When I was teaching college-aged students in Mongolia, I quickly learned that they thrived on games, competition, and group collaboration. It was at that moment that I decided to play off of their interests and spend more time in class playing games and interacting with English in that way.
While they may not seem like a great learning experience at first glance, games are one of the best ways to teach language to your learners. Not only do games allow students to engage more deeply in competition, but it’s a great opportunity for students to learn from one another, to learn English with less pressure and stress, and to internalize what they already know.
There are so many different language skills that you can work on with games, such as reading, spelling, pronunciation, sentence structure, and many more. While you aren’t going to teach your students anything new with word games (usually, these types of games are a great way to help your students further familiarize themselves with vocabulary, think quickly in English, and create new or strengthen old word associations.
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Learn More About How to Use Writing Prompts with Your ESL Students
One of These Things is Not Like the Others…
Teacher Prep: Prepare a few different lists, each containing 5-10 words. 4-9 of the words should have something in common. One of the words should be closely related, but should not have the same trait in common. Think of spelling, grammar, function, category, use, etc.
Grouping: Groups of 2-3
Directions: Either read out your list of words, give your students a copy of the list, or project/write the list onto the board. Groups must figure out which word is not like the others and what the other words in the list have in common.
If your students are at a lower proficiency level and/or you have a smaller class, work through the list together, just focus on finding the common theme, or let your students know in what way the words are related (in spelling, in use, in setting, etc.)
If your students are at a higher proficiency level and/or you have a larger class, give groups a worksheet with multiple lists, have them write down their answers to the questions, and collect the worksheet as an in-class assignment.
Teacher Prep: Create word categories (such as ‘things found in the kitchen,’ plural nouns, or words used at work)
Grouping: divide the class in half (no more than 5 per group)
Directions: Ask ‘Team 1’ to come up with a word within the category. Write the word on the board in the top left corner. Ask ‘Team 2’ to quickly come up with another word that begins with the last letter of the previous word. Write this word starting under the last letter from ‘Team 1’s word. Continue going back and forth between teams, essentially creating a stair pattern on the board. Each word must begin with the last letter of the previous word.
If your class is larger, put two teams together with a student facilitator to complete the game.
If you’re worried about more reserved students not having a chance to participate, have the teams line up (one in front of the other), facing the board. The student at the front of the line comes up with the word, then moves to the back of their team’s line.
If your students are more advanced and/or like a challenge, set a limit on how long students may take to come up with their word.
Stop the Bus
Teacher Prep: Prepare categories and/or letters
Grouping: teams of 3-4
Directions: Write 5 categories on the board that your students are familiar with (grocery shopping, verbs, things you yell, and clothing). Have one person from each team prepared to write. Make sure all of your students pencils are down and/or papers are turned over. Write a letter on the board (stand in front of it so your students can’t cheat!). As soon as you reveal the letter, have students begin to think of and write down words in each category that begin with the letter of your choosing. As soon as they have written down words for each category, the team must yell, ‘Stop the Bus!’ Check their work. If the words all begin with the correct letter and are in appropriate categories, that team wins the round.
If you’re worried about your more reserved students not getting a chance to participate in this fast-paced game, pair your reserved students together and your outgoing students together. The quiet students will have to engage, and the more forward students will be able to bounce off one another (instead of monopolizing the discussion/game).
Games are a great way to get your students using English and thinking in English with little-to-no stress! They’re a great way to bring a community of learners together to review and practice. If you aren’t in the habit of playing games with your adult ESL students, don’t be scared to introduce a game or two at the end of class. I love to have a few game options for every lesson that I plan. While I may not be able to play all (or any) of them that day, they’re a great back-up if I need to fill time or find my students getting bored and antsy.
I Want to Hear From You!
What is your favorite language game to play in the classroom?
How do you use games for your classroom?