ESL Games

educational games

You can use a variety of ESL games to breathe new life into your lessons as well as help those children who speak English as a second, or even a third, language improve their skills. While education cannot all be fun and games, you must consider that children with English as a second language have to work twice as hard to understand even the most basic lesson, as they will be mentally translating everything even before they can work on the problem. Language arts games can be a good way to provide a break while helping them to develop their English.


Studies of people learning a foreign language, especially as children, have found that the they will learn how to listen and read the language much quicker than being able speak or write it. If you are faced with a child with little or no English at all, your first efforts should therefore be to find ESL games that focus on their comprehension, such as:

• Simon Says – This traditional game is one of the best ESL games as it is great for listening and following short and simple instructions. You can also use it to introduce common classroom instructions such as sit down, look at me and put your hand up. The short and formulaic sentence structure also makes it a good game to pass the lead over to the student to give them some confidence speaking.

• Treasure Hunt – Start by hiding something of interest in the classroom and assign your children the task of following the clues to find it. You can use verbal, visual or written clues to send them from one place to the other. Remember that you should keep the instructions simple. You can also help by having a picture of the next location next to the written words to help them make associations.

• Bingo –You can make a wide variety of bingo boards to play with depending on what theme of words you want them to learn. Provide each child with a board with a common set of words placed in different positions. Call out the words and the children check off the word on their sheet. The winner is the first person to make a straight line across the board.

educational gamesConstruction

Getting children with ESL to construct language, that is to speak and write it, is much harder as it requires original thought processes as well as the confidence to try things and be wrong. You will find many good ideas simply by putting children in charge of the listed ESL games for comprehension, but if you are looking for some specific language construction games, try:

• Fill the blanks – This combines comprehension with adding new language. You can either present the child with just text with certain words removed, or provide pictures to help them get the gist of the story. They can then either fill in the blanks from their own imagination or you can provide them with a list of appropriate words from which to choose.

• Quick fire match – This is a good game to play in pairs, either pupil-to-pupil or pupil with an adult. You set the goal of the game to be either a word that starts with the same letter or that rhymes. The first person says a word and the second person must respond with a word that fits the goal as quickly as possible.

• Jigsaws –Jigsaws make for great games as they remove the need for language, which can take the pressure off a child allowing them to think more clearly. You can introduce language by asking them questions about the finished picture or by asking them to work in pairs, you will force them to communicate with their partner about where each piece goes.

Language is a cornerstone of communication and teaching a second language has its own challenges. The ESL games transform a potentially difficult task, into a fun and interactive learning activity.

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