Make Your ESL Games Great Again

When I was a first-year teacher, my lesson plans looked like this.

"Warmer (game)



Book p14-15



Games were great at entertaining my classes. Much later I realized that some games were also great for learning English. The challenge was figuring out which games. 

If you want your games to be more than a break between grammar drills and book work, check your games against “GAMES” (Group, Appropriate, Motivating, English, Skills).


G is for Group. 

Games need to include the whole group, everyone in the class. The worst games have two students competing at the front of the classroom while everyone else waits for their turn. Language learning isn’t a spectator sport. If a game doesn’t include the whole group, split students into smaller groups playing different games at the same time.


A is for Appropriate.

The first time I taught adults, I used all the games I played with kids, until one of my students complained, “I signed up for an English class, not a gym!” Different games work for different age groups. The better you know your students, the more appropriate your games will be.


M is for Motivating.

Games need both competition and challenge to motivate students to participate. If an activity isn’t motivating, add some competition. Turn error correction into a grammar auction (where students bid for sentences they think are correct) or tidying up at the end of class into a race.


E is for English.

Too many TEFL games have fun, laughter, competition… but no English! If there’s no English, there’s no point. If a game doesn’t include enough English (e.g. Hangman), don’t play it.


S is for Skills.

The best games include a mix of skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, not throwing and catching skills). Mediocre games limit students to naming flashcards. If a game doesn’t have a mix of skills, ask students to run the games, keep count of scores and nominate who goes next and peer correct.


Use the GAMES checklist (Group, Appropriate, Motivating, English, Skills) to make your ESL games the highlight of your classes - for you, your students and learning.