Games and Activities for ESL Classes

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Games and Activities for ESL Classes January 1, 1997 | Posted by Shaney Collected by Shaney Crawford, Former Participant of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme (Fukushima)

These games and activities have been collected from various sources: past issues of the Fukushima JET newsletter, games books, various CLAIR and AJET teaching resource guides, and stuff left over from my predecessor. I apologize for not quoting sources, but I collected them in such a hurry when I first got here that I can t find the original sources in most cases. It is safe to assume that I did not come up with all of these games, so please do not give me credit for doing so. You can, however, assume that all mistakes are mine.

1. A and AN Draw a large a and a large an on separate pieces of paper. It is best if these words are written inside amusing animal shapes. Divide the class into two teams. The first child from each team puts their hands on their heads. Show the children a vocabulary flashcard. They both touch (or slam) the a or an . The one to touch the correct paper first gets a point for her team, provided that she says, It s a or It s an correctly. If she makes a mistake, the other child is offered a chance to make the correct sentence. After the class gets the idea, one of the children can hold up the cards instead of the teacher.

2. A-B PAIRWORK Student A is given half of the information and Student B is given the other half. Students have to work together and ask each other questions to fill in the missing information on each of their sheets.

3. ADJECTIVES 1 Write down three adjectives and ask pairs of students to write down as many things they can think of that all three adjectives apply to. For example, big, cold, beautiful might apply to snowman, mountain, Alaska Get students to come up with their own adjectives. See who can get the most number of words.


Choose some advertisements with big print and not too much writing on them. Number them clearly. Black out two adjectives from each and make a list of the missing words. Before the lesson, post the ads on the walls of the classroom somewhere. Dictate the list of adjectives and tell the students that these are the words that have been blacked out on the walls. The object is to match the adjectives with their ads. Students write the number of the ad that they think that adjective appeared in.

5. ALPHABET 1 Use big cards. Go through the alphabet once in order then mix them up. Introduce the pronunciation of B and V, M and N, and L and R carefully.

6. ALPHABET 2 Use chalk as a baton. Arrange teams behind a line before the blackboard. The first student writes A in her/her team s designated space, then passes the chalk to the next student. The fastest team wins. The Japanese teacher monitors the kids to keep them behind the line. Friends can call out from behind the line to help. Give points for speed and neatness. When the students are confident with A to Z, get them to try Z to A. If some students can write the whole alphabet, pit them against each other. Instead of running to the board, you can try having wheelbarrow races or hopping races. The movement and the competition are important in an elementary school.

7. ALPHABET 3 Use sets of alphabet cards. Make groups of 5 students. In the classroom, clear the desks to the side. The students must make an alphabet line, card to card, from A to Z. Can use to check recognition of capitals and small letters.

8. ALPHABET 4 Make two sets of alphabet cards, each letter about half the size of B4. Divide the class into two. Distribute the two sets of cards amongst the students. Some of the students may get two cards. The teacher selects a word for spelling. Each team has to spell the word by its members rushing to the front and holding up their cards in correct sequence. The fastest team wins.


Draw an empty apartment on the board. Have students try to guess the contents. Draw them in as they name them. For example, the students could ask, Is there a chair? .

10. ANAGRAMS (WORD SCRAMBLES) 1 Mix up vocabulary words and get the students to unscramble them. Can be played in teams, in pairs, or with the whole class. The team who can unscramble the word (i.e. say it in English) and give its meaning in Japanese gets a point. The team with the most points wins. You can also get the students to spell the words correctly for points.

11. ANIMAL GAME Give each student the name of an animal. After practising the different animal sounds, the students make the sound in order to find the other students who are the same animal. Japanese animal cries (nakigoe) are different from their English counterparts. Explain the sounds using pictures. The kids find the differences amusing. They tend to know dog and mouse (after you mention Mickey). I also used kangaroo with a tch, tch sound. Have a card for each student, but make sure they don t show it to anyone else. After finding their partners, they can show their cards to each other, then the JTE and ALT. Presentation is important as without the preparation of cards and the explanation (i.e. you can t show your card to anyone else ), this game can be a flop. It took some fine tuning before it succeeded.

12. ANYTHING GOES Students try to come up with as many different answers to one question as they can. The teacher asks something like, How many fingers do you have? . The first student will probably say, I have ten fingers. . The next student can say, I have more than nine fingers. The next, I don t have sixteen fingers. . The next, I am an alien, so I have sixty fingers. , etc. Try to get them to use any grammar point that they have ever covered.

13. BACK TO BACK Teams of two stand back to back and hook their arms around each other s arms. Race to a marker and then back to the starting line giving both the chance to run forward and backwards once.


After reading a text, each student selects about 5 new, difficult or unusual words. In pairs, they write the words one at a time (with their fingers) on their partners backs. The partner guesses the word. Variation: the partner must use the word in a sentence. Books closed makes it a memory game. Books open makes it a scanning activity.

15. BACK WRITING 2 Each row is a team. The last person in each row comes up to the teacher s desk and looks at a flash card. When all students have returned to their seats, the teacher says Start! and the game begins. The students at the end of the row write the word (with their fingers) on the back of the person in front of them. When that person seems to understand the word, they write it on the back of the person in front of them. The person in the front of the row writes the word on the board, then goes to the teacher s desk to look at a different card. Once he has remembered the card, he goes to the back and writes it on the back of the person who used to be at the end of the row. (All the students should move forward one seat while the person at the front of the row is looking at the new card.) The winning team is the one that can write the most (correctly spelled) words on the board.

16. BASEBALL 1 The class is divided into two teams. Four chairs are placed in the shape of a baseball diamond. The AET/JTE proceeds to ask each team member a question which must be answered in a complete sentence. If the correct answer is given, the player moves to first base. If the answer is wrong, the player is out . When the team has three outs the other team comes up to bat.

17. BASEBALL 2 Draw a baseball diamond and a score board on the board. Students, in turn, are at bat and choose how difficult a question to attempt: a single, double, triple, or homerun. If a student answers correctly, s/he moves ahead the appropriate number of bases. The students who are already on base advance the appropriate number of bases. Players who advance to homeplate score a point for their team. If a player answers incorrectly, s/he is out. Once a team makes three outs, the other team is up. This works well with spelling practice because it is fairly easy to compile lists of easy to difficult words.

Note from Steve Mendoza I teach at a Japanese high school, and I have some additional ideas for the game Baseball 2?. It may be a good idea to use playing cards, i.e. ace = single, 2 = double etc. Also the joker card can be an automatic walk, and king can be an automatic strikeout. The cards are put face down and the students pick one

randomly. This adds a more random element to the game. In Japan, most students would just pick single each time, if given the choice.

18. BASEBALL 3 Draw a baseball diamond on a piece of paper and place a pile of flashcards in the middle of it. Divide the children into two teams and give each team some counters. The team takes turns at bat. The first child on the batting team puts her counter on home plate and draws a card from the top of the pile. Either the rest of the team or the pitching team ask her one or more questions about the card (e.g. What is it? What colour is it?). If she answers the questions successfully, she moves her counter to first base. There are various ways of proceeding from here. (1) The same child can draw more cards. If she gets three more correct, she gets a home run. If she makes a mistake, the turn passes to the other team. (2) The next child on her team draws a card. If four different children make correct answers consecutively, their team gets a home run. (3) She can choose not to go to first base, but to try for a two-base hit. If she makes another correct answer, she can choose to move to second base or try for a three-base hit, etc. Each team is allowed three outs before the turn passes to the other team.

19. BATTLESHIP Students get into pai