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Games & Activities for ESL kids

ESL Kids Games & Activities

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Vocabulary Games for ESL Kids

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Apple Pass

Apple passHave all Ss sit in a circle. Use a fake apple and toss it to one S. But you must say one English word as you pass. The S then throws to another S and says a different English word. If the student you threw it to drops it, he/she is out. And the game keeps going until you have one winner. It can be played with different categories, such as Food, Animals, Etc. My students love it! (Submitted by Kim.S.).

Art Gallery

DogThis is a great activity for reviewing vocab. Draw enough squares on the board for each S to be able to draw in. Have the Ss write their names above their squares. T calls out a word and the Ss draw it (could be simple nouns e.g. "dog, bookcase, train", verb structures e.g. "draw a man running, eating cake, sleeping") or adjectives ("draw a big elephant, an angry lion, an expensive diamond ring"). For each S give a score for his/her picture, and then move on to the next picture. The S with the highest score at the end is the winner.

Backs to the Board Game

BoardThis one is good for higher level kids. Make two teams and stand one S from each team in front of the board, facing away from it. Write a word or draw a picture on the board (e.g. "hamburger") and the Ss have to explain that word to their team member (e.g. you can buy it in McDonalds, it's got cheese and ketchup in it). The first S out of the two standing in front of the board to guess the word wins a point for his/her team.


BadmintonGood for reviewing target vocabulary (words or communicative expressions). Set a "court" into the classroom by placing a skip-rope tied up to two chairs. Make two small teams (the other Ss can be the crowd and or challengers). Give each S a flyswatter ("Racket"). Inflate a balloon (this will be the ball). Remember: the younger the Ss, the bigger the balloon must be (slower). Decide who serves and for every winning shot the team to call out the flashcard or picture card shown by the T to get a point. Lots of fun! (NOTE: For very active Ss be careful since they might hit the others' faces when playing). (submitted by Salvador Domingo)

Banana Race

Banana raceChildren just love this! It is basically a QUIZ game in which you ask children questions (Target Vocabulary) like: "What's this? What fruit is red and round? How many chairs are there in the classroom?" or the T simply draws items on the board, makes animal noises so that they guess. You can work with Ss or split the class into small groups/teams if you have a large class. The T draws on the board a race track and each team or S will be a BANANA waiting at the Starting Line. They will approach the Goal line as they answer each question. Each right answer equals a step towards the Goal Line. The BANANA who arrives there first, WINS! (Submitted by Salvador Domingo).

Basketball Card Line-Up

BasketballPlace 2 lines of several flashcards.  You need 2 players and a basket far away.  To shoot the basket from far away is hard so the players need to say the card and make their way closer and closer each turn.  When they feel that they can throw and hit the basket, they make their attempt.

Bean Bag Toss

Bean bagsLay out flashcards face down up the floor.  Ss toss a bean bag onto a card and identify the flashcard it lands on.  If they say the card correctly they keep the card. When all the cards have gone count who has the most cards. (Submitted by Betty).

Blind Toss

BlindfoldHave Ss sit down in a circle. Place a mat on the floor with numbers and a flashcard (target vocabulary) on each number. Taking turns, each S gets blindfolded and tosses a beanbag so as to hit a number. S/he must call out that word the same number of times as the number indicates. For example: 4-dog, then "Dog, Dog, Dog, Dog! and the S gets the equal points (4). At the end, the S with the most points wins! Good for memorizing vocabulary since they are repeating words. (Submitted by Salvador Domingo).

Blindfold Guess

BlindfoldBlindfold a S and give him/her an object to feel. The S must guess what the object is. This works well with plastic animals as they are a little challenging to guess (I always throw in a dinosaur to spice things up!).

Category Spin

BottleSit Ss in a circle.  Spin a bottle or an arrow - the S that the arrow points to is first.  The S needs to say a word from a pre-decided category.  The next S will say last word plus his own and so on until it gets to the one who fails.  For example: S1:"zebra", S2: "zebra cat", S3: "zebra cat dog".

Category Tag

CheeseChoose a category (e.g. food, weather, transportation, etc.).  Ss run around the room and the T chases them.  When the T tags a S s/he must name a word from the category (e.g. food: cheese, fish, bread, etc.).  Give a time limit to answer (e.g. 5 seconds).  If the S cannot answer or says a word that has already been used s/he sits out until the next round.


WhisperHave a S come to the front of the class and show a FC or whisper a word to that S.  The S then acts out that word and the first S to guess can be the next player.  This works very well with action verbs.  Variation: divide the class up into teams - the first S to guess wins a point for his/her team.

Dog & Cat Chase

Dog and cat chaseHave Ss sit in a circle.  T walks around the outside of the circle patting the Ss on the head saying "dog" each time.  Suddenly, T says "cat" as s/he touches a S's head and then that S must chase the T around the circle.  The T must try to sit in the S's spot before being tagged by the chasing S.  If the T is tagged s/he must touch the heads again.  If T makes it back without being touched then the chasing S walks around the circle touching heads.  This can be done with any variation of pair words (e.g. big & small, happy & sad, can, can't, etc.).

Draw and Roll

DiceSplit class into 2 teams. T says Draw a ______ and Ss should draw that vocabulary word. If the drawing is correct then the student rolls a dice for points. This game can be played 2 ways: The fastest person to draw the picture rolls the dice. Or the other way is to allow any student to roll the dice as long as the picture is recognizable and correct. I made my dice out of a box from the 100 Yen store.  (Submitted by Tania Bibbo).

