ESL games and activities are a necessity and all of these games and activities are especially effective for teaching English in the classroom. Not only are these activities fun, but they are educational and efficient. Most of them also require very little to no prep.

You'll certainly find more games and activities on the site that are effective as well, but if you're just starting out as a TEFL/TESL teacher then these are great games and activities to learn.

All of the games and activities are labeled for the appropriate age and level. And they are divided into separate categories like:

  • warm-up & icebreakers
  • vocabulary games
  • sentences & Q&A games
  • phonics activities
  • passive activities
  • miscellaneous activities

Follow the links below to read the rest and/or watch them on video.

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Warm-up Activities & Icebreakers

These work well for warming up your class or icebreakers can be used on the first day.

ESL students in Korea doing an icebreaker

1. Line up

This icebreaker works well with children and adults. It is one of the more popular videos on Youtube as well for icebreakers.

  • Come up with three questions (perhaps two basic questions and one more interesting question)
  • Write your questions on the board
  • Separate your students into two lines facing each other
  • Learn more

2. Word Chain

This warm-up activity works well with children. In my years teaching abroad it is probably the activity I used the most for warm up. Who doesn't like tossing a ball around?

  • Get a ball or a soft die
  • Have your students stand
  • Pass the ball to a student and give them a letter ("T")
  • Learn more

3. Categramble

This can work well as an icebreaker or as a warm up activity. It tends to work well with intermediate to higher level students. Come up with a list of different ways of grouping people together. You can really come up with some odd things that most people never think about. It's interesting!

Have your class stand and gather around an open area on the floor. Here are some ideas for grouping your students together:

  • clasp your hands together
  • cross your arms
  • what leg do you put in first when putting your pants on
  • Learn more

4. Teacher Says

Teacher Says is a popular activity for kindergarten and early elementary students. It is also the most popular video about games and activities that I have on Youtube. I think the cute kids might have something to do with it.

It can be used for warm-up, to teach body parts, or actions like walk, stand, sit, open your book, etc. You need to create a list of commands or actions and then:

  1. Have your students stand up
  2. Say "Teacher says _____ (command)" or "_____ (command)"
  3. Learn more

Vocabulary Games & Activities

These games and activities work well when teaching vocabulary and phrases.

5. Sprite

This is a simple, fun and educational activity that works well with beginners+. It is for practicing vocabulary. In it students get to practice speaking, writing and listening.

  • Divide your class into two teams. For large classes you can have more teams, but you probably do not want any more than 4 or 5 groups as students will need to write on the board next to one another.
  • Say a vocab word from your lesson
  • Learn more

6. Pass the Marker

This is a very efficient vocabulary activity where students get to also practice, speaking, writing, and listening. This activity works well with beginners-advanced students and it can work well with large classes as well.

  • Divide your class into two teams and into two lines standing facing the board
  • Hand a marker to each student at the front of the line
  • Say a vocab word from your lesson and say "Go"
  • Learn more

7. Charades

Charades is popular and it can work with most levels of students. It is a miming activity. Action words and phrases work best.

  • Pick a word or phrase, for example, "play basketball"
  • Pretend to play basketball without speaking
  • Learn more

Activities for Teaching Sentences & Q&A

These games and activities work well when you are teaching sentences and Q&A.

8. Paper, Scissors, Stone!

This is a simple, fun and an efficient tool for doing some repetition to practice proper pronunciation and speaking in sentences. It requires no prep. It works well with children who are at the beginner-intermediate level.

  • Divide your class into two teams.
  • Write on the board +or-1/+or-5/+or-10
  • Use a Q&A from your lesson/textbook, like, "Who is he? He is a firefighter."
  • Learn more
ESL students doing an activity

9. Make a Sentence

This activity for forming and speaking in sentences works well with groups and large classes. It works with beginners-advanced students. It does take some time to prepare, but you will find that it's especially engaging.

  • Take a bunch of A4 paper and cut it up into fourths or eighths
  • You'll need a set for each group in your class. Each group should be no more than five people.
  • Use a basic sentence from your lesson with different possibilities. For example, "She/He _____ (hobby) on Fridays." The hobby could be like "plays basketball, plays the piano, rides a bike, etc.". You'll need to write only one word from each sentence on a piece of paper. So the basic sentence structure plus the different hobbies.
  • Learn more

10. Pass & Ask

This is another simple activity that uses a ball. It's fun, efficient and engaging.

To do this:

  • Get a ball or a soft die
  • Use questions from your ESL lesson
  • Have your students stand
  • Learn more

Misc. Games & Activities

These are odds and ends activities. They include writing, spelling, and other free time filler activities.

11. Comics I

I found this writing activity to work well with adolescents and intermediates+ as they get to write it as they see it. Writing comics from scratch is another option, but I found that it didn't work well with all students. This one is more simple.

  • Find a comic strip and photocopy it
  • Whiteout the text in it
  • Copy it again
  • Learn more

Passive Activities

Passive activities are often individualized activities where the student get to mostly work by him/herself.

12. Essay Writing

They're also good for the teacher because they tend to bring quiet time to the classroom! It is a writing and drawing activity.

There are a few ways that you can do this activity. The first and simplest way is to create a list of questions and have your students answer them.

I like to create a piece of paper with a space on top to draw and lines below where they can write. Here are some example questions. You can adjust these to suit their level or age.

  • What's your name?
  • How old are you?
  • What school do you go to?
  • What grade are you in?
  • Learn more

Phonics Activities

These activities work well for when you are teaching phonics.

13. Tongue Twisters

These are a great way to practice pronunciation, difficult sounds like L's and R's and to have fun. They can work well with children and adults.

Many student books for teaching phonics will have tongue twisters already in them. However, they can be easy to make on your own.

  • Create 3 different tongue twisters using whatever phonics you are teaching them on that day.
  • Write them on the board.
  • Learn more

Other helpful resources

  1. ESLinsider's online TEFL courses.

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