Great Classroom Games for ESL students

Although i constantly espouse the value of technology in education there is more to life than popping a tablet in a students hand, and in many many places around the world it simply isn’t feasible to do. I have made a few of these as well and you can download the two most popular ones at the bottom of the page. Mine are all free to download but leave me a comment if you liked them 🙂

So here is a list of English games that can be played in small groups in classrooms. I have added the links on each one, and for those of us that are in situations where money is tighter i have also included a section of some board or PowerPoint games that i have hosted here which are totally free to download and use if grabbed from this website.

Zingo – Bingo with a Zing

Zingo is a bingo game that uses words instead of numbers. There are two versions, a sight-word / High frequency game and a game with simple Key stage one vocabulary (for ESL students anyway) The game is simple, each student or pair of students is given a card ( there are 8 double sided cards with 9 spaces on each side), they have to say the word if it is revealed from the Zingo caller. Of course you can make up and rules you wish for this, use the word in a sentences, spell it, say a rhyming word, say the sounds out loud, anything that you feel is useful. the winner can be either the first student to get three in a row or the first student to get all nice words. The game can be played on their own or with a whole class. They cost about 10 dollars or so, but if you are in china then TaoBao can send them for cheaper. It is very well received by students and a useful little game to play. Give it a try.

Top Trumps

Sharks Top Trumps

A classic game! This a simple pack of 30 cards that can be played with 2 to 6 players ( optimally less might be better) and has hundreds of different subjects. The game is a simple trump game. The pack is dealt out equally to the players who have to hold them on top of each other (this is important) one player chooses one of the statistics and places their card face up. Other players then have to say the same statistic and put their card face up as well. The player with the highest number wins all the cards and puts them at the bottom of their pile. They also get to pick the next statistics. the game continues until all the cards are with one player.

Dinosaur Top Trumps

The advantage of these games, aside from the fact they cover subjects that 99% of children are going to be interested in, is that it offers a way to learn through play. I use subjects like sharks, dinosaurs, animals, world places, space which students really enjoy. I also use these cards in Guided reading to let students expand their knowledge.

If there is one issue with the cards, for ESL students, the language on the descriptions on the cards is a little high level. I am planning at some stage to make some half professionally, with simpler language and sell them presuming it doesn’t break copyright rules of course! I want to do it mainly for my classes, but also as learning while playing is such a lovely way for students to learn. If i make enough for a Ferrari it is just a bonus 😛 There at some point will be a link on here somewhere if i put that into action.

Phonics Cards

Flash cards have been around as long as the dinosaurs in the top trumps i think, they have moved to digital of course, but replacing paper with digital is better, possibly, for the environment it isn’t better for the wallet. So if you don’t have access to iPad’s or tablets you can do a lot worse than this type of set of cards for your students, you can take a look at a set like this. They have multiple phonic subjects, long and short and vowels, rhyming, combination sounds etc. this means they can be used across multiple lessons. simple slap the card, memory games, odd one out, snap ( if you have a couple of sets) are all games you can play within the classroom, you can also to some extent differentiate the learning within the classroom if you have different sets, so all students play the same type of game but the content of those games can be at appropriate levels for the students.

Guess Who

A popular game when i was a child, many many moons ago now. simple to play and good for introducing adjectives of description for ESL students. one card is paced on each side of the game, without the other player seeing. and each player, by process of elimination has to guess who the other player has. They can do this by asking questions like , Do they wearing glasses, do they have blond hair, are they a boy or girl etc. Eventually they will narrow it down and be able to guess by name. The first to guess who correctly wins the game. It is really a two player game though you can pair up and it works well as well. So really you will need a few sets of this, or use it as part of station learning. The link above is for amazon, but if in Asia Taobao or Lazada may save you shipping, and lose me the affiliate link of course 😛

Taboo

I have played this for years with students, and often make my own cards, to make it subject specific. however if you have a fairly able group ( for ESL students) you can consider the official version ( people like to play with shiny cards as well. ) the words can be a little difficult and you don’t have the specialization options either. Maybe i should put together some sets of this as well with easy words. I will and will list them in the resources section of the website as well. I wrote this in December 2019 so if you check then give it a week or so! it was Christmas after all.

Playing the game is fairly easy, you have a set time, 2 minutes is a good start, and have to describe as many of the words on the cards without saying a list of five words that are to obvious. For example if the word is Elephant you would not be able to say, grey, trunk, big, animal and Africa. the player tries as many as they can within the time. It is good for speaking practice and well as lateral thinking and for young students or those with less language skills you can allow them to say those words just to make it flow better.

Boggle

This game might be for more able students. it requires a larger vocabulary, or some very lucky guesses. Players sit around the game square as the letter cubes are put inside. each player has a pencil and a piece of paper. and have to come up with as many words from the letters in the grid as they can. Some letters are have a red outline around them and players can score double for these letters. If needed the teacher can set up the grid to make it a little easier for students, and although the rules say it has to be over 3 letters for each word this can be changed as you see fit.

Reverse Charades

A fairly straight forward game where instead of one person acting out something and the rest of the group guessing what the word is, this game requires the group to act out and one player to guess. It makes it more interactive for larger groups. Like many games this is also available on iPads and tablets though often hidden behind paywalls. I have made one that isn’t, i did put adverts in it so be warned. It also has the option to write your own ( 20 different times actually) which i did for teachers so they can write and save subject or vocabulary related games for their classes. If you want to check it out i will link it here, at some point i hope to make a video example, but not 100% of where to start.

Link to Guess what ( my Google editable charades game)

Uno and TRUGS

Uno is a stretch for ESL games if i am honest, it is a simple card game where players have to try to lose all their cards by matching colours and numbers, of course teachers would encourage them to do that in English! I introduce it here as there is a very similar game that is available, though for eye watering prices for teachers to pick up, but it is good. this is called TRUGS ( teaching reading using games ) , which has leveled phonics card games, four actually but the UNO type one is the best one in the box. I will link it here so you can see how good it is , then weep at how expensive it is.

Trugs link

Old Maid, Or Donkey, or many other names.

Great Game

I love this game, just for the reactions of the students when playing it. Language wise it practices reading and speaking skills. Players are dealt the entire pack of cards that is made up of pairs, with one exception, the Old Maid or the Donkey card. The aim of the game is to not be the last player holding that card. Players put all the pairs they are dealt face up on the table and have to read the names of the characters on the cards. Once this is done players have to pick one card from the player ( without looking) to their right, if they manage to make a pair after this they place it face up and the game goes round the circle. Officially when someone picks the Old Maid no one is supposed to say a word, but squeals of delight are expected and really funny. the game continues until someone is left with the odd card. It is great to play with up to six students, and really cheap to get hold of.

Story Blocks

This game is really for older or more advanced students, and like lots of things that are made for educational purposes seems to add a premium to the price. these are designed to help students come up with stories for writing tasks.

There are three versions, so far, and they do work well. I have included a link to check it out. Its fairly well known so its better i let them explain it themselves. my students are not quite high enough level to use these. So it is rare to see if used in my classrooms.

Classroom games are great to use with young and older students, they create a less formal learning environment and increase the chances students will be active rather than passive participants in their learning.

Here are the two of mine i promised earlier. Mine have the advantage of being free!!

Ladybug Short Vowel and CVC snakes and ladders game

Connect four ABC, CVC, Magic E etc Game.

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