10 Best ESL Games & Activities For Teaching English
ESL games are an excellent way for kids and adults to practice the English language and have fun at the same time. If you’re a teacher, these activities are perfect for the start of class and getting the students motivated or relaxed — especially before a tough subject or exam.
You can even do them at the end of class to leave off on a fun note. On the other hand, if you’re someone’s friend or even a parent and want to help children practice their English skills, it’s a great way to help them learn without them even realizing they’re learning.
English as a Second Language games help people practice their vocabulary, conversation skills, and confidence. Here are ten of the best ESL games for kids, students of any age, including college students and older adults.
Top 10 Fun ESL Games For Kids & Adults
Odd One Out Game
Odd one out is a great ESL activity for everyone. You don’t need any supplies, and learning is quick and easy.
Simply have one student or child stand up. Depending on their level of knowledge, you can either have them name three or four things. Out of all those options, at least one thing has to be different than the rest. The person next to them or in front of them has to guess which one of the things is the odd one out.
For example, someone can mention “California, New York, Los Angeles, and Arizona.” In this case, Los Angeles would be the odd one out because it’s a city and not a state.
You can continue until everyone has gone at least once. Everyone learns with this fun game since the person that needs to come up with the words has to think about things that are related, and most people will also try to figure out the answer quietly to themselves.
For simplicity, you should give everyone at least 3-5 minutes to come up with at least two suggestions in case their first one gets taken.
This is one of the more funny ESL games that can get everyone in the classroom laughing. The rules of the game are simple, and you need at least three people to play it.
Have one person create a specific pose or imitate a famous statue, then have someone else put on a blindfold or trust them enough to close their eyes. The third person or remaining people then have to explain to the person with the blindfold how to imitate the pose of the first person. They can’t physically move the blindfolded person but simply guide them through words and phrases.
Set a 5-minute timer or longer to make it a challenge and then decide which group has the person with the closest version of the pose.
Relay Board Race
It’s one of the most played ESL classroom games, and for a good reason. The relay board race game involves separating classrooms into two or three groups, depending on how many students there are. Ideally, you will at least want to have five students in each group at the minimum.
To play, divide the board based on the number of groups. For this example, let’s go with two groups. Drawn a line down the middle of the board, and on each side, you will write a list of the same words for each side, with a total of at least two for each existing player.
Next to those words, you will have two specific topics. For example, you can have a “Verb” and “Adverb” topic while the list of words is made up of verbs and adverbs. The students then race to the board and write the word again under the correct topic. Once a student writes it, they run back to the line and hand the marker to the next person, hence the relay phrase in the name.
The winning team is the one that finishes first, assuming they have all the answers right. Otherwise, the team with the most correct answers wins. To avoid people rushing and messing up the spelling, only count words with no vocabulary errors or those that can be clearly read.
While a lot of other ESL games involve listening and following directions, this one involves drawing. It’s a fantastic and fun game that anyone of any age can play. It’s one of the top ways to practice basic one-word vocabulary and is suitable for beginner ESL students.
The way the game is played is to put a bunch of papers with object names in a container. Have one person from the class or group come up and pick a paper from the container. The students draw on the board the object the paper describes. Once they start to draw it, the people in the crowd can shout answers to guess what the person is drawing, also making it a great guessing game. The person in the crowd that gets the object correct get’s a point.
Take turns in who gets to draw. If you have a lot of people, you can split them into two groups and have two people draw the same object at the same time. The team that names the object first correctly gets the point.
Simon Says is one of the most recognized games in the world, and it’s pretty educational. It’s mostly a kid’s game, and it’s certainly one of the best ESL games for kids. Although, you could also try it with adults and help them practice the language. It’s more hilarious when older students try it since most of us haven’t played it since we were young.
If you don’t know how to play it, it’s not difficult to learn on the fly. To play, simply have one person stand in front of everyone and say “Simon Says,” followed by an action phrase. The students need to do as you say and copy your movements. Repeat the exact phrase always initiating with Simon Says. At one point, you can say an action without saying Simon says, and the person who still does the action is eliminated from the game. To make things challenging, try to be as fast as possible.
Kids can learn a lot of things with this game because they’re listening to what you say and associating it with certain movements and physical characteristics.
Similar to Simon Says, hangman is another well-known game played for fun by millions of people. While it’s often played for entertainment, it also makes for a great English learning activity. It’s fun to play and is suitable for kids, teenagers, college students, and older adults.
If you’ve never played it, here are the rules for it. One person thinks of a word and on the board, draws an underscore for each letter. So as an example, “Horse” would be drawn as “_ _ _ _ _”
On a turn-by-turn basis, each student can guess a letter in the alphabet that might be in the word. If they get it right, you put the letter above the underscore where it belongs. Otherwise, you get to draw one part of the hangman. The player who created the word wins if he completes the hangman picture and loses if all the words are guessed before that. As a side note, if you're on a road trip — the alphabet game is another great way to help a child practice their vocabulary.
The mime game is an excellent way for people to practice verbs. While it’s suitable for ESL, you can fit it to work for any language you’re trying to teach. The rules of the game are pretty simple, and it requires minimal preparation, making it an excellent choice for figuring out an on-the-spot activity.
To play, you just need to write action verbs on pieces of paper. They can be things like cooking food, washing a car, or painting. Once you have a list of things written done, put them into two separate containers. Split the group into two teams and have one person of each team come up to the front. Take out a piece of paper and show the two students at the front of the class what it is without showing the rest of the group. On your count, they will begin to imitate the verb without talking.
Students guess what is being drawn and the first team that shouts the correct answer get’s a point. Then simply continue until everyone from each team get’s to go up. You will want to write plenty of things down so that it doesn’t get too repetitive. You can always find mobile apps that will come up with verbs, so you don’t have to write things down, and preparation is much easier and organized.
Not every ESL game has to involve writing something down on paper or acting it out. You can also turn singing into a friendly game. Considering that kids might be less shy than adults to sing in public, this might be better suited for younger students.
The game involves having a student sing one or two sentences of a song and the student next to them continuing the song with another one or two sentences. Ideally, the piece should be well-known, or you can give it to them as an assignment to learn the day before.
It’s a fantastic way to help young learners remember vocabulary and get your more timid students participating. Some easy songs are the common If You’re Happy and Put on Your Shoes. But you can also go with more challenging songs like Let’s Go To The Zoo. There is a reason why it's commonly played at summer camps — it's fun!
I spy is a classic game and one of the most famous ones in the world. It also happens to be a great way to motivate kids to speak English. It’s not the most suitable game for groups, but if you’re just trying to help one child or two or three, it’s the perfect activity.
To play I spy you just choose an object in the vicinity that everyone else can also see. Then you say the famous phrase, “I spy with my little eye..” followed by either a description of the object or another hint that would help the others figure out what it is. So you can say something like, “.. that starts with the letter C”, “that rhymes with light,” etc.
You can play I spy on a long car ride, ESL classroom, living room, outdoors, or just about anywhere.
One Word Drawing
One word drawing is an excellent activity for beginner ESL students to practice basic vocabulary and one of the more creative ESL vocabulary games. The gist of the game involves having different team members taking turns drawing a specific part of a noun based on the word you mention.
As an example, you would start by telling the students they’re going to draw a horse. Then you say one body part of the horse like “ears.” One student of each team has 10-15 seconds to draw the body part on the sheet of paper and then pass the paper to the teammate next to them. Your next word could be something like “mouth,” and then that student would draw that.
As you can see, this is quite the basic vocabulary, but it’s great practice to teach English to beginners or those who are quite new to the language. In the end, the team with the best or funniest drawing wins.