Teaching English is an awesome way to travel more while doing meaningful work. With most teaching positions, there’s a good chance that lesson planning will be part of your job description, and integrating games for English class into your day will be a must.
Interesting and fun classroom games for teaching English are an essential part of your teacher tool kit and can make a regular lesson memorable for your students.
In this post, I’ll share some of my top fun games to play in English class after six years in the teaching profession.
I started teaching in a traditional classroom and later transitioned to teaching English online. After working with over a thousand kiddos around the world in different settings, one thing is always the same: students love playing games!
These activities can be adjusted up or down depending on the age of your students. Most can be played either individually or in groups, depending on the class size you’re working with.
Here are my 5 recommend games for English class, plus some teaching tips below.
Table of Contents
1. The Categories Game
For this game, students will try to identify as many words in a category as they can. The teacher will give the students a specific topic and the students must quickly list words related to that topic.
This activity can be played individually or in small groups. So if you’re teaching online one-on-one it will work, and if you’re teaching a small group of about 5 or 6 students, this game will work as well.
First, choose a category that is related to the material the students have been learning. For example, if you’ve been teaching a lesson about different foods, you could make the category fruits, vegetables, junk food, breakfast foods, etc.
Start a timer for two minutes and tell the students they can begin. Their goal is to see who can write down the most words that fit in that category in the time allowed. The student/team that gets the most words in their category wins.
It’s helpful to do a demonstration round before allowing students to play independently.
Choose a different category and write it on your whiteboard (or piece of paper). Then brainstorm with students to come up with a list of correct responses so students see what kinds of answers you’re looking for.
For example, if you decide the practice category is “Fruit,” you could work with students to write out a list of fruits on the board together — apple, orange, banana, etc.
Leave the list on the board while playing with different categories so that students can see the example responses for reference.
This game makes a great review exercise before a quiz or test, as well as a good warm-up activity.
- Farm Animals
- School subjects
Desired Student Output: Vocabulary. Quick recall of target vocabulary words
Grouping: Students can either work individually or in small groups, depending on your class size.
Level: Intermediate-Advanced depending on the category
2. Sentence Scramble Race
For this activity, students will be putting the words of a sentence in the correct order. This is one of the best games for English class to build grammar awareness and sentence construction skills.
This game can be played individually or in small groups.
First, choose a sentence you would like your students to unscramble. Write each word of the sentence on an index card. Shuffle the cards around and give them to the student face down and out of order.
When you say “Go,” the student must make a logical sentence with the correct subject-verb-object structure.
The first student to make a correct sentence wins!
If you’re playing this ESL game online, you simply write the words on your whiteboard or on a piece of paper and students write them in the correct order on their end, or you can have them verbally say the correct order.
If your student is more advanced, you can extend this activity by asking them to identify the parts of the sentence like adjectives, nouns, and verbs.
You can also give students multiple sentences and punctuation marks and have them do this activity for a paragraph.
Sample Sentences And Paragraphs
- The dog walks in the park.
- My teacher gives me homework.
- She lives in a large, red house.
- He runs faster than his brother.
- This weekend, I went to the park. I played basketball, read a book, and swam in the lake.
- I like eating ice cream. What do you like to eat?
Desired Student Output: Grammar. The student will be able to put the words in the sentence in the correct order, following correct grammar rules.
Grouping: Students can either work individually or in small groups, depending on your class size.
Level: Beginner-Advanced depending on the complexity of the sentence/paragraph
3. All About Me Presentation
A great way to break the ice with a new group of students (or an individual student) is to assign an “All About Me” activity.
In this fun classroom activity, students will learn some basic sentence frames they can use to talk about themselves. They will learn more about their classmates at the same time.
In the “All About Me” presentation, each student will draw a self-portrait. Under their picture, they will answer questions using complete sentences.
Sample “About Me” Questions
- What is your name? My name is _____
- How old are you? I am ____ years old.
- Where are you from? I am from ______
- What is your favorite color? My favorite color is _____.
- What is your favorite food? My favorite food is _____.
- What is your favorite hobby? My favorite hobby is _____.
This project is most effective if each student presents their answers to practice their speaking skills. Depending on the comfort level of your students, they can either present to the full class or present to a partner or small group.
Allow students to practice together beforehand so they feel confident reading their sentences. For ESL games online, you would have your students draw the self-portrait on a whiteboard or chalkboard, or even a piece of paper to show the camera.
Desired Student Output: Speaking. The students will be able to speak about themselves in complete sentences.
Grouping: Individual presentation, can practice in partners or groups
4. Two Truths And A Lie
This is one of the better English games for students who are more advanced and it can be a fun “Get to know you” activity as well.
Ask students to write three sentences about themselves, two that are true and one that is a lie.
Tell students that each person will read the three sentences and the class will guess which one is the lie — for one-on-one classes, this still works between you and your student.
Demonstrate this activity by doing it yourself on the board. Some students might be more visual than auditory and writing your facts on the board while explaining the game can help different types of learners understand the activity.
Ask students to guess which statement is not true. You can put a large checkmark next to the true sentences and an x through the false sentence to reinforce this.
