Classroom games & activities for ESL Teachers



Playing a game is a great way to end a lesson. Take 10-15 minutes and try one of these with your class today. Most of these games are quick and require little to no preparation.

I have a lot more links for ESL teachers here.

Quick tip: How to make funny team names:
If you’re pressed for time you can just name the teams “team 1”, “team 2”, etc. You can make it more fun by asking someone for a color. Then write that color on the board. Then ask someone different for an animal. Write the animal next to the color. Don’t tell the students that you’re making the team names.


Language pong

You can make this game easier by not putting the numbers in the cups. It can just be about who can get the ball in the cup.

You’ll need 10 plastic cups, 2-3 ping pong balls, and numbers 1-10 written on small pieces of paper
Put a number in each cup
Write numbers 1-10 on the chalkboard
Write a different word next to each number

How to play:
Students try and get the ball in the cup (each student gets 2 throws)
Arrange the cups in a triangle formation
Put a ruler on the floor a little ways away from the cups
The student who throws the ball can’t step past the ruler
When a student gets the ball in the cup, they look at the number and word next to it
The student makes a grammatically correct sentence using the word (can ask his teammates for help)
1 point for getting the ball in the cup, 2 points for using the correct grammar


A chalkboard and chalk for each team.

How to play:
Great warm-up game for nearly all levels of ability and especially large classes. Good for vocabulary and spelling. Divide the class into equal teams and have them stand in lines facing the board. For each team write the word CONSTANTINOPLE vertically on the board.  This is a race, so make sure no student begins until you say, “Go!”. The first student in line on each team races to the board and writes a word beginning with ‘C’, then they return and the next student goes up to the board and writes a word beginning with ‘O’. However, point out that they cannot repeat words they used for the first ‘O’, ‘T’ and ‘N’. Each one must be different. Continue until students reach ‘E’ at the end. Have them go through the process twice to make it more exciting. Award extra points to the teams in the order in which they finished (e.g., 3,2,1).  Then review what the students have written to check spelling and whether or not they have repeated words. Award one point for each word spelled correctly and not repeated. Add that to the bonus points for the order of their finish to determine the winner. Due to mistakes the first team to finish is not always the winner.


Yesterday I went shopping

How to play:
The first student says that sentence then says something beginning with A (example: Apple). The second follows and must say “yesterday I went shopping and I bought an apple and a baboon” etc. Go through the alphabet. This involves a lot of listening and speaking to go through the alphabet. When students say silly things it becomes funny.

My name is… and I like… (a memory game)

How to play:
Go round the class: the first person completes the statement “My name is …and I like ….” (Or “…and I’ve always wanted to…” or whatever seems appropriate for their level). The next person says this (“Her name is …and she likes….”) and then adds their own name and something they like, and so on, each person saying what everyone else has said, before adding something new.

Colder Cooler Warmer Hotter

How to play:

Start by writing on the board Cold, Colder, Cool, Cooler, Warm, Warmer, Hot, Hotter and, if necessary, explain their meanings to the class. Take any small object from a student’s desk or from your desk. Choose one student and have him or her close their eyes. Then hide the object somewhere in the classroom. The student then must get up and search for the object, directed to it by all the rest of the class shouting hints. They shout “cold” when the searcher is far away, “colder” when the searcher moves farther away. They shout “cool” and “cooler” as the searcher gets a little closer, “warm” and “warmer” as the searcher gets nearer and finally “hot” when the searcher is very close the hidden object. After finding the thing the searcher then chooses the next “victim”, hides an object of theirs and the game continues.


Catch Counting (for absolute beginners)

You just need a ball or a crumpled up piece of paper.

How to play:
This game is excessively simple and great for absolute beginners learning numbers all the way up to 100 and beyond. This is such an easy game you do not even have to explain it to your students. Just start playing and it explains itself. Have the students stand in a circle. Start randomly tossing the ball around the circle.  When a person catches the ball they say the number ‘1’. The next person to catch the ball says the next consecutive number. It’s so easy and so much fun. The ball starts flying everywhere and everyone is laughing and mixing up numbers. I play this with adults and they love getting up and becoming physically involved in the lesson.

A ship comes loaded

How to play:
This is a game where you practice words and your memory. Have the students sit in a circle. The first student begins the game by saying, “A ship comes loaded …” and then says one thing that a ship might possibly carry, such as apples, computers, horses; anything reasonable. Things such as mountains or houses are not reasonable items and a student saying such would be eliminated from the game. The next person to the left would then have to repeat the sentence the first player said, and then add one item of their own. The third player, in turn, would repeat that sentence and so on until one player makes a mistake or fails to remember all the words that have been said or if he or she can’t come up with a new word, they are out of the game. The winner is the one who is left after all the others have made mistakes.


Alphabet Soup

A chalkboard and chalk for each team.

