ESL | Games In The Classroom

ESL _ Games In The Classroom (1)

Learning should always be fun, though there are many cases in Korea where the GET (Guest English Teacher) is expected to wheel out game, after game, after game. This can get a little dry if you’re repeating the same thing week in, week out. It’s something I know I’ve been guilty of that and that I always endeavor to change. Of course, repetition isn’t a bad thing, but you know what they say: Everything in moderation.

Much of this post is inspired by the many open classes I’ve seen over the years. We did these in groups of three/four GET’s in my province, and I think they’re invaluable. This is an amalgamation of those open classes, my own observations and experiences from my regular classes, and a few other things I’ve thought up along the way.

The games I’ll talk about in this post are:

Keep scrolling, or skip ahead to the game of your choice!


Who knew there was more than one hopscotch grid. I sure didn’t. So when I was watching a friends open class, I was also trying to figure out the hopscotch grid on the right. How on earth does a hopscotch tie into an English class, I hear you ask. Well, if you’re teaching vocabulary – for example – assign each number a word. Students have to throw an eraser, beanbag or whatever you have to hand onto the grid, in numerical order; so the first throw should land on 1, the second on 2 etc. Students have to say the word before they can hop up and down the grid, missing the square with their counter on it. And so it continues till everyone in the group has completed all the words.

Alternatively, when students throw their counter they ‘unlock’ a word from the teacher, and you can then use it as a sentence building activity.

I’m just gutted I never got to use this in the classroom. It would have gone down a storm.



I always thought there was only one way to play hangman, until I got to Hong Kong and my own students taught me otherwise. I am from the classic gallows school of hangman, and little did I know that there was a steps and sharks alteration! Keep guessing your letters wrong and the wee figure gets one step closer to the shark infested waters below!

Hangman is a really neat way to test your students are retaining their vocabulary, and also that they’re


seven up

This one was new to me, but now I gather that this one also goes by the name of “Heads up, Seven up”, “Thumbs up, Seven up”, or “Heads down, Thumbs up”. Who knew!

So a quick run down of the rules, or at least as far as I understand them! Seven (or another number) of students are selected and move to the front of the class. Then, at the teachers instruction, the rest of the class put their heads down, but leave their hand out, thumb up. The selected students then circulate the room and each choose a student by pressing down their thumb. The class has no idea who has been picked. The picked students stand, and guess who picked them. If they are correct, they become one of the selected students, swapping with the student who chose them. If they are wrong, they remain seated.

So how do you combine this with English? By using the key vocabulary. For example: jobs. Each of the seven students is given a picture of a job, so when those who have had their thumbs pushed down are standing, they have to guess the job, not the person. I never used this in class myself, but I watched it in an open class and I thought it was an awesome way of bringing a game into the classroom.

thumbs up

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 10.03.49 AM

Much like a word search, never underestimate the power of a game of bingo! Be it to practice the alphabet, vocabulary or sentences, bingo is versatile and always fun!

You can manipulate the rules to suit the content of the game, and the class you’re teaching. Do they have to get a complete, legitimate bingo? Does three lines constitute a bingo? Do they have to make a sentence from the words they gathered in their race for bingo, and do they not get their prize/stickers etc until they give you that sentence?

The options are endless!



Simple is often best, and simple can often be manipulated in a million and one ways to suit your needs.

The object of snap is easy as pie: get two of the same card on the top of the pile, smash your hand down, and claim the lot! How do you transfer this to an English classroom? Use pictures of the key vocabulary, use the words themselves, use letters of the alphabet, or do what I did for my oldest students and mix up words AND pictures. Two of the same image: snap! Two of the same word: snap! A word and picture that matched: Snap!

Subliminal English consolidation is the best!


Snakes and Ladders

Of all the board games, perhaps the most versatile is Snakes and Ladders. I’ve used this for a whole range of lessons, vocabulary and themes. My favourite is using snakes and ladders for directions. There’s a full blog post on it here. It’s a great game that students love, and is great for giving students the space to produce an awful lot of English.

Snake and ladders


A classic. When in doubt, act it out! No, seriously, act it out. Charades is a great game to have up your sleeve; you don’t need any materials, and everyone, even the students who struggle with English, can ace it!

Put students in pairs, let them go alone, play students vs teachers…

It’s great for getting everyone laughing, for breaking the ice or breaking the stalemate, depending on time of year. Charades is a good time for all.

Deploy it wisely, however. Read your class. Know if they’re going to be on board, because a class who wants nothing to do with will make the whole thing as excruciating as sitting through that worst class you had with the most boring teacher at school!

What's The time Mr. Wolf

Finishing up with a classic! What’s The Time Mr Wolf was a standard playground game at primary school and I didn’t see, with a little moving of tables, why I couldn’t transfer it to the classroom!

Only really applicable for lessons about time, this game is a riot. A riot!

If you don’t know how this works – and I’m assuming most of you do – but just incase, one student (or the teacher) is a the front of the class as the wolf. The class asks: “What’s the time Mr. Wolf?” The student/teacher at the font of the class gives a time “It’s…”, and the class have to take a number of steps to match the time given e.g. five steps for five o’clock. At any point, the student/teacher can say “It’s dinner time.” and the first student caught becomes the new wolf.

Make sure your rules are clear – this can get out of hand if not paying attention.

Clock - what's the time mr wolf


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