When in doubt, play!

I sincerely hope that every lesson you ever give will go exactly as planned. You won’t have to make adjustments either for the mood your group is currently in, or for the timing you planned. And that you will be able to predict the exact number of repetitions it will take your class to master the vocabulary you need them to learn. But to be honest, this doesn’t sound like a very realistic scenario.

So, assuming your teaching experiences will be exactly the same as virtually everyone else’s, it is crucial for you to be prepared to come up with ideas, variations and modifications which will allow for any unforeseen circumstances you may face. In such situations, games are a teacher’s best friend, and it’s good to keep a list handy to avoid chaos and confusion in class.

Why games?

Why are games so important anyway, you may ask. The answer is that games mean fun, and if you are having fun while surrounded by English, you trick your brain into thinking that it is in fact English that makes you so happy. Hence – good correlations, inner motivation, rapid language development.

JUMP ONCE IF (ages 2 and up)

A favourite with all the kids who love to move and always seem to be bursting with energy. Stand in a circle and say a sentence. It can be virtually anything, from well-known facts (A cucumber is green) to opinions (I don’t like chocolate) and personal information (I have got a brother). Explain to the children that they must listen carefully, and jump once if they think the sentence is true, or they agree with it, and three times if the opposite is the case. Encourage students to take over; you can first ask volunteers to say the sentences, but aim at reaching a point where all the children participate and one by one take turns speaking. When they are confident, divide them into groups and assign one “teacher” in each of them, so that more children speak at the same time.

GUESS THE QUESTION (ages 5 and up)

One group gives an answer, and another has to come up with a question to match it. Sometimes it’s possible to make more questions than one, for example if the answer is It’s green, you can ask What’s your favourite colour?, What colour is a frog?, What colour is Ben’s T-shirt? etc. With confident or older groups, you can play in pairs, so everybody is involved all the time.

OSTRICH GAME (ages 4-7)

Put one flashcard onto each of two students’ backs. They cannot see their own or their opponent’s flashcard at this point. Tell Ss they have to see what’s on their opponent’s back and call it out, and at the same time protect their own flashcard from being seen. The first student to call out the other’s flashcard correctly is the winner. Once the group is familiar with the rules, you should have everyone working in pairs at the same time.

Monitor the Ss’s behaviour and make sure they stay safe. Explain that no pushing or hitting is allowed, and that they should be careful with their opponent’s clothing.

SONGS WITH A TWIST (ages 5 and up)

Everybody reaches a point where singing a song yet again simply won’t do. To breathe new life into an old tune, try one of these variations.

Choose a song where one of the words is repeated a few times. Perform the song, and any time you get to the word, put your finger on your mouth instead of singing it. The game boosts concentration in the group.

Instead of not singing, you can introduce a gesture, for example a clap, instead of the word. The fun begins when you have two or three words in a song that you substitute with different gestures. But take your time getting there, as it might be too confusing for the children to start from this point right away.

WHO AM I? (age 4 and up)

Ask Ss to sit down in a circle or line. Put a head band on one student, and push a flashcard behind it, or stick a flashcard to a student’s back, so that the student can’t see it and others can.  You can make head bands using laminated paper and rubber bands.

Encourage the student to guess what is on the flashcard. With weaker Ss, simply encourage sentences (I like pizza. It’s a flower. I can dance, etc.) and others say Yes or No. With stronger Ss elicit questions (Do I like pizza? Is it a flower? Can I dance?) When the student guesses correctly, choose another one and repeat with a different flashcard. When they are ready, let Ss work in pairs.

PASS AND SAY (age 4 and up)

Ask Ss to sit down in a circle. Put flashcards on the floor in a pile, face down. Draw a flashcard, call it out and pass it on to the student sitting next to you, and ask him/her to repeat the sentence. The student then passes the flashcard on to the next person, who repeats the sentence and passes it on, and so on. When the flashcard is about three Ss away from you, draw another one, and repeat the whole procedure. Finally, you should have three or four flashcards circulating around the group, at a decent pace. This game boosts concentration and motor skills, as you have to watch out for cards coming your way.

SEQUENCING (ages 4-5 and up)

A game to boost concentration and improve memory, which is also a nice way to drill virtually anything. The trick is to start with a short sentence which the next person repeats, adding a new element, and then another person does the same, making the sentence even longer. Depending on the level of the group and the age of the children, you can either focus on adding elements of the same kind, e.g. nouns or verbs:

Person 1: I have got a doll.

Person 2: I have got a doll and some blocks.

Person 3: I have got a doll, some blocks and a train.



Person 1: I kick a ball.

Person 2: I kick a ball and feed the doll.

Person 3: I kick a ball, feed the doll and swim.


or, with advanced classes, you can opt for adding any element to make the sentence longer, but still logical.

Person 1: I have breakfast.

Person 2: I have breakfast and go to school.

Person 3: I have breakfast in the kitchen and go to school.


The game goes on as long as the players can remember the sequence. Optionally, a person who makes a mistake drops out and you play to the last man standing. But this option often excludes weaker students from the possibility of practising, and favours the stronger ones.

BACKWORDING (ages 5 and up)

This game works for vocabulary sets such as months, days of the week, numbers, seasons etc. The task is to recite the set from the end to the beginning, engaging the brain and producing a lot of laughter. To add to the fun, set a timer or ask the groups to compete against each other, timing their attempts.

ACTIVE BINGO (ages 3 and up)

Put your students into two groups, standing opposite one another, and give each player a card with a picture or word. Then, call out the words in random order. Alternatively, put the second copy of the cards in a box and draw them. The player who is holding the card which is being called out, sits down. The first group sitting is the winner.

If possible, let the students take over the role of the teacher (this will work especially well if you have an odd number of students, and you want to be fair with the team sizes).

WORDS ON THE BOARD (ages 5 and up)

Words, or pictures, for that matter, depending on what groups you are working with. The trick is simple: you need a surface on which you can write, draw or stick words or flashcards (like the ones you will find in Teddy Eddie’s Box). Make sure there are plenty – to raise the difficulty level a bit. Then, you put the children into two groups, standing in two lines, one next to the other. When you call out a word, the two kids in front should run up to the board and try to be the first one to touch the right word or card. The fastest group gets a point, the two children go to the end of the line, and you repeat the exercise with the new two in front. In time, you can give up the role of teacher and ask one of the children to take over instead.

Warning! Make sure children are wearing shoes or non-slip socks when running on slippery floor.

NOUGHTS AND CROSSES (ages from 4-5 up)

The board for noughts and crosses is a grid of nine squares, arranged three by three. The task is to win three neighbouring squares, horizontally, vertically or diagonally, and mark them with a nought (0) or a cross (X) depending on which team you are in.

Now, the squares of the grid can be flashcards  to call out, word cards or sentences to read, or even tasks to carry out (from Jump on one leg to the door to Sing Head and shoulders). Teams take turns to try and do what’s required, and if they are successful, they mark the square with their symbol (if you don’t have 0 and X cut-outs, use buttons for one team and paperclips for the other – any variations allowed). The first team to have three in a row wins.



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