How to play:
Divide the class into as many teams as you desire, or have the class play as individuals. Write Team A, Team B, etc. or the students’ names on the board. Then instruct the students that they will be asked to say a sentence using words beginning with a letter that you select. Each team or individual gets one point for each word used beginning with that letter in the sentence. Students must raise their hands before speaking.  Write any letter on the board and then choose the first student to raise his or her hand. They must say a grammatically correct sentence or no points. The teacher should correct pronunciation, but give them the points earned for the words. Then write another letter, chosen randomly, and continue as above. Be sure to ignore students who shout out sentences without raising their hand and being chosen by you. If you don’t ignore them, it turns into a shouting match.  Keep up with the points and at the end of the game, tally the points and declare the winning team or individual.

Guess the word

Write 10 different words on 10 different pieces of paper
Fold them up so the word can’t be seen
Make 2 teams
Each team picks 1 word at a time

How to play:
Students take turns picking a word
The student describes the word (but can’t say the word they picked)
First team to raise their hand with the right answer gets a point
Each team takes turns
Each student has 3 minutes

Hot seat

You can have the students pick the words or the teacher can pick them. To make it harder you can prevent the student sitting in the hot seat from asking questions. You can make it easier if you give the student sitting in the hot seat some questions to ask. Such as, “Is it a noun, a verb, or an adjective?”, “Is it a person, a place, or a thing?”, “How many syllables does it have?”, or “What letter does it start with?”

Divide the class into 2 teams
Each team writes 5 words (make sure the other team doesn’t hear the words)
One student sits in front facing the class (where they can’t see the chalkboard)
The teacher picks a word from a team
A student from the other team is put in the hot seat

How to play:
The teacher writes a word on the chalkboard
The team describes the word but can’t say the word
The student in the hot seat should ask lots of questions
Set a time limit of 2 to 3 minutes
The student that guesses the word gets a point for their team

Funny/silly questions & answers

Print out funny/silly questions on small strips of paper
Examples: Have you ever picked your nose in public? Have you ever peed in a pool?
Put all the questions in a hat

How to play:
Tell the students there is no correct answer (they should be encouraged to reply with a funny/silly answer)
Teacher picks a student to come to the front of the class and pick a question
Student answers and then picks a different student to come to the front of the class

Write as many words as you can

You can play this with word categories too (sports, drinks, food, etc). Or you can play with words that start with “S” and end with “S”.

All students open their notebooks to a new page (class books closed)
They can’t look at previous pages or in their class books
Model the game before you play

How to play:
Set a time limit of 4 or 5 minutes
Students write as many words as they can that start with the letters “H” or “M”

Truth or lie

Each student write 2 sentences (one is a truth, one is a lie)

How to play:
A student reads one of his/her sentences
The student sitting opposite of him/her guesses which is the truth and which is the lie

Word snake (aka word chain)

You can make it harder by reducing the time they have to say a word, no repeats, or if they say a word that starts with the wrong letter. You can make it easier by writing each word the students say on the chalkboard.

Model how to play
All students stand up

How to play:
Teacher says a word
Next student says a word that begins with the last letter of the word (for example, “apple” “elephant” “table”)
Students have 5 seconds to say a word
Go from one student to the next
If they get it wrong they have to sit down
Keep going until there’s one winner


Divide class into groups of 6 or more students, and arrange each group in a straight line or row.

How to play:
Ask for a volunteer listener from each group
Take them outside of the classroom and give them a message (one sentence or more, depending on student level)
Open the door, and let the students run to the first member of their group to whisper the message
Each member passes the message, by whispering, to their neighbor
When the message reaches the end, the last person should run to the chalkboard and write the message that they heard
The winner could be determined in various ways: first team to pass a legible, complete message (even if it’s wrong), first team to finish, first team with a message closest to the original.
Ask the last student to repeat the message to YOU, and write it on the chalkboard yourself

Parachute and shark hangman

Draw a parachute and someone hanging from it
Draw a shark under the parachute

How to play:
Students guess letters
If they guess a wrong letter, erase one of the lines of the parachute
If all the lines of the parachute are erased, the person falls and is eaten by the shark

Dice game

This can be done as a race to see who can finish asking and answering questions first.

You’ll need some dice
Write numbers 1-6 on the chalkboard
Next to each number write a question word (who, what, where, etc)
Put students into 2 lines facing each other

How to play:
A student rolls the dice
He/she looks at the number and asks that question

Spot the difference

Find a 2 similar pictures online

How to play:
Split the class into 2 teams
Each team spots a different difference


Students draw a box and divide it into 4 squares
Teacher writes numbers or words on the chalkboard
Students pick one to put in each box

How to play:
The teacher says them at random
When the student hears it they put an X in the box
The first student to get 4 X’s is the winner

Grammar and pronunciation practice

Write 10 words on the chalkboard
Divide the class into teams

How to play:
Each team makes a question using the word
If the correct grammar is used their team gets 1 point
If the correct pronunciation is used their team gets 2 points

More ideas



Complete the comic

Print 2 pages of a comic book (American comic or a Japanese Manga such as Doraemon)
The first page of the story has the words in the speech bubbles
The second page does not (you can edit out the words using a photo editing program)

What the students do:
Students read the first page
Then they write the dialogue in the empty speech bubbles
When everyone is finished, the teacher shows the original second page

More ideas

  • Unscramble the words (a handy word scramble maker)
  • Battleship
  • Crossword puzzle
  • Word search
  • Hangman
  • Maze
  • Uno
  • Memory
  • Odd one out