Tried and tested (and approved!) games and activities to help English learning.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: speaking.

Topic: grammar and vocabulary.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This is a great warm up game suitable to many fluency levels, ages and target vocabulary types. It also requires no resources and encourages quick thinking. The game can be made as hard or easy as you wish. 

Students form in to a circle. You are the cowboy in the centre of the circle. You make a gun shape with your hand and point to a student (shoots them) and says the target vocabulary. This student ducks and the students on either side of them must shoot each other with the answer. The first to say the word correctly wins, whilst the second is out. Some examples are:
  • Opposites bang: (Point to a student and say "yes." Students on either side of the targeted student point to each other and say "NO!")
  • Adjective bang: (Point to a student and say "car". Students on either side say: "fast!" or "expensive!" etc..)
  • Adverbs Bang: (Point and say: "ride a bike". Students say: "carefully" (or "Ride a bike carefully!" for more advanced classes)
Or you could make it more advanced:
  • Modal Verbs with full sentence: (You point and say: "could, question." Students say: "Could you close the door please?". Or say: "could, statement". Students say: "I could close the door for you".
You can control the game so the remaining two students are from opposing teams. When down to two students, they stand back to back and walk away from each other until teacher says the word (e.g. you could say: "One, Two, Three, Four, Yesterday!". Students turn around and shoot each other after four steps saying, for instance, "tomorrow!"). Winning team gets the points (or stars, depending what system of rewards you use). 

Monday, January 23, 2012


Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: sheets of paper and pencils (or pens).

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This game is somewhat alike to Sinko, as both games use grids. The objective here, though, is to guess a word which your opponent has written.

Ask students to work in pairs. Both students draw a grid of five squares by five (for very advanced classes, you could ask them to draw a seven by seven squares grid). They number the columns of the grid from one to five along the top, and from six to nought down the side, so that each square can be identified by a number (e.g. the centre square is 38; the square in the bottom right-hand corner is 50). Each student then writes a five-lettered word (seven-lettered, if they're using the expanded grid) either across or down in his or her own square. Then they fill the remaining squares in their grids with 20 other letters which do not create any more five-letter words. The students also write in their pieces of paper a second, blank grid of five by five, in which to write their opponent's letters as they discover them.

Each student in turn calls out the number of a square, and their opponent says what letter is in that square. In this way, each student can build up a picture of what letters their opponent's grid contains. Instead of guessing a letter, a student can choose to guess the opponent's hidden word: if it is guessed correctly, the guesser wins the game; if not, the game continues. If the opponent's word is guessed correctly, the student scores one point for every blank square in his or her opponent's grid. If a student has accidentally included more than one five-letter word in the grid, the opponent will win by guessing any of these words.

It's nice to tell students to include several sequence of letters which look as if they might be part of five-letter (or seven-letter, in advanced games) but are actually not (like MISEL, SLEEM, TABLI or QUIZL, which gives the name for this game). In this way, the students can lead their opponents to concentrate on part of the grid which does not include the hidden word.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: miming / speaking.

Topic: grammar / vocabulary.

Materials: pieces of card (strips of paper), paper sheets and pencils (or pens).

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

Follow the same procedure as Don't say a word but instead of drawing the words / phrases, students do a mime. It's perfect for practising present continuous tenses!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Venus and Mars

Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing and speaking.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: pencil and paper.

Time: 15 to 20 minutes.

An engrossing and amusing game to youngsters and adults that promotes a lot of talking, I start this game with a 5 minute conversation about differences between men and women. Initially, try to elicit whether women and men are interested in different things in life, talk about different subjects, and learn different things as they grow up. Students tend to be quite opinionated on this subject!

Then,  ask all the women in the class to group, forming a circle with their chairs at one side of the classroom, and all the men on the opposite side do the same. It doesn't really matter if there are the exact same number of men and women, but it would be very nice if it is. Next, ask each group to come up with ten questions that they believe most people of the same sex could answer, and most of the opposite sex couldn't. The main criterion is that they believe at least 75% of people of their own gender would know the answer. Of course, the questions also have to be grammatically correct. Help and monitor as necessary.

Finally, each team takes turns asking the other the questions – and be prepared to really unexpected results! The last time I played this game, one of my male students, who is married, knew most of the brands of nail varnishes of the market, even suggesting the trendiest colours to his female classmates! We also had a good laugh when the men asked the women which direction was north and they pointed to all 4 corners of the room. Guaranteed fun!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Call My Bluff

Level: Advanced. 

Skills: writing (with a speaking follow-up).

Topic: grammar. 

Materials: a set of dictionaries, sheets of paper and pencils (or pens). 

Time: 10 to 30 minutes. 

One of a few TEFL games based on a BBC radio 4 program, and is an interesting activity when teaching English to more advanced level children, to teenagers, and to adults. The approach needs to be adapted for these different groups, but the basic activity is the same. You will need a set of dictionaries for this. Picture dictionaries work well for younger children. 

Choose an obscure word - or at least, obscure for students involved. Write this word on the board and check whether anyone understands it. As an example, I might write the word 'gnat.' Under this, I write four definitions; three of which are false and one of which is true. I might write: 'To gnat is a verb that describes falling out with a friend. For example, the boy gnatted his best friend because he was angry with him.' 'A gnat is a small biting insect, like a mosquito.' 

The students must then read the definitions and decide whether they are true or false. Once the students understand the activity, they can be put into small groups, given a dictionary, and told to choose a word that they think the other students won't know. Set a time limit on deciding, and if necessary assign suitable words. The students then write four definitions on pieces of paper. 

The first team ready can write their word on the board, with a phonetic transcription, if wanted. When the class is ready, each team in turn reads out the definitions. The other students have to guess which definition is the correct one. 

This ESL activity can take up to 30, as it involves choosing a word in the dictionary, writing four definitions, reading them out aloud, then discussing as a class which is true. Students may need to be shown how to write longer and more detailed definitions. The more advanced the class, the more detailed their definitions should be. For children at a low level, a single sentence for each definition may be enough.