Top Classroom ESL Games for Kids
Teaching English to young learners is a whole different skill set to teaching adult learners. The way you structure your class, the way you manage the class and their motivations and enthusiasm can be completely different to how you teach older learners. It’s important that young learners’ classes are dynamic and interactive so that they enjoy themselves whilst learning. If they don’t realise they’re learning, this is even better! You want them to head home to their parents telling them how much fun they had in their English class and how they can’t wait for the next one. One way you can get your young learners doing this is through classroom ESL games!
Why do we use classroom ESL games with young learners?
-they provide fun and enjoyment for children
-they are often short and can be implemented easily as warmers or fillers. Short activities are best for young learners as they have shorter attention spans.
-they can be very active which can stop children from feeling bored in the classroom
-they are a change of pace for children who might not play any games in their regular schooling and will find their English classes exciting!
So what ESL games can you play with young learners in the classroom?
It’s important to have a repertoire of ESL games you can play in the classroom in case you need to fill some time or get your students moving. How often you incorporate games is up to you and your students but it should be on a regular basis! You don’t have to play a game just once. If they enjoy it, they will be happy to play the game again in the next class.
Here are 5 ESL games you can use with your children in the classroom to make your classes more fun and your students excited to learn English with you!
1. Flashcard correction game
Flashcards in general work well with young learners (around 5-10 years old) and are great for teaching and memorising English vocabulary. Not only can you use them for drilling vocabulary but you can use them for games. A great ESL game is the flashcard correction game which reinforces vocabulary for young learners.
-Put a series of flashcards up on the board (this should be vocabulary that the students have already seen and learnt)
-explain to the students that you are going to have a competition, the teacher vs the students
-as the teacher, you point to a flashcard on the board and say “this is a….. (dog)”. Say some correctly and say some wrong (say “it’s a cat” when it’s a dog for example)
-if you are correct, then the children repeat the sentence (this is a dog). If you are wrong, the students need to correct you and say “no it isn’t, it’s a …..(mouse))
-if the students correct you when you are wrong, they get a point on the board. If they fail to notice you’re wrong and simply repeat the incorrect sentence, you get a point!
-You can play this until one of you gets 10 points (this is normally the students sorry!) and also speed up the repetition to try and catch them out!
Why is this game good for young learners?
-it serves as a good way to recycle vocabulary and incorporates drilling for pronunciation in a fun way.
-children love the element of competition, especially the opportunity to beat the teacher!
-It can be fast paced and a way to keep your students alert!
2. Bingo (with a twist)
Almost every TEFL teacher who teaches young learners has played Bingo at some point in their lessons- it’s a classic filler game and even works with adults too. Sometimes we might rely on it too much! If you want to break the Bingo monotony, you can try this version which will keep your younger students engaged.
-Each student has a piece of paper (they can use paper from their own notebooks!)
-They need to divide it up into 6 parts (you can choose between 5-8 parts). These need to be vertical lines that divide the paper into strips and they should fold the paper on the lines- you might need to help some with this! If your students are very young, you might want to prepare the paper beforehand
-The students write one word on each part of the paper (you can provide a list of possible words on the board, the ones you want your students to practise, these words should be ones the students have seen before)
-The rule is that if the teacher says a word that the students have written on the first part or the final part of the paper, they can rip that part of the paper off. As the paper gets smaller, they still work with the first and last parts. They cannot do anything if the word is in the middle of their paper
-You’ll need to repeat the words to ensure they can continue ripping the paper
-The winner is the one who has torn all their paper strips off and yells “Bingo!”
Why play this game?
-It’s something different to traditional Bingo that your students won’t have played before
-It’s more kinesthetic for your learners and they love it!
-It recycles vocabulary and keeps them alert.
-Remember with bingo, you don’t have to always say the word directly. You can describe it, spell it or use synonyms/ antonyms which will be more challenging for your learners. Make them say the correct answer before they can rip off that part of the paper!
3. Board games
Board games are a great way to practise all sorts of language- both vocabulary and grammar points. You can have the learners practising questions or simply stating what they see on a picture. This is a fun way for them to practise speaking and it also gets them involved speaking to each other. You can also have the learners make their own board games. For example, they need to make a board game that practises the past. You can give them a template to write on. This can include questions such as:
What did you do at the weekend?
What’s the past simple of buy?
Name 3 irregular verbs.
The students can play in pairs or in small groups. These board games can be saved and rotated for other classes too. If your students finish early, have them play the game backwards or change the groups around so they have a different experience. Remember the younger the class, the more time they will take to make their own board game. If the purpose is to practise speaking, sometimes it’s easier to make your own board games and do most of the work and have them finish it off quickly before they play otherwise you won’t have time to actually play the game and you will feel your class is wasted.
4. Noughts and Crosses / Tic-tac-toe
This is another classic game with a TEFL spin!
– Draw a noughts and crosses template on the board. You can write numbers 1-9 in the spaces or use others if you want your students to practise other numbers (like 11-19 to practise the “teens” for example).
-Divide the class into two teams and assign the team either Xs or Os- write this on the board too to keep score
-Each team takes turns to pick a number with the goal of getting 3 Xs or 3 Os in a row. When they pick a number, you ask the team/ individual a question or ask them to identify a word from a flashcard. If they get it correct, you can mark the space with an X or an O for the team.
-You can play this as many times as you (and the students) want to with new questions- keep the score at the side!
Why play this game?
-Young learners love a competitive element! It gets them more involved.
-You can practise anything with this game- grammar or vocabulary (and don’t forget, the numbers themselves!)
-It’s a great warmer for your lesson to recycle language previously learnt and it gets the students warmed up for the class.
5. Remove the flashcard
Another fun flashcard game- great for visual learners! This game is best for learners around 5-10 years old.
-Stick a row of flashcards on the board (using the same theme is always good)
-Ask the students to close their eyes. While they have their eyes closed (make sure noone is peeking), remove one of the flashcards from the board and hide it.
-When they open their eyes, they have to put their hand up and guess which card is missing. Get them to use a question such as “is it the dog?”. Students guess until they get it correct.
-Repeat with a different flashcard. You can even remove two cards at a time to challenge them more.
-You can also ask just one student to close their eyes or leave the room and then they need to guess by themselves. The class will help and answer “yes, it is” or “no, it isn’t.
Why play this game?
-Flashcards help learners remember vocabulary
-Students love the excitement of having to remember the missing word quickly. You may think it’s easy but they really do enjoy it and often can’t remember which is missing! It’s harder than it looks!
-This ESL game encourages the use of questions and question tags
It’s crucial to involve ESL games in the classroom for young learners. They will learn more if they are enjoying themselves and become more active in their learning. If they simply sit and complete exercises for the whole class, they won’t feel that they are having any fun. Games such as the ones outlined are also perfect for getting young learners to speak! If they start younger with their speaking skills, they will become more communicative in the language which is the goal of language learning. Young learners need short lesson stages so that they don’t get bored or distracted and classroom games are perfect for this! You can easily play any of these games as a warmer or a filler in your lesson to make your learners truly enjoy learning and want to go come back for the next lesson!