Top ESL games

Students always need a break don’t they? If teachers have hammered them with new language or grammar and other projects they get drained and that’s when we need to spice things up and turn to some fun games that can bring joy into learning. Games can serve teachers well in lessons where you want to review language learned from the week, or when students simply need to have some fun while using the language. The key at the beginning is trying a variety of different games and eventually you’ll be able to identify their favorites and keep re-using them. So here are my top games from all the years of teaching I have done. These require minimal resources and can be adapted to any level. Enjoy and have some fun. Don’t forget to subscribe to the weekly newsletter if you want more lesson ideas and teacher tips for free!

The Yes or No game

This is a fun and easy game to play especially with teenagers or young learners. You can be a bit more vigilant with them when you want to make sure they are forming their questions correctly. Basically each student needs to stand up in the class and answer questions from their classmates. The objective is to get this student to answer YES or NO to a question. This means that students asking the questions need to be imaginative with their questions to get the person to slip up, obviously the faster they can ask the questions the harder it will get. For the person standing and answering it’s a great way to practice how to answer questions in a variety of ways other than simply with yes or no.  The longer a student lasts the better. Students tend to like this game, you can play it at anytime in a lesson, even the beginning to get them in the mood for learning.

Categories game

This game has become an ESL staple in every classroom no matter the level or age. Put 5-6 categories on the board, random or ones you have covered in your lessons recently (examples: sth in the kitchen, transport, boys/girls name, personality, jobs, hobbies/ interests). Depending on the level you’ll have to adjust but as a rule of thumb have at least one category that is fun and easy such as, ‘English/American boy/girl names’, make of a car etc. Put your students in teams of four or more and ask them to come up with a team name, they’ll need a piece of paper.

Game objective: Teachers write a letter on the board and the teams need to write a word for each category that starts with that letter, once they have a word for all categories and only then can they shout out ‘STOP’. Clarify that if they say it and don’t have all words they will be deducted 10 points for the infraction. You then go around the room and write the answers on the table you’ve created allocating points: A correct answer is 5pts if it’s the same as another teams, 10pts if it’s correct but nobody else has it and a whopping 15pts if your team is the only one with a correct answer. This is meant to motivate teams to be original and quick thinking. The game can be played for 3 rounds minimum and the end of a lesson to consolidate or for 30 minutes max but I guess that’s up to you. A reward at the end adds motive! 🙂


Hot seat

This game is meant as a vocabulary revision activity. In my experience teachers need to be careful about the words they select for this game because if they are too new and students haven’t internalized them properly then it will create difficulty. They need to be words that you most of your students are familiar with and/or you have practiced extensively. Of course throwing in some random fun words just for giggles adds to the fun of this game and you’ll be surprised how competitive teams get. It would be great if teachers had a reward for the winner, stickers or something to decorate their notebook etc as added motivation.

Objective: Put students into teams of four or more and place a chair in the center or front of the room with face the classroom not the board. One student from each team comes and sits in their chairs with their back to the board and facing their team. Teachers then write a word on the board so that the team members can then describe/define/explain the word with saying it to their teammate sitting in the hot seat. Here teachers need to pay very close attention to catch which contestant says the word first, it can be very close! The player that does this first wins a point for their team and then a new member sits in the hot seat and you go again. Set a time limit or a points total to reach. This game is great because all the group members have to participate and it can get heated! So be ready!

Spelling or Grammar auction

The grammar/spelling auction is in my opinion one of the very few way you can review grammar in a fun game-like manner without boring students. Nobody likes grammar, but anyone whose anyone loves the idea of auction. You need to think about how much money you want to bet and it all depends on how confident you are which is quite a test but adds the fun element of competing against your classmates for bragging rights or any reward the teacher sets.

Grammar auction for upper intermediate students
Grammar auction

Objective: Here’s one of the best grammar auctions I’ve ever found but many teacher’s resources have them, this is from New English File Upper-intermediate the older edition but it’s still fantastic. You can just as easily come up with your own to check spelling or grammar for a different level. Simply write out 20 sentences that incorporate a language point you covered, make an error in 65% of the sentences and you are ready!  Students get $100 to bet on all the sentences based on how confident they are, you then go through the sentences one by one. This works a lot better if you play the part of the auctioneer like in real life. Students will get much more into the game this way.


Grid wars

This is a vocabulary game that reviews new words that have been taught. For this one you could focus on a topic but also on different kinds of vocabulary as in Phrasal verbs, idioms and maybe even collocations (though I haven’t tried this last one myself). Make a grid on the board (5×5), and put the initial letter of each vocabulary word you have in the boxes. Class is split into A and B teams and one team has to make a line from left to right while the other has to make it from top to bottom. Teams take turns to choose a letter and the teacher reads out the definition. If you guess the word you get the box, otherwise the other team has a chance at it, if both don’t get it the letter is ‘out of bounds’ and nobody can get it. Straightforward! If you do decide to do idioms/phrasal or collocations then you might want to add the initial of each of the words, up to you.

Here’s a follow-up lesson with more ESL games for reviewing language, if you like these ideas please share it. You can also subscribe for the  weekly newsletter on the right side of this page for free lesson ideas each week and videos for teachers. Thanks for your support #letsmakesomethinghappen and remember to be proud teachers making a difference for the future.

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