Give students time to think of their own sentences and write them down. Then allow students to present one at a time while their classmates guess which sentence is the lie.
This is one of the better ESL games online (and in-classroom) for intermediate-advanced students.
- I was born in California (true)
- My favorite food is steak (false)
- My hobbies are running and reading (true)
Desired Student Output: Listening. The student will use listening comprehension skills to determine if statements are true or false.
Grouping: Students will create sentences about themselves independently. The presentations can be with the full class or in small groups.
5. Show And Tell
I love playing this game in my in-person and online English classrooms because it gives the students a chance to talk about something they’re passionate about.
For show and tell, each student is instructed to bring one of their favorite items to class. They will show the class the item and talk about it.
To introduce this activity, I demonstrate first by bringing in an item from my own home (a special scarf, a photo of my family, a bracelet I got while traveling, a piece of fruit, etc). I tell them what the item is and describe how it looks using the five senses.
“This is a scarf. It is yellow and it feels soft. I cannot taste it. I cannot hear it. It smells like perfume.”
If the students are more advanced, I tell them where it is from, how I got it, and why it is special. Then I allow them to ask questions about the object.
“I got this scarf from my grandmother. I got it for Christmas last year. It is special because it reminds me of her. Do you have any questions about this scarf?”
By demonstrating the show and tell first, students see exactly what the expected output is.
- What is this item?
- What does it look like?
- Smell like?
- Taste like?
- Feel like?
- Sound like?
For more advanced students, you can also ask:
- Where is it from?
- How did you get it?
- Why is it special to you?
- Does the class have any questions?
Students should write the answers to these questions in full sentences before they present. You can also allow students to practice presenting their items with a partner before sharing with the class.
If your student is unable to bring an item, you can also allow them to look up a picture of their item on the internet and present that, or take a photo of their item and bring it in.
Desired Student Output: Speaking. The student will be able to describe an object using their 5 senses, using full-sentence speaking skills.
Grouping: Individual assignment presented to either small groups or the full class.
Level: Intermediate-Advanced depending on the questions asked
For both in-person and English games for online classes, here is some terminology you’ll need to know.
When you model an activity, you demonstrate exactly what you want the student to do. This shows students what the activity is rather than telling them.
Whenever you teach a new game, it’s helpful to model the exercise to completion with your students to show them what you’re looking for.
For example, if I wanted my students to make paper airplanes, I would show them exactly how to fold the paper while making my own airplane rather than just verbally explaining how to do it.
This is the desired outcome that you want the student to produce by the end of the activity. For English activities, sample student outputs might be:
- The student can say three full sentences about a topic with correct grammar
- Students can work together to match 5 vocabulary words to their definitions
- The student can use a vocabulary word correctly in a sentence
Scaffold Up and Down
There’s a chance you’ll have students with different ability levels in your classroom at the same time.
I like to prepare a slightly less difficult and a slightly more difficult version of the same activity so I can adjust on the fly. If I notice a student is struggling or not being challenged enough, I can alter their activity to better suit their needs.
For example, if I’m doing the sentence scramble activity, I might give a more advanced learner a complex sentence and an emerging learner a simpler sentence.
English Teaching Tips
Utilize these tips to ensure a fun and engaging class with your students.
Accommodate Different Learning Styles
The main learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, or “seeing,” “hearing,” and “doing.” When giving instructions, try to address as many learning styles as you can.
Write things down and say them so that students receive the information in multiple ways. There’s a better chance your students will understand what is expected of them if you explain it visually and verbally.
Bonus points if you leave the instructions written on the board during class so that students can re-read them if they forget what they’re supposed to do.
Use Anchor Charts
If you discover a particular activity that your students like, use one of those giant sticky note pads to make an anchor chart with directions for the activity.
An anchor chart is a poster you can permanently hang in your classroom and reference often. If a game has three steps, write the steps out on the anchor chart with a simple illustration for each step.
This way you can start the game quickly in the future.
Ask Follow Up Questions
When you play the games above, encourage your students to dig deeper by asking follow-up questions.
For example, if you play the Categories Game and your student names six different fruits, ask them which fruit is their favorite.
If you play Two Truths And A Lie and one of your students “Truths” is that they went snorkelling, ask them where they went and what animals they saw.
Encourage responses in full sentences.
Always Have An Extra Activity On Standby
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a teacher is that you never know how long lessons will take with each group of students.
Some groups may fly through a game and others may take longer. A project that you thought would last one day might last three. And a game that was supposed to take thirty minutes might only take ten.
As a teacher, it’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared. Always have an extra lesson ready to go in your teacher toolbox so you’ll be covered if the unexpected happens.
Have Fun With These English Classroom Games!
The most important thing to remember is that you want your students to be engaged and to be having fun.
When that happens, they’ll be able to remember the content they’re learning, enjoy themselves, and in turn, will have a better grasp of the English language.
If you’re playing English games for an online class, you’ll ensure a fun classroom environment, and your students will be more likely to sign-up with you again (meaning, you’ll get paid again).
And, if you’re teaching in a traditional classroom abroad, exciting games keep the students interested and make the job more enjoyable for you as well.
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