Teaching: 8 games to play with your English-language-learning students

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This blog focuses on travel and life in Korea – but for many wonderful readers, teaching English takes up a pretty significant amount of time. Hope these help you in your classes!


  • Sparkle Die! Also called ‘Sparkle!’, this spelling game requires students to pay attention and spell well. Get the students in a circle, then explain each student will spell words exactly one letter at a time. Say a word (words from today’s lesson are great), then point to a student and go around the circle clockwise. If someone doesn’t get their letter right, they can be out, or you can give them a few seconds to think it over (I count down from five on my fingers). If anyone helps anyone else, they get a warning, then they’re out for trying to help. After the word has been spelled, the next student says ‘Sparkle!’, and the next one says ‘Die!’ and is out of the game. If you’d like to eliminate the luck of the draw or have the game take up more time, tell the class that you can save yourself – if you can spell the whole word by yourself.
  • An as-yet-unnamed vocabulary game. Split the class into two or more teams, and have each team pick a captain. This captain will handle the writing duties for their team, while the rest of the team will feed the captain words. Only the captain writes. Give the teams a category, possibly based on the reading of the day. An example: “OK, kids, today we talked about Children’s Day in Japan. I’ll set the stopwatch on my cell phone for 2 minutes. Write down all the holidays we celebrate in Korea. Ready? Set? Go!” When time is up, have the captain read their team’s answers. Spelling is important, but I’ll give the teams a chance to respell anything they missed. For the more advanced students, add in a twist: any answer another team has gets crossed off or canceled out, Scattergories style. They’ll have to think of distinctive answers instead of the same four or five possibilities.
  • Baskin Robbins 31. Don’t ask me how an ice cream franchise got to be the name of a kids game. It’s also a drinking game if you’re outside of class, but the rules are the same: don’t be the one to say ’31′. Get the players in a circle. Going around the circle, each person says 1, 2, or 3 numbers, continuously counting up from 1. Just like hot potato or musical chairs, there’s some strategy involved in not getting stuck with ’31′. Each person that says ’31′ is out, and can start over with fewer people each time. A harder version: instead of saying all the numbers, clap instead of saying any number with a ’3′ or it, or a ’3′ and a ’1′…
  • Hangman. The classic standby can be pulled out almost anywhere there’s pen and paper or a whiteboard and markers. It’s best to use words in that day’s lesson or story, as they’re freshest in your student’s minds. If those get too easy, pull out words from the last story or lesson. For most classes, I encourage them to guess letters until about half the letters are guessed. The person that guesses right takes over my job, and you become more of the referee and assistant. Have them point to a word in the book, and let them take it from there.
  • Running dictionary. The goal here is to practice those speaking and listening skills. Split the class into three- or four-person teams, and have each team pick a writer. You’ll need to select something for them to read from – a paragraph or few sentences from a previous lesson work fine. Put the writers from each team at the front of the class, and move the books to the back of the class. On ‘go’, the non-writing team members will run to the source, then run back and tell the writer what to write. Only the writer can write, and they must stay in their seat; the books must stay where you put them, and they can’t take pictures of the book with their cell phones (yes, I actually had a couple kids try that). The winner is the team that produces an error-free version of the text. Be sure to circle any problems with a red pen or some other prominent colored pen.
  • Suction-cup ball target practice. Find these suction-cup balls paired with a pad used to catch the balls; they’re cheap and at any toy store. Whiteboards make great ‘pads’, so draw a bullseye with different points. Pantomime throwing the ball at the board and seeing it stick. This usually works great as a pop quiz after the day’s reading. Ask a question, students raise hands and try for the correct answer. When one gives you the right answer, pick a spot for them to stand from and throw at the target. If you want to get fancy, you can have teams (left side vs. right side, boys vs. girls, etc.) and keep track of the points. As for the suction-cup balls, they’re a few thousand won (a few bucks) at toy stores, Daiso, or elsewhere – a small price to pay for something that makes your job a lot easier. This also works for spelling vocab words, giving the meaning of vocab words, etc.
  • Not so much a game, but a fun way to review vocabulary. Start by explaining you’ll try to make reviewing more fun. You’ll need the suction-cup ball (again, 2,000 to 3,000 won per ball – a great pickup), and the whiteboard. Draw a circle or box with equal spaces for each student, including a space for the teacher. Add a space for ‘YOU CHOOSE’ if you like. Explain that one student will ask a question of another student – the one whose name they hit. If the ball lands on a line, have them play rock-paper-scissors. Depending on what you’re reviewing (the story, the vocabulary), keep the questions simple (meaning, spelling, or use the word in a sentence). After they answer, get the answerer to stand up, throw the ball, and ask the next question to the next student. In most of my classes, I tell them they’re free to use their books.
  • Questions! Probably my personal favorite, it’s a game that encourages students to ask questions and get their classmates to answers. Start by writing a word down on a piece of paper, hidden from student’s view. Tell them the goal is to ask a question that gets the students to say the word you wrote. For example, if I wrote down ‘pencil’, I might ask ‘what do you write with in class?’. The person who says the answer comes up to ask the next question. Encourage them to use W-H questions (who, what, where, when, why, and how), and don’t let them use their hands – no pantomiming!

Readers, most of you living in Korea are teachers – what games do you enjoy playing with your students?

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2011
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.



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