As an ESL teacher, I use games quite often to keep students interested, engaged and excited about the learning English!
I went through a lot of trial and error to find what activities, songs, and games I could use with my classes. I needed games I could play with small groups of students I taught part-time, but also games that could work well with 25+ students at my kindergarten.
Finding great activities and games is important because young students have such short attention spans – you need to switch up activities often! A game might be super fun for 10 minutes, but longer than that and they’ll get bored. You always have to have a back up plan and be flexible, and you might even have to make up a game on the spot.
Many people have asked me what activities and games I play in class, so here they are! You may have to adapt some of these games depending on how many students you have, their age level and maturity, and the room you have in your class. My school asked me to use flashcards a lot, so most of my games involve flashcards in some way.
8 of my favorite ESL games to play with young students:
1. What’s Missing?
Place several flash cards up on a board. Have the students close their eyes and take one (or two or three) cards off the board. The students open their eyes and have to guess which cards are missing.
2. Find the Cards
I ask the students to close their eyes while I hide the flashcards around the room. You can make it easy or more difficult depending on the students. I ask them to open their eyes then one by one choose a student to find a certain card. This is so fun because they get excited and want to help each other!
3. Run from Teacher
Give each student a flashcard. Stand at the front of the room and turn so your back is facing them. Hold your hands out and call for a card. The student with that card needs to sneakily place their card in your hands then run back to their chair while you chase them back! They scream every time but love this game.
4. Stand Up
Give each student a flashcard. When you call their card, they need to stand up and say the name of the card. You can make this more fun by having one of the kids be the teacher instead of you.
5. Who Likes…?
This is basically a memory game. I let each student pick one flashcard. One by one the students will show everyone which card they chose. Then I take all the cards away and ask one student to match the card to the correct person. This game is great for teaching sentence patterns like “Who likes the rabbit?” and having the student answer “Mia likes the Rabbit”, etc.
6. Race to Hit the Card
I give a student a fly swatter or plastic hammer and ask them to run and hit different flashcards on the floor. This can be fun with one kid or you can make it more competitive and have two kids hit race to hit the card first.
7. Balancing Cup Game
Ask one student to guess a flashcard word. If they guess it correctly they can take a cup and balance a flashcard on it. They continue with several other cards, building the cups higher and higher. The goal is to stack all the flashcards without the cups and flashcards falling!
8. My Card Your Card
Sit in a circle and give every student a flashcard. One person will say their card first, then call out someone else’s card. They say their card, then another persons, and so on. Once the students get the hang of it it’s fun to play with a clapping beat. If a student messes up they’re out!
Some of my other favorites:
- 20 Questions
- I Spy
- Simon Says (I play this all the time!)
- Building Block Game
- Shoots and Ladders
- Take A Hike
- Word Race Game
- Find Someone Who…
- Doggy Doggy Where’s Your Bone?
There are tons of other great games to play with ESL students! I’m always curious to learn more and see what works well for other teachers, so if you have any other suggestions let me know!