Research has shown that using games to teach a language can make learning much easier by increasing motivation.
For specific language areas (like grammar), games are just as effective compared to traditional teaching methods. A welcome break from textbooks, games take an interactive approach to learning. This is especially helpful for less confident or frustrated students.
Games also help you stand out as a teacher—after all, who’s more fun, the teacher who plays games or the teacher who relies on the textbook only?
1. Heads Up
In this game the teacher shows the student a series of words (such as capital cities) and the student describes them to the teacher. The teacher then guesses what the word is based on the student’s description. You could add a time limit for each word to increase the pressure!
It might sound simple, but it’s great fun, and a really effective way to review vocabulary. Students are actually paraphrasing during this game, which is especially useful for advanced students. If a student's level isn’t high enough to describe the word in their own words, the roles can be switched. Why not try playing this as a warm-up, and see if students remember what they learned in the last lesson?
Check out the video of Ellen playing Heads Up.
2. Fortune Teller
Fortune Teller is a role-playing game that encourages students to ask questions in the future tense. As the Fortune Seeker, your student asks you open questions they would like to know about their future selves, such as “When will I meet my wife?”. Creativity is a must for this game, so don’t be afraid to have fun and be silly as you play.
In this game the student guesses the answer from single word clues given by the teacher. It’s a great game to encourage a deeper understanding of vocabulary through word association and synonyms.
Check out the video of the Password game played in the “Best of Tonight” show.
4. Never Have I Ever
You can use this as a warm up, or use it to practice speaking about experiences in the present perfect tense.
In this game, the student will talk about an experience they’ve never had before. If the teacher has had this experience before, the teacher responds “yes” and discusses their experience to the student. If the teacher has never had this experience either, the student can imagine and explain to the teacher what this experience would be like for them.
5. The Whisper Challenge (Advanced learners)
In this game one silently mouths words or phrases to the other. It’s best to limit the amount of words to make guessing easier. You can also choose idioms or random sentences for more advanced students.
This game is actually a fun way to practice lip reading and enunciation! Lip reading is a significant element of speech interpretation, especially in noisy environments. This is demonstrated by the McGurk Effect, an interesting concept you could introduce your students.
6. Box of Lies
Instead of just recognising vocabulary words, this exercise requires students to put together coherent descriptions and use prepositions correctly. This is a great game to challenge your student’s creativity, active recall, and vocabulary.
In the game, the student draws something on a paper. They can truthfully describe the picture in every detail or tell a lie by inventing a different description. The teacher guesses whether the student is telling the truth or a lie. If the teacher makes a wrong guess, the student should comfort the teacher using different words every time. If the teacher makes a right guess, the student should give a compliment using different words every time.
Check out the video playing the Box of Lies game.
7. Word mazes are great for teaching pronunciation
Word mazes are a puzzle where students must follow the correct sequence of words to make their way from the start of the maze to the finish.
Word stress mazes
Being aware of syllable stress is crucial for helping non-native speakers improve their pronunciation and comprehensibility. Word-stress mazes get students grappling with stressed syllables. Though the templates here are only applicable to English, but you can come up with a similar game for your students.
- Two syllable word stress
- Three syllable character traits word stress
- Four syllable word stress
- Five syllable word stress
Silent letter word maze
Use this maze to help make students more aware of letter combinations that usually contain a silent letter.
Grammar word mazes
If you teach children, here’s an article with games designed for children.
Want more game ideas for your lessons? Leave a comment and let us know about your favourites.
Very useful idea. I will start applying some of these games with my students. I think it will be really funny. Thank you italki!
I knew only few of them. Great!
Love this idea! Thanks.
Interesting to have learned about a couple of new games which I never knew about.
Yes! A good list. I also recommend looking into more of the games Jimmy Fallon uses on The Tonight Show. There are so many good ones that can be used in classes. Students (and teachers too) love them!
There are online crossword puzzles you can find that are designed for ESL teaching. I share my screen and read the clues outloud. Then the student has to guess the word. When they make a guess, I enter it. At the end, we see which words they got right. It's entertaining, especially for younger students (10-14yo), and holds their attention.
Love it! Thanks for the great tips!
Great article! Thank you, italki.
VICTORIA KELTY and Madelyn BritishEng: Great suggestions, thank you!
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