If your ESL students are anything like mine, they'll love to play ESL games!
A quick ESL vocabulary game or speaking game at the beginning of class is my favorite way to get my students switched one, thinking in English and ready to tackle the lesson ahead. The promise of a game at the end of class can also be a great motivator for your slightly less enthusiastic students.
Whether you’re looking for a quick warm-up activity or a filler for the last minute or two of class, these 7 easy ESL games for kids are sure to be a hit in your VIPKID classroom.
1. Tic Tac Toe- With a Twist
Let’s start with a classic. Every single one of my students (regardless of age or English ability level) loves to play Tic Tac Toe.
Tic Tac Toe can be played on the screen with your student drawing their mark on their turn or you can use a handheld whiteboard instead. Draw a numbered grid (1-9) on the board and have your student indicate where they want their mark to go by saying the number.
Tic Tac Toe is a great warm-up activity but, unless you change it up a little, it really doesn’t provide any opportunity for students to practice their English skills.
One way to do this is to use the game to practice vocabulary that your student has previously learned. Before you begin the game, choose a topic- for example, animals. Before your student has their turn, they say the name of an animal in English and likewise for yourself or the other player. You can make the topic as simple or as complicated as you like. You might use easy categories such as colors, clothes or foods or more difficult ones such as types of plants, countries or furniture.
Another way to add English practice to the game is to turn it into a phonics challenge. For example, before each turn have your student say a word that starts with the short ‘a’ sound (apple, actor), a word that rhymes with cat (hat, bat) or a word that has the long 'e' sound (tree, need).
With just a few small tweaks, your students can still have a blast playing Tic Tac Toe and get a little extra vocabulary or phonics practice at the same time.
2. Snowman (Traditionally Known as 'Hangman')
This is the game more commonly known as ‘Hangman.’ I prefer this slightly less macabre twist on the name.
For those of you who don’t know the game, here’s how it works. Player One thinks of a word and writes a dash for each letter of the word on the screen (or on a handheld whiteboard). Player Two then guesses letters one at a time. If the letter is in the word, Player One will write it in the correct place. If it is not in the word, Player One will draw a part of their snowman. The goal of Player Two is to guess the word before the snowman is completed.
Snowman can also be played so that Player Two has to guess not just a word, but a full sentence. This is a great activity for students who are just beginning to read and write simple sentences in English, such as “The dog is brown.” or “The girl is tall.”
My students love this twist on the game. When it’s my turn to guess their word, they love to create outrageous looking snowmen (or snow-women).
And, of course, it doesn’t have to be a snowman! You can draw and have your students draw anything that comes to mind- a flower, a shark, a crab- it really doesn’t matter! My limited artistic abilities make a snowman a good choice for me!
3. Give Me Five!
I honestly don’t know what it is about this game, but my students just love it. “Give Me Five” is a great warm-up activity and a perfect filler for the end of class as it takes no time at all to set up.
The premise of the game is simple. Say to your students “Give me five (insert topic here).” They then have to tell you five things that fit that category.
For example, you might say “Give me five fruits!” They would then list five fruits. Some other great options are- give me five countries, give me five body parts, give me five words that start with ‘g’ or give me five animals that live in the ocean.
It’s super simple, it’s fun and it gets their brains turning over and thinking in English. For an added challenge, I love to time my students to see how long it takes them to come up with the five answers. They always try really hard to beat their time on the next round.
It’s also super fun to let your students choose topics for you. You’ll be surprised at their creativity and just how challenging their topics can be.
4. Two Truths and a Lie
This one is great for older and/or more advanced students. Write or say three things about yourself to your student. Two of them must be true and one must be a lie. Your student must then guess which is the lie.
Then reverse the roles and have your student tell you three things (two truths and one lie) about themselves.
5. Would you rather?
Again, this game is the perfect warm-up or time filler activity for older and/or more advanced students. In this activity, you will simply ask your student to choose between two options and then explain their answer.
For example, you might ask, “Would you rather have a pet dog or a pet cat?” The student then answers “I would rather have a ________”. Don’t let them stop there though! Make sure you ask "Why?" and get them to explain their answer. This simple ESL game is great speaking practice and will also get them comfortable using the conditional tense in English.
6. Odd One Out
Write five words on the screen or a handheld whiteboard. Four of the words should have a common theme or fit into the same category and one should be the odd one out.
For example, you might write- apple, orange, blueberry, grapes, broccoli. Your student then has to explain that broccoli is the odd one out because it is a vegetable and the other four are fruits.
Once again, this is a fun one to reverse the roles and let your student choose the list of words.
7. Word Ladder
Make a “ladder” of words with your student. Start by saying any word in English. The student then has to say a word that starts with the last letter of your word. For example, the "ladder" might look like this: elephant, tiger, rice, eleven.
To make building the ladder more challenging, you can put some rules in place about the words that can be used. For example, the word must have at least four letters or belong to a certain category- food, sports, travel, cities etc.
So, there we have seven easy ESL games for kids that are perfect for online ESL / VIPKID teachers. Are you already using any of these games in your online ESL classes? Did I miss any of your favorites? Share with us in the comments below so we can all learn from each other!