Give Me Game

Pastic fruitYou can use with objects or flashcards.  This works well with plastic fruit: Gather and elicit the different kinds of plastic fruit you have.  Then throw all the fruit around the classroom (it's fun just to throw the whole lot in the air and watch the chaos of the Ss scrabbling to pick them up).  Once the Ss have collected the fruit (they'll probably do their best to hide it in their pockets, etc.) T says "Give me an apple".  The S with the apple should approach the T and hand him/her the fruit "Here you are".  Avoid having the fruit thrown back to you as they can go anywhere and takes a long time to finish this game.


The old favorite.  Very good for reviewing vocab from past lessons. 

I spy

I spyT says "I spy with my little eye something that begins with B".  Ss try to guess the object (e.g. "book").  Colors are a good alternative for younger Ss ("... my little eye something that is red").

Label It

Label ItThis works well with newcomers of all ages who need an introduction to basic vocabulary. As long as the learners are able to identify beginning letter sounds, they should be able to do this activity.  To familiarize my students with names of objects found in the classroom, I label everything with an index card that has the item's name on it. Then I have them repeat what I read as they point to the item. The next day, I remove the cards and go through them one at a time and we place them on the correct item together. The third day, I let them label whatever they can on their own. I continue this for a few days. When they are able to independently label most of the items, I surprise them by having them labeled incorrectly. Then they have to straighten out the mess.  You can adapt this to any noun-based vocabulary list (e.g. types of foods, body parts, parts of a room in a house, animals, etc.).  (submitted by KMMP).

Line True or False

JumpPut a line of tape on the floor and designate one side "True" and the other "False".  Hold up an object or flashcard and say its word.  If Ss think that you have said the correct word they jump on the True side, if not they jump on the False side.  Incorrect Ss sit out until the next game.


Write 3 or four words on the board.  Ss must circle the odd-one-out (e.g. cat - horse - cake - bird).


FlashcardsSit the Ss with you in a circle.  T holds up an object or flashcard and says its name (e.g. "Pen").  T passes it on to the next S who also says its name and passes it on to the next S.  Variations: change directions, speed rounds, have many objects going round at the same time.


PictionaryGood for reviewing vocab.  Pick a S and show him/her a picture or whisper a word into his/her ear.  The S draws the picture on the board and the first S to guess the picture gets to draw the next picture.  This can also be played in teams with a point system.

Rope Jump

RopeYou need a rope for this one!  Have Ss stand behind each other in a line.  Hold a rope (have a S hold the other end) at a height that the Ss should be able to jump over.  On the other side of the rope spread out some objects or flashcards and a box.  Call out the name of one of the objects/flashcards to the first S.  S/he has to jump over the rope, pick up the correct object and put it in the box.  For other rounds you can hold the rope down low, so Ss have to crawl/roll under.


PencilsSit the Ss in a circle and place some objects or flashcards in the middle of the circle.  Tell Ss to put their hands on their heads.  T shouts out the word of one of the objects and the Ss race to touch it.  The S who touches it first get to keep the object.  The S who has the most objects at the end of the game is the winner. This works well with plastic fruit and stationery.


SnowballThe T or the Ss draw on the board items related to the Target Lesson (fruits, animals, veggies, etc.)  Make two teams.  One S from each team gets a wet tissue ("Snow ball") and stands up. The rest of the class picks a card which can not be seen by the two Ss standing, who will throw their "snow ball" as they hear the other Ss call an item out (e.g.: "Apple!").  The team whose participant hits closer to the item called out, gets a point.  (Submitted by Salvador)

Time Bomb

Egg timerTell the students a topic and give an egg timer to pass around (set to 1 minute).  Each student has to say a word in that topic (e.g. food - apple, cake etc.) as the timer is passed before the time runs out. When the timer goes off the student left holding it loses. (submitted by Ben).


TouchHave Ss run around the classroom touching things that T orders them to do (e.g. "Touch the table" "Touch a chair" "Touch your bag").  Colors work well for this, as Ss can touch anything of that color (e.g. "Touch something green").


Letter blocksWrite a word on the board that has all its letters mixed up (e.g. "lrocsmaos" = "classroom").  Ss have to unscramble the word.  This works well in a team game.  Variation: use letter blocks / letter shapes instead of writing on the board.

Vanishing Objects Game

Close eyesPlace a number of objects in front of the Ss.  Give them a few moments to memorize the objects and then tell them to close their eyes.  Take away one of the objects and then tell the Ss to open their eyes again.  The first S to guess the missing object can win that object (for 1 point) and take away an object in the next round.

Vocab Basketball

BasketballSs take a shot at the trash can/box/etc. Prepare some flashcards before hand basd on the lesson theme. First show a flashcard to S1 (E.g. If you are teaching emotions, show the "happy" flashcard). If s/he answers correctly then s/he can take a shot at the basket. If the S gets the ball in the basket then s/he wins 2 points. If the S hits the basket without going inside then s/he wins 1 point. The person who gets the most points is the winner. This can also be played in teams.

Vocab Board Scramble

BoardT writes review vocab on the blackboard in a scramble here and there, but low enough that the Ss can reach. Have two teams and call out a word. The person that is able to find and circle it first wins a point for their team. Even more challenging- have four teams all looking for the same word. The kids just love it. (Submitted by Susie).

Vocab Board Draw Relay

RunMake 2 teams and line them up as far away from the board as possible.  Call out a word to the first members of each team, and they have to run to the board, draw the picture and run back to his/her next teammate.  The process is repeated for each student and the team that finishes first is the winner.  Variation: T Whispers the words.  The S can only run back to his/her team when his teammates guess what the picture is.

Window Game

WindowYou can only do this if your classroom has a window that you can stand outside of and look into the classroom (don't try this on the 10th floor!).  Model first: stand the Ss in front of the window and go out of the room.  Wave to them through the window and silently mouth some words (so it seems like they can't hear you through the glass).  Look at a flashcard and then mouth the word a few times.  Go back in and the S who first tells you the word you were saying can have a turn.

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