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Classic Games For ESL Teachers

By VIPKid  |  July 8, 2019

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One of the best methods to engage students of any age is to play a game with them. Games of different styles and mediums are constructive, fun ways to teach and learn. For teachers, games allow them to witness what’s effective and what will capture the attention of each student. For students, games break up the monotony of lessons and studying. But overall, games have many uses! Games are tools to teach subjects but they are also rewards for a time well-spent on studying. They can be a great way to start a class and end a class. In addition, games can reinvigorate a lesson, especially if the energy feels like it has reached a lull.

Games are especially useful for teaching English because they encourage students to think critically and creatively. More importantly, games can foster instinct, which is crucial to learning to speak and comprehend in a new language. These games show how people can connect, learn, and have fun while proving that people don’t communicate simply through one language, but also physical and visual language. Here are a few age-old games that many ESL teachers like to utilize in their classes.


Charades is one of the most classic party games in history. Although people around the world have played variations of this game, the basis has remained the same: One person acts out a particular word or gives some verbal hints that allude to the word but the person must never say the actual word out-loud. Then another person must guess what that word is. This game is great for those who are learning a foreign language because it helps learners determine how to describe concepts and things. They must figure out how to talk about one particular word by using actions and other words that are associated with it. This game works particularly well when it builds off of past lessons and interactions with your students. 

VIPKid Tips:

  • Create a list of words for each game that were in the day’s lesson and previous lessons.
  • Give enough time for students to act out and guess words. It’s important to be patient with your students and not admonish wrong guesses.
  • Build off of conversations you have with your students to make it as relatable to your students as possible.


Countless kids love to draw and create which makes Pictionary a fantastic game for students learning English. Similar to charades, Pictionary is another classic that involves a secret word that cannot be said but shown by one person and guessed by another. But unlike charades, Pictionary requires one person to draw the secret word instead of acting it out. Pictionary can stimulate creativity while helping students materialize the vocabulary they are learning in their own way. But the game can be difficult for students because they have to figure out how to create drawings that the other person will understand as well as comprehend how other people will depict the same concept. However, with a lot of practice, Pictionary will help students memorize and recognize words and concepts not simply as words. 

VIPKid Tips:

  • If you can plan far enough ahead, try to keep images and actions consistent with words and concepts throughout your classes. It will students identify and draw things quickly. 
  • If you want to give your students more time, set drawing pictures and guessing pictures with two separate timers.


Simon Says

The very familiar command-and-follow game Simon Says is easy to carry out and play. For each round, one person must give a command and the other person must follow. But the other person must only follow if the command-giver precedes the instructions with the phrase, “Simon Says.” There are so many things this game can teach students besides improving their comprehension! It teaches students to listen carefully to what is being commanded and only follow through when they know they’re supposed to. They must also understand the action that is being asked of them to act it out, similar to how one would act out a phrase or word in charades. This game is also a great way for students to practice discipline because they have to discern what command they should follow and what they shouldn’t. Finally, there’s a lot of freedom to have fun with Simon Says. Be funny and silly with your commands! Young students will really enjoy themselves.

VIPKid Tips

  • Switch up the “Simon Says” phrase by replacing “Simon” with “Teacher” or with the student’s name if you allow a student a turn to be the command-giver.
  • Similar to charades, try to think of actions that you discussed with your students in lessons or in conversations.

These are just a few games that can be used in ESL lessons, but these are particularly useful for online interactions via video streaming. Games are wonderful ways to learn and engage, so definitely make sure to utilize games in your classes!

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