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10 More Great Games for ESL Teachers Abroad

10 More Great Games for ESL Teachers Abroad

Standing in a field in a rural village in Papua New Guinea I am surrounded by yams and children. I’m meant to be touring the village with a guide to learn about life in this remote region of the Highlands, but find myself looking back at the group of children that gathers near us, following at a safe distance and clearly bustling with curiosity.

I find myself wanting to engage with these children but I can’t think of a way to authentically do so until it dawns on me -- we should play a game! I turn to the children and proclaim “I am a monster.” Holding my hands above my head and putting on a menacing scowl I chase them down a path and into a field where our game erupts into a full on game of tag. Laughter echoes across all corners of the village, bringing a smile to the adults I see as well.

That afternoon reminded me of the value games play in helping children connect and learn, even if there is a language barrier. This is a lesson I learned first hand while teaching English abroad in Spain: games are not only powerful tools to help build authentic connections, but can also teach language concepts.

If you’re reading this then your likely teaching abroad also, or perhaps about to embark on a teach abroad program, and may be in need of a few good ideas. We’ve shared classic ESL games before, but we have even more ideas up our sleeve that we wanted to share. Enjoy these ten additional great games for ESL teachers abroad and let the learning begin!

1. Find a Person

Games for ESL Teachers Abroad: Find a Person

Find a person is a twist on the classic I-Spy game you may have played with friends or your family on car trips growing up. Get outside and play on the blacktop when you’d like to mix up your classroom setting.

Why use it? Building vocabulary.

Who it’s best for: Elementary and Middle School students

How to Play:

  1. Gather the students in your class in a circle.
  2. As the teacher, call out “Find a person who is wearing red”.
  3. Instruct the students to find a student who fits this description (i.e. a girl in a red dress, a boy with red shoes) and hold hands, gathering in pairs. Only two students can be paired together.
  4. Students who do not find a partner will stand in the middle. Choose one of these students to call out the next “find a person” prompt.

2. Tic Tac Toe -- Twist

Tic Tac Toe is another classic from your childhood that can be twisted to teach English to your students.

Why use it? Building vocabulary around a limitless amount of topics.

Who it’s best for: Middle and High School students

How to Play:

  1. Choose a topic (i.e. foods, colors, science equipment) and create nine cards with pictures. Place these cards three by three on a blackboard.
  2. Practice the nine words with your class.
  3. Invite two students up to the front of the class and have them play rock paper scissors. However, instead of “rock, paper, scissors” they should say “what do you like.”
  4. The student who wins this game will then turn to the other student and ask “what do you like.” The other student must say the name of one of the picture cards on the board. Cross this card out.
  5. Repeat.

3. Vocab Freeze Tag

Games for ESL Teachers Abroad: Vocab Freeze Tag

It’s easy to get your classroom up and moving with vocabulary freeze tag. When you have a large classroom to manage a game like is a great option to involve everyone.

Why use it? Antsy students can expend energy while expanding their knowledge.

Who it’s best for: All students

How to Play:

  1. Pick a target question to practice. For example. “How are you?” “I’m fine thank you.”
  2. Select one student to be “it” -- this student will then chase other students. When they tag another student, this student must freeze.
  3. Other students can unfreeze frozen students by asking them the target question. A correct answer is the only way to become unfrozen.

4. Concentration

Concentration will motivate competitive students to use their memory skills to battle it out, all while sneaking in a lesson on spelling and vocabulary.

Why use it? This game is quick to play and can be adapted to many concepts

Who it’s best for: High school/advanced students

How to play:

  1. Show your class a group of 15-20 words on the blackboard.
  2. Tell them they have one-minute to memorize as many words as they can. After the minute is up, cover the words on the board up.
  3. Ask the students to write down as many words as they can remember in one minute. Offer a prize or reward to the students who remember the most.
  4. As a group, have your students list all the words until all 15-20 words have been named.

