Regardless of age or skill level, all students love ESL games for their ability to break up, foster social connection, and support challenging lessons. Chosen correctly, the right game is incredibly beneficial for helping students retain information. In addition to driving home lesson content, games instill important structural norms in the classroom such as following the rules of an activity. In addition, games are also a great way to tip the scales between teacher and student talk time – this is especially important for younger students as it teaches them the all-important life skill of listening.
We’ve put together seven different categories of ESL games to learn English with 67 in total – no matter if you’re teaching in Japan or Jersey, there is something in here for you.
Keep in mind that some (not all) of the games we’ve listed here require materials that may not come standard with every classroom – equipment such as internet connections, computers, plenty of paper, dice, cards, and other aids.
ESL Games for Kids
Many of the best games for kids incorporate a plethora of physical activity to exorcise all pent-up energy from hours in the classroom (this is especially true in Asia, where kids spend 12 or more hours in a classroom almost every day).
So, getting your students moving around throughout the day will give them a positive way of expending energy while learning and reinforcing the lesson. If you start playing more physically active games with your youth classes, you just might see lower incidences of bad behavior and higher test scores.
- Scavenger Hunt
- Typhoon (Super Fun Sticky Ball Game)
- 5 Fun Preposition Games
- Alphabet Songs
- Alphabet Activities
- Match the Meaning Reading Game
- Phonics Games
- Video: 9 Easy ESL Teaching Games for Online or in Class
ESL Games for Adults
Don’t let anyone tell you that ESL games are just for young learners. Adults love games too – depending on the game, sometimes perhaps even more so than children.
Many adult students, in fact, retain more information that is processed during an energy-intensive game than information presented during lectures, writing, or small group activities.
You don’t need to make your adult students run and jump around to reap the benefits either – simply standing up and walking around the room will do the trick.
If your class is particularly drowsy after lunch, save these activities for then to help prevent your students from falling asleep.
We’ve got more ESL icebreakers here if you need them!
ESL Vocabulary Games
Consistent repetition drives home vocabulary. In fact, it’s commonly believed that a learner needs to use a word at least seven times before it sticks.
On its own, repetition is boring and monotonous. Why not turn it into a fun game? Vocabulary ESL games are great because there are usually fewer rules to learn which means games start quickly and the students are engaged more easily.
We particularly like incorporating these games into a test review session or if your lesson plan revolves heavily around new vocab words.
Several of these games are competitive, which students of all ages appreciate as they get the shot to outshine their peers and feel personally invested in the outcome of the activity.
- Speed Scrabble
- Sphere Selector
- Don’t Say the Words!
- The Fly Swatter Game
- Vocabulary Games (Youtube Video)
- Hidden Picture Games
ESL Games With Flashcards (for Vocab)
When properly utilized, ESL flashcards are a great way to boost students’ vocabulary.
If there is a particular subject you are working on, or there is some supplemental vocabulary related to your core lesson plans, vocabulary drills with flashcards can be a fun and engaging way to work with the language.
Have your students pair up, giving each pair a stack of vocabulary cards. Depending on how many cards you have for each group, set the time to about one or two minutes (longer time if the stack of cards is large, shorter time if it is small).
You can have the students write the names of the image or concept on the back of each card, but make sure the word is not visible from the front!
Then, as quickly as they can, have the students work together showing the image while their partner is trying to guess the word in English. When the timer is up, stop everyone, have them count how many cards they guessed correctly, then have the teams switch roles.
You can give this activity a competitive edge by offering prizes for the team with the greatest number of correct cars at the end of the time.
Here are several free flashcard resources that you can use for various common ESL topics.
ESL Classroom Games
The good news about these ESL games is that they are appropriate for any age level. They also incorporate features of the classroom, such as the whiteboard or walls of the room and therefore require less prep than other ESL activities on this list.
These games, best of all, require minimal preparation or materials beforehand. If you value your prep time, these are for you!
ESL Online Games
If you’ve got a computer lab or projector, it’s easy to find and play ESL games on any subject with a few keystrokes. There are tons of free web resources such as Games to Learn English that you can use to find engaging online games specifically designed for ESL.
