For the last 15 months, I've been teaching at a school known for being one of the unruliest (that's putting it nicely) middle schools in the city, thus I now know the true meaning of the word patience, but more importantly... the infinite value of a good game! Many of my students live in public housing, and almost none attend hagwons, so their overall English skill level is pretty low when compared with other schools. Having a good game in your back pocket is an absolute lifesaver - if you have extra time, if the book lesson is just terrible (and it often is), or if you have a surprise free period. For me a good ESL game casts a wide net over all the skill levels (in case a class isn't leveled out), encourages practice of at least two out of the four language skills, and is, of course fun! Extra points if it helps them to get creative and think out of the box.
1. Sleeping Elephants: This is a Powerpoint game I found on waygook.org. To start, divide the class into teams of four. Within each team, give each student a number (1-4). In the presentation, the game is divided into rounds. There are four different slides for each round, and each slide contains one part of a sentence. Teacher tells everyone to, "Go to Sleep," and everyone puts there heads down on the desk. No peeking! Teacher then calls out the numbers in order: "Number Ones Wake Up, etc." With each number called, one student from each team sits up, looks at the board, and memorizes the sentence fragment that is being shown. Once they have memorized their fragment, tell them to sleep again: "Number Ones Go to Sleep". Repeat this process until each group (one through four) knows one piece of the sentence. Once each student has seen their sentence fragment, everyone "wakes up" and then each team tries to piece the sentence together in the correct order. The team that completes the sentence correctly first wins a point.
Why I Like This Game: Anyone can play. Even students who barely know the alphabet can remember a word or two. It can also be easily modified to fit any level - for lower level students use very simple short sentences and allow them to write down each fragment as they go along. For higher levels kids, use more complex sentences and install a penalty system for using a writing utensil before everyone wakes up.
2. Running Sentences: Put a list of 15-20 sentences at various places around the room. The students are put into groups of four. Each group must choose a "writer" and a "runner" to start off. The "runner" runs to one of the papers with the sentences, memorizes as much as they can, and then runs back and relays the sentence to the "writer". Upon completion of each sentence, the team chooses a new "writer" and "runner". This way everyone gets a chance to be involved. The winning team is the one that finishes all of the sentences first.
Why I Like This Game: First, it gets the students up and moving, which is something they don't get to do nearly enough. Second, like Sleeping Elephants it can be easily modified by skill-level. Use longer more complex sentences for higher levels, and shorter simpler sentences for lower levels. Third, it (theoretically) involves all students on the team equally, but sometimes you will have to intervene and tell them to switch off.
3. Three Kingdoms: This is a Powerpoint Game. Split the class into three large "Kingdoms", and then split each "Kingdom" into two smaller teams. Teacher says one sentence out loud from an list of expressions that was prepared ahead of time. The teams must listen to the sentence and race to write it down. The first team to finish writing may attack another team in a different "Kingdom", and the second team to finish gains safety from any attack. If the first and second teams who finish are within the same Kingdom, then that Kingdom may attack anyone with impunity. On the the presentation there is a game map, showing the territories that may be conquered. With each attack, you shade in the territory with the color of the winning Kingdom.
Why I Like This Game: Intermediate and high level students LOVE playing this, meaning that things can get pretty competitive. Also, it's one of the few games I've found that help students to practice listening, over simply reading a question on the board. The only draw-back is that this game won't really work for the lowest levels, as their listening and writing/spelling skills just aren't there yet.
4. Split Sentences: This game works best with compound sentences such as, "I want to... because...", but can be used with almost anything. Essentially, the teacher types out enough sentences for everyone in the class to have three or four and then cuts each of them in half. Distribute the first part of the sentences to one half of the class, and the second to the other half. Then, the students must walk around and try to find the student with the sentence fragment that completes their sentence. When they think they've found eachother, they return to the teacher to check whether or not they are correct.
Why I Like This Game: It is a relatively simple concept but it still forces students to consider the words carefully. Also, it get's everyone out of their seat, moving around, and speaking with other students.
5. Climbing Phrases: This game takes a little more time for explanation than some of the other games on this list, but it's well worth the effort. Choose six expressions, or 6 variations of the same expression and assign a level to each one; for example, "What do you think of this camera? (Level 1), "What do you think of this backpack? "(Level 2), etc. In order to move up a level students must find a different student who is also at their level - Level 1's with Level 1's, Level 2's with Level 2's, etc. Once they have found a student at their level they engage in the dialoge. Student A: What do you think of the camera? Student B: I like it a lot! Then when they are finished with the dialogue they play rock, paper, scissors (or Kai Bai Bo as Korean's call it). The winner of rock, paper, scissors can move up to the next level, and the loser goes all the way back to Level 1. Even if a student is at Level 5, if they lose rock, paper, scissors, it's straight back to Level 1. When they get to the final level, they must complete the dialogue with the teacher and play rock, paper scissors. The same rules apply, if they win rock, paper, scissors with the teacher, they've won the game, but if they lose it's back to Level 1.
Why I Like This Game: It forces students to practice speaking quite a bit (an additional rule is that if you hear Korea they are automatically back to Level 1), and can be modified to fit almost any skill level. Additionally, it gets everyone moving and active, and is a good mix between practicing what they've learned and just having fun. Rock, paper, scissors is a pretty huge thing here and students are pretty hardcore about winning.
I have presentations available for all of these games, so if you would like to use to any of them, or are just looking for some more clarification, please feel free to ask!! When it comes to teaching I've found that sharing really is caring, so I would be more than happy to share the love. You can leave a comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook :) What are you favorite ESL teaching games?
Enjoy the beautiful view!