45 ESL Games to Help Your Students Learn and Have Fun

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No matter if you’re teaching high school or kindergarten, students of all ages and abilities love ESL games for their ability to break up and support challenging lessons.  Chosen correctly, the right game is incredibly beneficial for helping students retain information.

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 important life skills: listening to and following directions.

We’ve put together seven different categories of ESL games with 35 in total – no matter if you’re teaching in Japan or Jersey, there is something in here for you.

A note: some of these games may require a bit of preparation and it’s always a good idea to have some things on hand like some dice, a deck of cards, and plenty of printer paper.

ESL Games for Kids

Many of these games incorporate a lot of physical activity.  Children, and some adults or “kids at heart,” really need physical activity throughout the day.  It’s almost impossible to expect a group of youngsters to sit still for an entire day, much less an entire hour.  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.

ESL Games for Adults

Just as activity is so important for teaching kids, moving about the classroom is good for adults too.  Research shows that our brains retain more information after we get our blood flowing and 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 after-lunch class is particularly drowsy, save these activities for then to help prevent your students from falling asleep. 

ESL Vocabulary Games

One of the best ways to learn anything is by repetition and common theory believes that you need to use a word at least seven times before it sticks.  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 quicker and the students are engaged easier.

We particularly like incorporating these games into a test review session, or if you’re lesson plan revolves heavily around new vocab words, then these would be fitting games to incorporate into your daily lessons. Many of these games have a slight competitive edge to them which will really get the students going and even the most mature classes can get riled up and talkative when there is a prize at the end.

ESL Flashcards for Vocabulary

ESL flashcards are always 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. You can give this activity a competitive edge by offering prizes for the team with the greatest amount of correct cars at the end of the time.

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.  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.  If you’re feeling creative, you can also adapt some of these games to be played in the classroom – our advice is to identify the games your students like best and then try and recreate the core components in your class – think Jeopardy or Family Feud.  You can then choose to break your class into groups competing for points, or have the students play individually.

ESL Conversation Games

While all of the games listed previously will undoubtedly get your students interacting, these following options are really focused on speech and conversing with one another.  Increasing your student speaking time can sometimes be a tough goal and can be even tougher if you have one student who loves to talk and participate to five students who love to sit in the back in silence. 

To combat this, 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 ns practice their English speaking in a structured way.

ESL Vocabulary 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.

Want more?  Here are some of the best online resources we found for ESL Games:


  1. Great games, thanks for sharing

  2. Wonderful! Thank you so much!
    I have quite a large stock of different activities for different ages, but it’s not too late to expand it, especially with games (my young students’ favorite pastime).


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