Future progressive, the second conditional, phrasal verbs. You have to sit your class down and teach these things at some point. But sometimes kids just need a break from formally learning English so they can have fun actually using English. Games keep classes excited about what they are learning, and can trick students into speaking before they realize that they really can. Based on a semester of trial-and-error with games in a different school each week – here are four fan favorites from my students of all ages and abilities. Each game can be used to enforce new vocabulary or concepts taught in previous classes, and I guarantee you will be able to use them as good-behavior bribes once students try them. Most importantly, they require little before-class preparation and only basic classroom materials (and a deck of cards). So play away! I wish I’d had this list my first day.
This game requires some physical activity and usually energizes even the most subdued students. You’ve been warned. To begin, create a large space in the middle of the room. If necessary, have students push desks or tables against the walls. Then have all of the students bring their chairs and form a circle in the open space. You will not need a chair for yourself because there should always be one less chair than there are participants. Have each student sit in his or her seat while you take your place standing in the middle of the circle. Start a sentence with “Stand up if you’re wearing…” and finish it with something that applies to several of the students, such as blue jeans or the color orange. Any students who fit your description must stand up and take (read: run to) a new seat, but never one that is directly on either side of them. The person in the center of the circle (in this case, you) must also hurry to find a seat. The last person standing takes over the position in the center of the circle and makes a statement of their own.
While this game sounds very simple, students go absolutely crazy for it. There is competition and movement, so it keeps everyone engaged. It is a great way to review vocabulary and it doesn’t need to be limited to just clothes. You can also have students use “Stand up if you have…” or “Stand up if you like…” The possibilities are endless.
You can squeeze a lot of entertainment out of a little deck of cards with this game. Start by arranging the students in a circle. Stand in the middle of the circle with the deck of cards. Pick two students to begin with, approach them and flip over the top card so they can both see. The students must come up with a word that begins with the same letter as the first letter of the card. For example, if the card is a five, five begins with f. Therefore, the first student to say a word that begins with an f, such as father, gets to keep the card and move on. He or she will then face the next student in the circle. The student will continue to move around the circle and collect cards until another student defeats them. Then, the winning student will move on and the defeated student will stay in the same spot in the circle until the teacher and the deck cards come back around. It should be noted that once a word is said, a student should write it on the board and it may not be used again during the rest of the game. Also no numbers, proper names or the name of the card may be used. For example 30 is not allowed for three and queen does not count for the queen card. The student with the most cards when the teacher runs out is the winner. I prefer to make it dramatic and have students with less than two cards sit down, then less than five, etc. until only the final student is standing.
If the students prefer team games, divide the class into two groups. Write each teams’ name on the board and number from one to 30, or whatever your desired number may be beneath it. Have both teams form their own line so that one member from each will approach you at a time in order to face off for a card. Whichever student wins a particular card goes to the board and writes their word next to a number rather than keeping the card. Whichever team gets to 30 first wins the game. Playing this way will keep weaker students who may not normally win any cards involved.
Gender-Specific Pronouns Duck, Duck, Goose
Ok, so the name sounds scary, but this is really a simple game that helps beginner students with the common mistake of mixing up he and she, or him and her.
Start by having the students sit in a circle on the floor. (You could also use a circle of chairs, but that can become somewhat dangerous when the game picks up speed.) For very young children, you can start by explaining and demonstrating basic duck, duck, goose rules and giving them a few rounds to practice. Then add the pronouns. The game is similar, but instead of duck, duck, goose, students will use he and she, him and her, or his and hers. Depending on which set you use, the student who is “it” will go around the circle tapping heads and saying the appropriate pronoun (he for boys, she for girls, etc). When the student uses the wrong pronoun (for example, tapping a boy on the head and saying she), the chase begins and the student must beat the classmate he or she selected back to their spot without being tagged. Of course, if they are tagged, they will be “it” again.
The most entertaining part of this game happens when students mix up he and she without realizing it, which will happen a lot at first. You will definitely notice students using these pronouns much more confidently and correctly after 30 minutes or so of this game.
This game is versatile and will work with beginners or the most advanced students. Have each of your students write down the name of someone famous – someone everyone in the class would be familiar with – on a small strip of paper. Collect the names and mix them up in a bag or hat. (Note: you may want to mix in a few ideas of your own if you don’t want to have Justin Bieber or Rihanna as the answer 80% of the time.) One at a time the students will come up and pick a strip of paper. The student may not look and must exit the classroom so you can show the other students the chosen person. After returning, he or she then has 20 chances to ask yes or no questions to determine which famous person he or she is supposed to be. If the student guesses correctly before the 20 questions are up, or with a final guess after the 20th question, he or she has beaten the game. After all of the students have had a turn – or all who want to – have your class come up with another person for you to guess. This will reignite the excitement for the game all over again.
If the students are too young to care about celebrities or have a limited vocabulary, you can play the game with any type of noun. With younger children it may be better to write out animal names yourself and have the students chose from those. You can also go over vocabulary that will help them to form questions before introducing the game.