5. Vocabulary Speed Demons

Games for ESL Teachers Abroad: Vocabulary Speed Demons

Put your students’ vocabulary skills to the test as you engage them in writing, speaking, and explaining concepts of words.

Why use it? Teach the parts of speech and grammar concepts.

Who it’s best for: High School students

How to Play:

  1. Instruct each students to write out five verbs, nouns, or adjectives.
  2. Collect all the words and put them in a hat.
  3. Divide the class into two teams. Have one student from each team choose a word out of the hat and try to explain the meaning while the other students guess.
  4. Give a point for every word the team guesses in less than 30 seconds.

6. Doctor, Doctor

Getting sick is never fun, but this word game to test medical knowledge and sentence structure will help the day pass quickly for both you and your students.

Why use it? Teach students medical vocabulary.

Who it’s best for: High School students and above

How to Play:

  1. Tell your class you have an illness (i.e. a cough, sore throat, broken foot).
  2. Call on a student to say a way you can relieve this ailment.
  3. Then have this student list an illness and repeat with other students.

7. "Let's Get Ice Cream"

Games for ESL Teachers Abroad: Let's Get Ice Cream

Sadly no actual ice cream is involved in the playing of this game, but it's deliciously fun!

Why use it? This team teaches team work as well as vocabulary.

Who it’s best for: All students

How to Play:

  1. Put students in pairs and write three categories on the blackboard.
  2. Choose a letter of the alphabet and ask students to write a word that starts with this letter for each category.
  3. The first team to finish all three categories must say “Let’s Eat Ice Cream.”
  4. Repeat. You can reward winners with ice cream bars should you choose.

8. Jumping Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes

This song can so easily get stuck in your head, which means it will do the same for your students and help them remember English vocabulary. If your students are feeling jittery have them get up and jump with this simple game so they can better focus.

Why use it? Your students will get jumping and get learning.

Who it’s best for: Elementary School students

How to Play:

  1. Teach your class the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
  2. Lead your students through the song and movements correctly.
  3. Now, lead your students through the song and “make a mistake” such as touching your head when you say toes.
  4. Instruct your students to yell “jump” when you make a mistake and have them jump.

9. Form a Line

Games for ESL Teachers Abroad: Form a Line

Of all the games we listed this one might be the most simple -- who knew your students would be able to learn so much just by forming a line? Oh that’s right... we did!

Why use it? Simplicity in teaching English language concepts.

Who it’s best for: Older Elementary and Middle School students

How to Play:

  1. Have your students stand up and get in a line in the order of their age.
  2. This can be repeated with concepts such as alphabetical order and house number.
  3. Once they’ve formed a line get your students dancing away.

10. Fruit Salad

Fruit salad is yummy -- and makes for a great game that is a twist on musical chairs. Please note the concept of fruit can be switched to another topic should some other theme be the focus of your lessons.

Why use it? An active game that can be centered around themes.

Who it’s best for: Elementary School students

How to Play:

  1. Create fruit flashcards for each student.
  2. Place chairs in a circle. There should be one less chair than students.
  3. The student who doesn’t have a chair should stand in the middle and say the name of one of the fruits.
  4. Students who are holding a card with that fruit must get up and move chairs.
  5. The student in the middle should try to snag an empty chair and a new student can go to the middle.

Games are an incredible tool in helping teach many concepts including the English language. As you teach English abroad, remember that a little fun can go a long way. The more interactive you can make your lessons, the more engaged your students will be and the more eager they'll be to learn!

Lauren Salisbury

A California native, Lauren Salisbury has found the best way to get to know a region of the world is to live there, and with that in mind has worked in four countries, including the United States, Australia, Spain and Costa Rica. Lauren earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and is now living in the Costa Rican rainforest, working as Social Media & Marketing Manager for Outward Bound. Lauren documents her travel adventures on her blog SomethingInHerRamblings.com.

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