In addition to the advantage of having so many options on the web at your fingertips, many of these online games are also highly adaptable, so customizing them to fit the preferences of your students and the current content you are teaching is easy.
- Spelling bee
- Games, Puzzles, Quizzes
- Pronunciation Games
- Jeopardy Review
- Verb Games
- Paint by Idioms
- 5 Games for Teaching English Online (Youtube Video)
ESL Conversation Games
While all of the games listed previously foster interaction between students to some degree, the following ESL game options in this section are really focused on speech and conversing with one another.
Increasing your students’ speaking time can sometimes be a tough goal and can be even tougher if you have one student who loves to talk and participate for every five students who love to sit in the back in silence.
To combat this common classroom issue, use an ESL conversation game to break up the class and mix your talkative students with your quiet students. Having the focus not be on just one speaker at a time can really help all your students increase time speaking in the classroom while practicing within the structure of a well-crafted game.
ESL Grammar Games
Grammar is arguably one of the most difficult things to simultaneously teach AND keep interesting. Luckily incorporating games into your lesson plan can be a perfect way to liven it up.
You can choose to play some of these games at the end of a lesson to really bring home the concept you were teaching. If your students already know some of the material, these games could then be played at the start of a lesson as a review and warm-up activity to prep them for your lesson.
Interactive ESL Games
In 2020, we are well into the fourth industrial revolution. Think of how different the typical modern classroom looks compared to one from just a few decades ago – then imagine that rate of change at digitized warp speed. That is where we are headed.
The landscape of the future digitized classroom will look quite different in just a few short years than it does now. There may be drawbacks to this educational evolution, but one of the benefits is certainly the opportunity for interactive learning.
Here are the top interactive ESL games to incorporate in your lesson plans (assuming you have access to computers and the web). For the second game below (online vocab test) you can make a competition out of the content by dividing the class into two or more teams.
- Mad Takes (free version of Mad Libs)
- Ancient Life Vocabulary Test (and Other Topics)
- Online Crossword Puzzle
- Numbers guessing game
ESL Games for Teens
Unfortunately, the majority of the games for use in the ESL classroom are designed with primary-level learners in mind. If you teach teenagers, this means that locating game ideas that actually stand a chance to be effective in your classroom requires wading through pages of material intended for younger students.
Some games that work for young students work in classrooms with adolescents and some do not – the ones that engage teens best tend to foster a greater leeway for creativity and abstract conceptualization, such as the ones featured below.
Here are a few teen-specific ESL games that are likely to grab and hold your students’ attention.
ESL Games for Kindergarten
In the five-year-old mind, learning is either synonymous with “fun” or it does not occur at all. At this age, students are simply not yet capable of “buckling down” for rigorous academic work.
There is a reason that teachers of young learners sometimes feel sapped of energy after a particularly challenging lesson; to reach kindergarten-age students effectively, you must engage with them in an energetic way.
Accordingly, you’ll want to include a healthy smattering of games if you have classes at this level. Here are a few of the best:
- Hangman (a kindergarten staple with interactive online option)
- ESL Flashcard Games
- Come Back! Come Back!
- Concentration Matching Game
ESL Games for Speaking and Pronunciation
As a foreign ESL teacher, chances are good that you’ll be asked to heavily focus your lessons on speaking and pronunciation – based on the assumption that yours is immaculate as a native or native-level speaker.
The sounds of the English phonetics are markedly different than those of many language families throughout the world. Each native tongue will have its unique phonetic idiosyncrasies that translate poorly to spoken English. The responsibility for helping your students develop in this regard is likely to fall on your shoulders.
Instructing your students in proper pronunciation, indeed, may be one of the most challenging aspects of development for your students. Here are some of the best games to aid the process.
ESL Games for Beginners
ESL games should be a part of any beginner’s curriculum as tools to pique students’ interest in English learning by making it fun and stimulating.
With a limited English skill set, the options for games with beginning students are a bit more limited than with more advanced learners. Nonetheless, you have a plethora of great ideas available to you on the web.
Here is a sampling of the top ESL games for beginners.
Want more? Here are some of the best online resources we found for ESL Games: