The author has been an ESL teacher in both Canada and Asia for more than seven years.
Great Tools for the Classroom
Every English teacher comes to a point where they are stuck on a fun game or activity to use in class. The students have done your activities a million times, and you can tell they are starting to get bored . . . you need a new activity! Experienced teachers will likely have seen some of these, but there may be one or two that surprise you!
1. Wager Wars
Quiz games like Jeopardy are old classroom standbys, but I always felt that they engage too few students at a time, leaving those not answering questions to doze off or lose interest. This is a variation of the classic quiz game that gets the whole class excited and talking the entire time.
The concept is basic, but it really brings out the competitive nature in almost anyone, adults being no exception. Teams choose how many points they want to wager before they hear a question, and those points will be added or deducted depending on if they get it correct or not!
- Small slips of paper, approximately 10 per team
- 10 or so questions of varying difficulty; I like to mix easy ones in with hard ones, grammar/vocab questions, and a few listing questions (name five countries where English is the native language, five adverbs of frequency, five items in the kitchen, etc.), and at least one silly joke question to keep it jovial.
- A helper/scorekeeper (optional, good for the shy student who doesn't want to participate, or a teacher's assistant if you have one).
- A prize for the winning team (to be honest, they get so competitive you don't need this)
- Split your class up into small groups; three or four per team are ideal, but feel free to make them smaller or larger depending on the size of the class. This game is best played with around five teams. I let them choose their own names, especially if it's a young class.
- It's important the teams don't sit too close to one another unless you want them to be cheating off their neighbors!
- On the board, draw a simple grid that has one row for each team and two columns for each question you intend to ask. In the first column for each team, give everybody 1000 points. The next column will be for how many points each team wants to risk, with the following being for the team's new total.
- Make sure every team has enough slips of paper to answer every question, and you're ready to start!
- Each team starts with 1000 points, so they are all on an even playing field. It is also a good idea to tell them exactly how many questions you will ask them (important for strategic purposes when wagering, of course)
- One by one, have each team tell you how many points they are willing to risk before the question is asked. The number is written on the board, so the subsequent teams will almost always adjust their bets accordingly once they know what their peers are doing.
- Tell them they have a set time limit in which to answer the question, write it down on their paper, and run it up to you at the front of the room. One minute for easy questions, three or four for difficult ones that require some discussion. Big dramatic countdowns are key when time is running out.
- Once the time limit is up, read out all the answers before telling them what the correct answer is. There are always a few teams who write something silly or so wrong it's funny, and the whole class will have a good laugh at it.
- Correct answers have whatever they wagered added to their total, while teams who got it wrong or didn't make it in time will, of course, lose whatever they chose to risk.
- After all the scores have been tallied, it's time for question two! This time ask the team who is in first place to wager first. This allows the other teams to adjust their bets so they can catch up, and it makes for a much more even playing field long term.
- Repeat the steps until all the questions are finished, at which point whoever has the most points are the winners! It usually comes down to a dramatic finish between the top teams, so make sure the final question is difficult!
2. Who Am I?
Another classroom hit that gets its origins from a drinking game . . . chances are you have played this before after one too many cups of sake or beer at some point in your life. Take out the alcohol, and what you have left is a surprisingly fun and engaging game to play in class.
Interestingly enough, this game was also featured in the movie Inglorious Bastards during the infamous Mexican standoff/bar scene. The purpose of the game is to get them talking to each other, and it's a great way to practice asking questions and getting information in English.
- A decent-sized class (it doesn't work as well with small groups)
- Small squares of paper, three or four per student in the class
- A bag or container for them to randomly choose papers from, something they can't see inside
- Headbands to attach the papers to (entirely optional, works just as well using a hand to hold them in place)
- A very easy game to set up, all you need to do on your end is make sure that you have enough slips of paper prepared so you don't need to waste time in class getting them ready.
- "Headbands" to wear and attach the papers to can be easily made by taping two ends of a long strip of paper together, but as I mentioned before, this is totally optional, as I have never had a class object to simply holding the cards up with a hand while they play.
- At the start of the class, hand out three to four small pieces of paper to each student. Have them write down three things, and it's important they don't show anyone what they wrote down.
- What they write down is up to you, depending on what topic you are trying to focus on. I usually give them three very different categories that they can choose words from, such as Famous people, animals, and objects. It is important that you stress to them that they need to choose words that are popular/ well known enough that everyone in the class will recognize them.
- Once everyone is finished, have them all place their papers in the hat or bag, and mix them up. Everyone then pulls a paper out and, without looking it, holds it to their forehead for everyone else to see.
- The object of the game is to find out what the word on your forehead is, by asking your classmates yes/ no questions only. If you have a more advanced class, you may let them get more descriptive in how they answer. The only rule is they cannot ask any person two questions in a row, so this gets them talking to everybody in the room.
- Once they think they got the answer, they walk to the teacher and guess what they are. If they get it correct, give them a point and another paper! The game ends when all the papers are gone, and the winner is the person who guessed the most correct answers. Easy right?
3. Hot Seat
Hot Seat . . . where do I begin? Chances are if you have been teaching for a little while, you have played this game before. If you haven't heard of it, then this is a must-have activity to add to your bag of tricks. It consistently ranks as one of the most requested games in my classes, and it is easily customizable to fit almost any theme or subject.
- A whiteboard
- One or two chairs in front of the whiteboard
- Have 10–20 words or sentences prepared
- Place the chairs in front of the whiteboard, with the backs facing the board.
- This is an easy game to play, and once you get into it, students simply won't want to stop! Divide the class into two teams, with a few feet of space dividing the teams in the middle. Some teachers don't use teams for this, but I like the competitive atmosphere it adds to the game, and this way I can have two students in the hot seat, instead of just one.
- Pick a student from each team to sit in the chairs, otherwise known as "the hot seats." They will not be able to see the board, so stress the fact that they are not allowed to turn around and look at it.
- As a practice/warm-up, write a simple word on the board like "apple", then explain to the class that they need to elicit this word from their teammate in the hot seat. They can say anything they want, except the word on the board. No spelling, No acting, they must get them to say the word by explaining it to them in as much detail as possible.
- For apple, they might say something like "its one word, its a red fruit, it grows on trees" etc.
- Once they get how it works, start the game! I usually let each pair of students in the hot seats have a few turns before changing the students up, it usually takes a couple words for them to really get into it.
- For beginner classes, simple words or phrases are good. For advanced classes, you can get as complicated as you want! Its surprising how good they will become at explaining words or concepts to their teams.
- Once one of the people in the hot seat says the correct word or phrase, give that team a point and immediately write a new one on the board so you don't lose momentum.
- I like to add a few joke sentences in the mix, such as "My boyfriend is a gorilla" or "My teacher is the smartest man in the world" to keep the mood fun and the class laughing.
More Great Adult ESL Games
- 5 of My Favorite English Games for ESL Students
Here are five great games to use in an ESL classroom. These activities will help you conduct a fun and exciting class for all, and they can be modified to work with teens or kids.
© 2013 TheWatchman
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 11, 2019:
Ive never played any of these games lol!
Agnes Widhyatmoko on July 21, 2018:
Thank u for sharing.
Somon on July 07, 2018:
I love this
Martina on June 24, 2018:
Thanks a lot for sharing. Great games.
Pat on June 17, 2018:
I am teaching ESL to adult women from several countries and found these games extremely helpful!
Eshika on July 09, 2014: