Thursday, August 23, 2012

ESL Teaching Tips #2 - Five Favourite Filler Games

As most of you will know if you are teachers or have been looking into ESL teaching, one of the main things that you will be asked to do is make your classes fun.  This goes double for private academy schools as they are first and foremost a business.  If the kids are having fun (as well as learning) then the parents will continue to send them and the school will continue to make money.

The Internet is filled with ways to spice up your classroom. I am always looking for new ideas to make my kids more interested in the lessons.  I thought I would share here some of the basic games that you should know if you are an ESL teacher.  These are your 'go to' games for when you finish something early or need a filler for any extra time you have.  There is nothing new here but I just wanted to list the ones that I use in my classes every day. They are tried and true and easy to do!

1. Hangman
It's a classic and your kids will probably already know it, some of the younger ones may not but it's easy to teach by example.  There has been some conversation recently about whether the 'hangman' picture is appropriate for younger learners. In my opinion they are exposed to worse in other media, it's a stylised picture that really has become more a symbol than anything else.  I still use it and have never had any complaints (besides we grew up with it and we're fine - aren't we?)
With the younger ones I write some words (usually from the story we are reading) on bits of paper and then they take turns coming up and writing it on the board.  With the older ones, I give them a choice - if they have their own word great, otherwise I help them out  - sometimes it's hard to think on the spot.  We usually play either with words from the story we are doing or related words.  For example we were doing a story on the Grand Canyon; the topic for hangman was - nature.  This narrows it down a bit but still keeps it challenging as they can't just look in their books.

2. Pictionary
Not quite as educational as Hangman but it's a favourite with the kids.  I use it if we have been working really hard and need a five minute reward at the end of class. It does test their vocabulary - I've been surprised by words that kids know when playing this. I have some words printed up on small cards that I keep in my bag.  You can have easy, medium and hard ones if you have different classes that way your are prepared for all occasions.  You can also turn this into a race, split the board in two and have two teams racing against each other to be the first to guess the word. I usually just play it like Hangman, one student up the front the others guessing whoever gets it right comes up and draws next.

3. Sticky Ball Throw
This is one I play all the time and you can change it to suit yourself. You should always have a sticky ball in your bag and you can get them from Home plus and other stores if you are in Korea. It is a great resource, cheap and full of fun.

There are so many ways use the sticky ball but my main one is where I draw a basic round target on the whiteboard and give the middle ring 500 or 100 and then smaller values to the outside rings. I write the vocabulary words on the board and the students have to make a new sentence using one word  - if it's a good sentance then they can throw the ball.  We usually have teams, if it's a small class individuals are fine for this game too. You can make them do any kind of question or exercise before they throw, that's what's great about this one.  You can also change the target, especially if you are an artist.  Sometimes I draw something to do with the story - we were doing Greek Monsters the other day so I drew a Cyclops. His eye was 100 and other parts of his body less.  I am a really bad artist, the students were asking me what it was, I had to tell them and then they are like - ooh OK but it looks like a cookie man.  Yes, Teacher is bad at drawing - lets move on. Another time we were doing space so I split the class into humans and aliens and then drew spaceships and UFOs on the board with Earth and another planet at either end.  They then had to try and hit the other team's planet or ships, first team to 'destroy' the other race wins (again my drawings were a source of great mirth for the kids).

Another classic, you have probably played this at least once in you life.  If not - basically you have cards with one word at the top - the 'answer word', and then a list of related words below that.  You are not allowed to say any words that are on the card - they are Taboo.  You have to describe the 'answer word' without using any of the words listed on the card. You can make it easier or harder by having more or less related taboo words - for my beginner classes only two taboo words but for my advanced there will be four or five taboo words. 
It is by far and away the most educational of these games I have listed here. The students really like it too; you have to prompt some of them but it's all learning.  I have made up three sets of cards, they are just ones I found on the Internet (sometimes you will have to amend them as there might be things that you know your students don't know), I have easy, medium and hard sets and I carry them in my bag for when I need something extra to do. Some of my classes have become really good at making sentences to describe things using this game. Sometimes it's hard to make them understand that they can't say any words on the paper, you have to keep telling them (well in my experience, but if you have a Korean co-teacher I guess they can just make sure they understand in Korean)

Also called Naughts and Crosses, I think you will know the one I mean or else you can always google it. All you need for this is a white or black board and something to write with. Super easy for even the most basic of classrooms.
I usually only use this with my younger kids; once they get older they figure out the logistics of it and you almost always come up with a stalemate.  The younger kids however love it.  What I do is put a vocabulary word in each square and then they chose a square and have to use the word in a sentence, if they get it right they get to put their mark in the square (either O or X) - three in a row wins. If you have time, play best of three - change the words around and add a few different ones each time you play a round. Alternatively you can have a question per box or something else that they have to do - possibilities are endless.

I really like all these games and always come back to them because they are so simple. Sometimes you need something at a moments notice and they fit the bill nicely.  Even ones where you need words, you can just write them as you go if you need to. They are also all highly customizable, if one gets a bit stale you can change it up to make it more exciting. Also on that note you can change how easy or hard the games are too, for your more advanced students you can add things to make it more challenging.


  1. awesome thanks for the tips i love the sticky ball idea and i'm sure my kids will love throwing the ball to destroy aliens or spaceships!

  2. Since kids like to throw the ball, why not combine throwing with hangman? I learned this physical version of hangman in Korea over 4 years ago! Tons of fun!

    1. Thanks for sharing Carissa, some more great ideas. I love to hear of all the different things that teachers use in their classrooms.

  3. Graceful written content on this blog is really useful for everyone same as I got to know. Difficult to locate relevant and useful informative blog as I found this one to get more knowledge but this is really a nice one.กระชับรูขุมขน