Games are a powerful tool for teaching English. While other subjects require the content to be the main point of the game, English can be the tool and you can play just about any game you can think of. I love games and love to think up new ways to teach using them.

Here are some of my favorite games. Some of these games I have thought up myself. Some of them come from bits and pieces of other games. Sometimes, a game just didn't go right and what the students enjoyed doing was more interesting than the original game. In any case here they are in order of importance to me:

MES-Mark's favorite games: page one, page two, page three

Bingo: there's another whole page dedicated to this. Trust a guy who makes bingo cards for every vocab set, that there's more to just marking squares and calling out numbers.

the Line Jumping Game: practice word differentiation or review of vocabulary

Students line up in one single file line.

The teacher defines the teacher's right side as "animals" and the left side as "numbers."

The teacher calls out "a penguin," and the students all jump to the teacher's right and then jump back into line.

The teacher calls out "53," and the students all jump to the left side and then jump back into line.

The teacher should do the exercise with the students and list various items within the category as a warm up. You can then try to trick the students by jumping to the wrong side yourself. This will get the students listening and thinking instead of just following you. Once they have gotten a little better, you start the game.

I like to have 2 or 3 rounds where I try to trick them once each round. If they aren't fooled by me jumping to the wrong side they win. It can be done as a knock-out game but I prefer to keep everyone in the game and just reward students with stamps or stickers for each successful round.

The word groups can be changed to more complicated language later on, nouns-adjectives, nouns-verbs, things you do inside-things you do outside, subject pronouns-object pronouns...

The Exercise Game: a TPR (Total Physical Response) segment that's much better than Simon Says

I start off with stretching, giving commands like: put your feet together, apart, together, apart, together and touch your toes, stretch and reach for the ceiling, put you hands on your hips and look up, look down, look right, look left...

OK we've done 2 minutes of stretching and now we're ready for some practice. Start calling out actions and doing them along with the students: clap, jump, turn around, sit down, stand up, run... Once they've got the hang of it and have finished the practice, we start the game. You can try to trick them by saying one thing and doing another. Those that aren't fooled win. It can be done as a knock-out game but I prefer to keep everyone in the game and just reward students with stamps or stickers for each successful round.

Creating long lists of actions for them to listen to and then do, gets them talking. Listen: stand up, sit down, clap 3 times, jump 2 times, turn around, fall down. GO! Move: the students will say the words as they do them. It's just natural and now they are saying the words as they do the actions! Then add two more to the list until they can just barely remember and then make that the final round and award prizes to those that successfully complete the routine.

More language: squat, get really small, now get bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, smaller, smaller... You are really only limited by your imagination. You can also tell stories and have the students act out the scenario with you. I generally try to have some painfully funny ending and the kids love it when "I got hit in the face with a shovel. Bang!"

Timed Races: vocabulary review, questions and answer practice, fluency exercises

I use small cards for relay races. Most ESL teachers are familiar with these races, where students pass something asking questions and answering and trying to get the ball or whatever around and be the first to finish. That's great but there are many losers and this gets real boring real quick.

So, I time them. I set a minimum time goal for the first round (practice.) If teams can complete the circuit in that time they win round one. Each team completes the circuit and they have a record for how fast they did it. OK! Now let's try to improve on that time (fluency.) Each time they do it they will get better and they don't have to worry about Mario's team that always finishes first. They only have to beat their own time to win!

It can be as simple as "what's this?" "It's a fox." / "What's he doing?" "He's watching TV." to more advanced "What happened?" "He was run over by aliens." and even longer 2 or 3 questions in one pass:

What's that?

It's a carrot.

Do you like carrots?

No, I don't. They're disgusting.

What's your favorite vegetable?

I like tomatoes.

For kindergarten or lower, you can use an egg-timer and tell them to see how many rounds they can do in 1 minute. One time around - one stamp, 2 times - 2 stamps and so on.

Collect 'em: This was the inspiration for the Yes No Game and the idea is the same.

- - Students need to collect groups of 3 of the same card.

- This game can be played using the small cards from this site or any others

- You'll need a total of at least 6 cards per student

We'll pretend that we're working with 'sea animal' flashcards and that I'm a student:

- each student has 6 cards

- I need to get 2 sets of 3 cards (3x crab and 3x squid for example)

- I go around and ask other students 'Have you ever eaten (sea horse soup)?' Because I have this sea horse card that I want to get rid of.

- the other student answers and takes my 'sea horse' card

- that student then asks me the question inserting the vocab of the card she wants to get rid of

- we break apart and play continues

Once a student has her 2 sets of 3 she wins, or comes in first place!

The game gets more interesting and difficult if you can increase the amount of cards per student. For example, you can have them try to collect 3 sets of 3, or 2 sets of 4.

Most of my card sets are linked to target language and you can really get in a lot of practice using these type cards. However, you can just write up some words on paper and play the same way.

You can also force the students to tell the truth to some extent:

- make some cards with 'never' 'all the time' 'sometimes' written on them.

- student must look at what they want and ask questions that will elicit the response they are looking for.

- S1 wants a 'never' card so he goes up to someone and asks, 'How often do you go to my grandmother's house?'

- S2 must answer truthfully and hand over that card if he has it.

- If he doesn't have it he can hand over any card he has

- Then repeat S2 --> S1

This type is generally looser than the vocab cards and I let students ask any question they can think of to produce the response they want. That's a little easier with the 'yes no game' card sets.

Othello or Reversi: vocabulary practice, sentence formation, conjunctions - great for one-on-one and low number classes

I also play Othello a lot. I've used my cards to make an Othello game. One side has the pictures (white) and the other side is the backing (black.) The students must use the vocab on the cards in a sentence to flip them (or just say the vocabulary - simple.) For example:

Simple: "This a boy playing the piano." / "Play the piano."
More difficult: "Yesterday, I saw a boy playing the piano."

As the card number increases I usually tell the just pick 3 cards to say, the rest can just be turned over. However, I try to get them to make some sense out of the string (but funny non-sense is also a lot of fun.)

"Yesterday, I saw a boy playing the piano and he was eating a hamburger. But, he wasn't reading a book"

The kids use Othello rules on a 6 by 6 board. It's a lot of fun and the kids will repeat the clause many many times and internalize the pattern. You don't need a board just define the center (the first 4 cards) and tell the students they can branch out 2 cards in any direction from the center and that's the border or boundry.

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Check the MES-English Games and Activities Forum for games that don't use flash cards

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