ESL games for reviewing language

This post is a continuation of the Top ESL games post because there are other games that may require a bit more preparation and planning(Typhoon) or are more suitable for a specific level(Brainstorm and Don’t say it). I thought that separating them in this way would allow for teachers to find games grouped, easier to browse and to locate what they wanted faster.  Remember that these games can be adapted to your standards and liking and you are absolutely encouraged to do so with the language that you have covered with your class (Typhoon, Brainstorm). Don’t say it could be adapted but that would be quite time-consuming and might be counter-productive. Please post comments with your experience using these and share if you find it useful.


This game is for a whole 60min or 90min class. It’s perfect for an end of semester lesson to review everything that has been covered in class. It can also work wonders when teaching a summer course where students are a little less eager to learn the traditional way and more happy to participate in activities. This game tricks students into thinking they are playing a game whilst they are actually busy doing work the entire time. But remember, it’s revision and practice no new language here. I used this game in summer courses for years and it worked like a charm. Beware, this game does require preparation but again, it’s good for a whole lesson and more depending on what you prepare.

Game objective: You can have 3 or more teams. For this game you must prepare word games i.e. word scrambles, odd one out, short crossword, matching. You will also need some short reading texts (you can use your coursebook, but choose ahead of time which texts you will use, 3 or 4 at least). You’ll need three challenges (these are tougher activities where students need more time to complete them but get maximum pts).

Make a grid on a piece of paper, 3×3 or 4×4. That’s 9 and 16 boxes respectively. In the grid choose 3 boxes for typhoons, 3 for challenges, 4 for word games, 3 for reading and 3 for miscellaneous (simple grammar matching, sentence scramble or whatever you have focused on in class). By labeling your grid on paper you know ahead of time what each box corresponds to. Make sure you have an activity for each box. Assign pts to each, (challenges are worth the max 100pts, typhoons allow the team that chose it to take 50pts from another team, simple word scrambles should be worth about 20-25pts while reading and more difficult activities should be in the 50-65pt range).  Teams take turns to choose a box from the grid and then all teams take part in the activity, set time limits for the activities as you see fit. Allocate the pts on the board based on completion rate.  The reading activities can be short texts where students read something, close the books and then you test them on comprehension, or give them some questions to answer after they are done. These can be quite straightforward to keep the game moving.

Use teacher resource books and vocabulary books that offer word scrambles and sentence matching exercises. Alternatively,  make them yourself. There are tons of free crossword and word scrambling sites in which you add the words and they produce it for you.

This game allows you to use all types of game-like activities that you didn’t have time to use during the semester, makes the students a bit competitive and allows for plenty of review of the vocabulary and grammar covered. Remember to create a well-balanced range of activities so students don’t find it too easy or too difficult.


This game allows for vocabulary review and is quite straightforward but effective. You can do it with groups of four or two students, up to you. Ideally it works better with four because pairs compete against each other in this one. The pairs will need a timer.

Brainstorm example worksheet


Game objective: write down 5 things that are round and then write on the board: 5 things that are round. Tell students that they have one minute to guess what 5 things you have written down. Each time they guess correctly write it on the board. At the end of the minute they get a point for each correct guess and you can tell them which if any they missed. Now it’s their turn. Here, split them up into team A and team B and give them each the appropriate copy from the worksheet here on the left. Give them time in groups to write down their ideas for each category. Once that is done place them in two versus two teams or however you see fit. The other team gives their opponent a category and then they have one minute to guess what they’ve written down. Keep score to see who wins. As a follow up you can ask students to come up with their own categories. This is an idea taken from the Upper-intermediate Reward teacher’s resources book.

Don’t say it

This game is brilliant! I’ve laminated the sheets and cut up the cars to use again in again for many different classes and levels. It is meant for upper-intermediate students but you can use quite a few of the words for strong intermediate students too. It’s a variation of taboo and students get a kick out of it because it’s challenging but fun.

Upper intermediate ESL game
Don’t say it ESL game idea

Objective: Put students in pairs and give each pair a bunch of cards face down between them. Before you start give an example on the board of what they will have to do so it’s very clear. I usually write the word ‘computer’ and ask students to say which are the first words that come to their mind when they see this word(email, internet,monitor, keyboard and mouse), obviously something along these lines is fine. Now ask students to describe the word computer without using the word itself and any of the words you wrote down. Accept whatever ideas are suggested and correct them as needed. Explain the general structure students will need to use for this activity: It’s a thing, person, place etc. It’s where you… It’s something which…. It’s a person who… These are good structures for practice as well as the vocabulary on the cards. Students also have to challenge themselves to think of alternative ways of describing nouns as well as paraphrasing if they don’t know how else to describe.

ESL game for Upper intermediate students
Don’t say it

As students work through their cards monitor closely and help as appropriate, when students have gone through their piles pick them up and place them in front of another pair and keep moving the piles around so students get a different set of words. If they don’t know a word note it down to discuss later with the class.

This activity can easily take 20 minutes or more depending on the level but allows students to practice their language skills the whole time while enjoying the game.

From Reward’s Upper-Intermediate teacher’s resources pack.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.