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TEFL Program - Playing games

Page history last edited by Chris Moore 9 years ago



This unit introduces you to some English language games that are great fun to play and also help your students learn English. They are also great motivators.


Think About It


1. What is good about playing games in the classroom – the pros?


2. What challenges are there when playing games – the cons?




Here are some of our ideas on the advantages and disadvantages of playing games in the classroom


1. Advantages

  •          Students can be very motivated to practise English when playing a language game
  •          Students are encouraged to talk, listen and discuss in a focused, fun context
  •          Games are a great way of seeing language in action
  •          Games challenge students to use language creatively
  •          By having clear goals, students can see the impact of the language they are using
  •          Students get immediate feedback when playing games – either the language works and they progress in the game - or it doesn’t and they stay where they are!
  •          Playing games adds variety to lessons
  •          Students will look forward to their English classes more


2. Disadvantages

  •          The classroom may be noisy and disturb other classes
  •          It’s difficult to monitor everything students are saying
  •          Students will want to play more games and not do the exercises in their coursebooks
  •          Some games don’t have a clear language focus
  •          Students with better English skills may win everything and it will demotivate those whose language skills are not so high


In many ways, playing games in the classroom is not so different to playing games in your free time. People have played games throughout history and will continue to do so. It’s part of our nature. Why? Because games are fun, they are social, and they can be very fulfilling. The fact that they can be used for learning makes games a powerful tool in the classroom.



Tips for Playing Games in the Classroom


When using games in the language classroom, please do the following:

  • Think about what kind of game to play and when it will fit best in the lesson
  • Think about how long it will take to play – from when you give the instructions to when you look at the results
  • Be clear what language aims you have for the game
  • Give very clear instructions and allow some time to do this properly
  • Check the students have all understood the instructions
  • Let students play the game among themselves as much as possible – don’t get involved unless you have a specific role
  • Listen to the students – playing a game is a great opportunity to analyse their language and see what you can use in future lessons
  • Spend some time at the end to go through a small number of language points that came up. Include the language the game was designed to focus on.
  • Have fun!



Setting Learning Goals 


As discussed in the unit on Lesson Planning, having clear aims for any activity you do in your lessons is very important. You need to know why you are doing activities, exercises, etc. It’s also very motivating for your students to have a clear idea on why they should do what you ask them to. It gives them a strong reason for participating and learning.


With games, there are 2 types of goal in general.


1. Specific language practice

This will normally be a specific grammatical structure, set of vocabulary, aspect of pronunciation, and so on. The game will therefore be quite controlled in what students do and say, and the feedback you give them will be specific to that language point.


2. General language practice

For some games, the learning aims will be more task-based. They will include more general goals like, ‘my students will use their language to solve problems’ or ‘my students will create a story together’.


In these games, the language used is much less controlled, and students will have lots of opportunities to express their ideas using their own language. In some cases, the language may be quite predictable – for example, if students are using lots of ‘if-clauses’ to describe possibilities.


With these games, you can really listen to students’ language and notice what their strengths and weaknesses are. You can see whether they are able to use the language you have already taught them. You can also see where further learning needs to happen.


So, please make notes on what language you would like to go through at the end of the game.



Giving Students Feedback after Games


It’s very important to do some work on the language that your students used while playing a game. This is best done when the game has finished, so the game is not interrupted.


So, give yourself anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes to do this. Plan beforehand how much time you will realistically need.


You can run a feedback session in different ways, for example:


1. Ask students to speak to each other about what they learnt during the game, and then report back to you.


2. On the board, write some examples of what your students said during the game. This could be a mix of correct and incorrect language. Put students in pairs or small groups and ask them to identify the correct examples and then correct the incorrect ones. Give them points for doing well here.


3. Write down the language you wanted the students to practice on the board. Now ask them to think about when they used that language while playing the game and report back to you.



Think About It


1. Do you play any games with your students at the moment?


2. If so, which games?


3. And what are the learning aims of the games?


4. And do your students enjoy playing the games?




Games you can play

Here are some games that are played successfully in classrooms all over the world.


