6 teaching games students love

James has been teaching in Thailand for nearly five years. During this time he’s worked with students of all levels – primary school, high school, even volunteering with adults. In this post he shares some educational games that younger students love to play.

“Teacher, play game!” – A familiar refrain which gets shouted regularly at me by my Thai students, usually when I’m in the middle of teaching them something they find particularly dull. “Sure, in a minute but please listen first,” I plead with them. “Okay!” they say in unison. The relief around the room is palpable. The look on their faces says “Thank god, I thought he was going to just keep talking for the whole lesson”.

If there’s one generalization I can make about ESL students of all ages and nationalities it’s that they LOVE games. Therefore, every ESL teacher should have a collection of games ready to use for all occasions. Not only will they liven up your class but they are great for practicing vocabulary and sentence structures in a fun and relaxed way. Here are some sure-fire games my students love.

1. What’s the time Mr. Wolf?

A playground classic kids love. The students line up at the back of the room against the wall while the teacher (Mr. Wolf) stands at the opposite side. Students, in unison, ask “What’s the time Mr. Wolf?” If Mr. Wolf answers “It’s two o’clock”, students must take two steps forward, “It’s four o’clock”, four steps and so on. Eventually, Mr Wolf will answer “It’s dinner time!” and students must run back to avoid being eaten. Whoever is caught by Mr Wolf becomes a wolf. Can be modified for other target language as well e.g. How are you feeling today? I’m happy, sad, hungry etc. In this case students take one step at a time and run when Mr Wolf says “I’m hungry”.

2. Busy Bees

This one is great for young kids. First explain how a bee buzzes around making figures of eight. Then tell the students to buzz around the classroom like bees. Shout ‘STOP!’ and when all the students have stopped, call out a letter from the alphabet. The students must pose or mimic something that begins with that letter. You then ask them individually “What are you?” If they can’t answer they have to sit down. Keep playing until only one student is left standing.

3. Heads Up!

This game is great for practicing questions and Yes/No answers. One student comes to the front of class and the teacher sticks a piece of paper with a word or picture on to the student’s head. The student must ask questions such as “Am I a person?”, “Am I an animal?” The rest of the class can answer only Yes or No. Continue until the player guesses correctly or gives up.

4. Stop the Bus!

A fun warm-up game for reviewing vocabulary. The teacher will call out a category e.g. sports, fruits, transport. Students, either individually or in pairs, must write as many words from that category as they can think of. When teacher shouts “Stop the Bus!” the students must put their pens down immediately. The team or student with the most words (they must all be spelt correctly) is the winner.

5. Ping Pong Spelling

This game requires egg crates and ping pong balls. Split the class into teams of 4 or 5.  Give each team an egg crate.  Each team should designate one runner whose job it is to run to the box and get a ping pong ball, then bring it back to their team (they cannot take more than one ball at a time and only one person from each group can get the balls).  The remaining members are responsible for arranging the balls to make usable words according to the category or directions given.  The first team that comes up with an answer should raise their hand so the teachers can check their word.  The first correct word gets a point for their team.

6. Who’s Speaking?

Teaching “What’s your name?” “My name is __________” can get a little dull sometimes, so I like to liven things up with this fun guessing game. One student comes to the front of the class and puts on a blindfold. The teacher then chooses another student at random and asks “What’s your name?” he or she should answer using a fake name or the name of a classmate. The blindfolded student must then guess who it was. Encourage students to put on silly voice

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