. Each team receives a worksheet like the one below:
You’ll notice I’ve written in the squares. The example I’ve given was for a lesson focusing on comparatives and superlatives. You can however change this to suit any grammatical point you wish.
On the board the teacher draws a copy of this grid, leaving out the words.
One team selects a box. For example, box 18. That box contains the word ‘soft’. The students must then take that word and use it in a sentence with the grammatical objective of the lesson.
Let’s say I asked the student to use the word ‘soft’ as a superlative in a sentence.
A correct answer may be:
“My pillow is the softest one in the whole world”. Or something along those lines that makes sense.
If they get it right, their team obtains a square, and the teacher draws either a ‘X’ or a ‘O’ within it.
The aim is to get four boxes in a row (vertically, horizontally or diagonally).
This game gets students really competitive and determined to use the target language to acquire those all-so-important boxes. Your students will probably end up like this:
- The Numbers Game.
Are your students still pronouncing their ‘Th’ sounds like ‘T’s? Are they spouting ‘S’s like ‘Z’s? Then this wee game is a quick-fix to your problems.
On this worksheet you will find a series of numbers (0-9). Each number will have a word assigned to it.
You’ll notice that some of these words are very similar sounding. For example ‘ship’ and ‘sheep’, or ‘trees’ and ‘cheese’. This is deliberate. I shall explain.
Think of this game like a telephone dialing pad. Students work in pairs to write down a sequence of numbers provided by their partner. Yet instead of numbers you have words. And instead of pressing buttons to input those words, you have to say them outloud. Say them with the wrong pronunciation and you may confuse your listener.
For example, if I were to say “Thick, Tick, Trees”, you would write down ‘1, 2, 3’. Comprende?
It’s a devilish little game that forces students to confront their pronunciation issues head on.
Just be sure not to give out your actual phone number as an example.
The one game to rule them all.
Let’s get down to business. First thing’s first. You’re gonna need to print out this worksheet:
Now, cut out each of the words into strips. Fold each strip in half then place them in a container of your choice (a cup, bowl, hat, hollowed out tortoise shell, whatever).
The class is divided in half. One side of the room is Team 1, the other Team 2. The aim of the game is to be the team left standing with the highest number of points.
Taking turns, one member from one team picks out a piece of paper from your container. They unfold it, then their destiny is left up to the game. Here’s a run-down of what they could pick up:
VOCABULARY WORD: A regular word. Students must pronounce this word outloud. If they do so correctly, their team wins 1 point. These make up the majority of the pieces.
BATTLE: The student must choose a member of the other team to compete against. The teacher will describe a vocabulary word from a recent lesson. The student who bangs their table first and gives the correct answer wins their team 100 points. Teams cannot pick a member of the opposing team more than once.
PIRATE: The picking team steals HALF of the other team’s points and adds it to their own score.
KABOOM!: The picking team loses ALL of their points. Shame on you if you pick the kaboom!
To add a little more spice to the chaos I like to add random point cards, issuing anything from -100 to 10,000 points.
This is a great game to practice pronunciation with, and is all in all something you might want to save towards the end of a course. It’s phenomenal fun.