Re-creating pictures, objects and stories


1. Put students into pairs. Give them each a picture (a simple line drawing works best here), or ask them to draw one (you can specify certain objects to make it easier, such ‘sun, house, tree, road, 2 people, dog). They are not allowed to look at each other’s.


Now, in turn, students describe their pictures to each other to draw without seeing what the other has. The 1st student does his/her best to describe the picture, while the 2nd student can ask questions to help his/her drawing.

Set a time limit of 2 minutes per drawing, after which students can compare pictures. You can award points for accuracy.


Language practised: prepositions of place (next to, above, below, to the left, etc), language of instruction (imperatives), question forms (‘Where is the house?’, ‘How big is the man?’, etc)


2. As above, but this time using objects to build something. Children’s play bricks are useful here. You’ll need lots so each pair can build something interesting.


3. Similar to above, but this time you make a drawing or building and hide it from the class. Then divide the class into small groups. Now, from each group one student is allowed to come and look and then go back to tell others how to build it. The 1st group to complete the drawing/building accurately is the winner.


4. Again, similar to the above. This time, just show the students a picture or building text and give them 30 seconds to remember as much as possible. Then, in groups, students have to re-create it without looking at it again.


Language practiced: for texts, you can decide this; for pictures, language of description; also, discussing, suggesting, asking for opinions





  1. Put your students into teams. The first person in each group then comes to you to get a task – this can be written on a piece of paper which you show them. For example, ‘wake up’, ‘have a bath’, or ‘eat hot rice’. Give them the same task. The students then mime the command to their groups. The first team to guess the command gets a point. They need to use a grammatically correct sentence here, so ‘S/he is waking up’.

When the charade has been solved the next set of students can come to you for the next task. As before, show them a piece of paper with an action written on it.


If you want, you can make the tasks more and more difficult, so ‘waking up with a big headache’, or ‘playing football while drinking from a bottle of water!’


Language practised: present continuous



  1. You can also play charades with other areas of language, such as:
  • Adverbs – ask students to act an action – walking/eating a banana/reading etc – in a particular manner, using an adverb such as quickly, angrily, or tiredly
  • Adjectives – ask students to act adjectives such as happy, sad, young, old, tired, or hot


  1. Charades for films, books, etc – instructions as before. But this time, students act out a film/song/book title for the others to guess. In English of course.



Dictation Games


1. Chain Dictation


Put your class in small groups of 4 (where possible). Bring one member of each team to you and tell them a short story in English. It may be an idea to do this outside the classroom, so others cannot hear you.


Now, ask the students to explain it to one of the students in their group – quietly so others don’t hear (again, outside the classroom may be best). These students then explain it to a 3rd student from the group, who then explain it to the 4th and last student.


The last students then explain the story back to the group or to the class as a whole, to see how successful the dictation was!


2. Running Dictation


Divide the class into teams. Each team has to appoint 1 member to be the writer. Now put a short story or text on a piece of paper, and pin the paper to a wall. If there are lots of teams, you can use more pieces of paper with the same text on, and pin them to different parts of the room.


In turn, each member of the team (except the writer) has to run up to the paper, read a sentence and come back to the writer and tell him/her what the sentence was. The writer then writes it down. Team members can discuss whether they think the text is correct and the next runner can check if necessary.


The 1st team to write the whole text correctly is the winner!



Three of the Best 


1. 3 Things of Personal Significance


Ask your students to bring 3 objects and/or photos which are important to them to the class. In pairs or small groups, ask them to explain to their partners why they are important. The other students could then report back to the class.


Students could also show 1 object to the class for the other students to guess why they think the object is important.


2. 3 Important people

In pairs or small groups, ask your students to discuss 3 important people in their lives – you could say that they should not include family members, or that they should be people who no-one else in the room knows. Put some ‘prompt questions’ on the board to help students – ‘Where did you meet?’, ‘How long have you known …?’, ‘What’s so special about …?’ etc.


3. Other 3s:

There are lots of possible ‘3s’ or students to talk about. Here are some examples:

  •          3 Favourites – places, food, drink, colours, animals, films, TV shows
  •          3 Memorable trips
  •        3 Best Lessons



Other games


Circle the Word


Divide the class into teams. Prepare a text, and have some missing words, which you write on the board. These can be grammatical or have a particular vocabulary focus. The texts can come from the coursebook – in which case make sure the students have their books closed for the activity.


When you write your words on the board, write as many copies of the same words as there are groups. You might want to add a few ‘red herring’ words to make the activity more challenging for better students. Incorrect tenses, odd words, words with slight spelling mistakes can all add to the fun of learning.


Now read the text aloud, occasionally saying 'Blank' in place of a word. One student from each team races to the board and circles the word you 'Blanked'. The students must take turns so everyone has a go. The first student to circle the correct word scores their team a point.


Use different coloured chalk for each team, if possible.



Spelling Bee

Divide the class into teams. Give each team a set of letters on a cards – 1 letter per card. You will need some extra copies of common letters, such as vowels, t, s, and r.


Now call out some words that they have learnt recently. In teams, the students order their letters on the desk in front of them. If they spell the word correctly, they score a point.


A more interesting way of doing this is to ask students to ask students to stand up, each holding a letter, to make the correct word. Again, a correct spelling earns a point.



Categories Quiz

Divide the class into teams, and assign them names. Write these names on the board to keep score. One student from each team comes to the front of the class, and the teacher calls out a category. The following list is of categories which work well, but the possibilities are endless.

  • colours
  • fruits
  • drinks
  • body parts
  • things that are red or green or ...
  • sports
  • the weather
  • school subjects
  • wild animals


When the students at the front think of a word in the category, they raise their hand. The first to do so can then answer. If correct they sit down and the next 9 students in their team have to come up with 9 more answers in the same category. So, be careful to choose categories in which the students ought to be able to think of ten or more things easily.


Instruct the other teams to think of an answer while the first team is trying to complete their task, because if the 1st team fails to come up with 9 more things, the other teams have a chance to answer and steal the points.

In this way, the points go to the 1st team if they successfully answer 9 times in the same category, or else the other teams can get them.  



Connecting People

Tell all the students to stand up. Ask them, "How are you?" and when they invariably reply, "Fine (thanks, and you?)", write it on the blackboard. Explain that no-one can use this word again.


When the question, "How are you?" is asked again, the first student to raise their hand (or be otherwise selected) must answer with an original response (happy, bored, sleepy...). Write their response on the board. If they answer any word not on the board in 5 seconds they can sit down.


The idea is to get a line of 5 or 6 students sitting down in any direction. As soon as this happens, they are the winners (it’s important to arrange the class in rows and columns before, so these lines can be clearly seen).

While this game starts slowly, as the answers get sillier ("I'm beautiful", "I'm crazy"), the students get involved. It brings out vocabulary, and gets them thinking.


This can also be used for other areas of language, such as ‘What are you doing this evening?’, or ‘What’s your favourite meal?’



Find Someone Who...

Ask students to walk around the class (if possible) and talk to each other. Give them a paper saying (or write on the board):

Find someone who...

1.                  ...has won a prize

2.                  ...has been outside this country

3.                  ...plays an instrument

4.                  ...would like to live in a different place

5.                  ...has an unusual hobby

6.                  ...has more than 2 brothers or sisters

7.                  ...thinks they'll be a millionaire one day

8.                  ...plays in sports team

9.                  ...has sung in a choir

10.                ...has a phobia


Students have to write down the name of the person they find who fits each line. They have to find a different person for each line. Give them a deadline of 5 minutes. Anyone who completes a sheet gets a point.


To extend the activity, you can ask students to ask 1 further question of the person they find, and note down their answer.



30 Second Conversations

Put students into pairs or small groups. Ask them to talk to their partner about 1 of the following topics. After 30 seconds, ask them to change roles.


1.                  Love

2.                  Fear

3.                  Water

4.                  Hunger

5.                  Children

6.                  Adventure


Now ask students to report back to the class a very brief summary of what their partners said. Points for the most interesting answers.



And there’s more

There are also lots of Grammar and Vocabulary games in Units x and xx



Next Steps


Games are a great way of bringing English to life and motivating your students. Try a few of the listed games out and see how they go. And try them a few times – the more you do it, the easier and more successful they will be. If possible, do this in partnership with another teacher. Then you can share your experiences, and work together to create exciting lessons that will inspire your students.

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