Creative Back-Up ESL Games

        No prep Games for TESOL Teachers If there’s one thing to be learned in teaching, it is that no matter how thoroughly you plan, the unexpected will always occur. In addition, it could be that the homeroom teacher asks for a last-minute lesson extension. Perhaps your boss forgot to mention the 8:00am kindergarten class.  It could be that your planned lesson took half the time you expected. You could’ve just forgotten your flashcards on your desk. Stressful as this is, it’s much less so if you have a few games in your back pocket to pull out at a moment’s notice – no prep required.

About the author:Rosemary Hanson is a teacher specializing in English and early education, and a graduate from OnTESOL’s 250-hour program. She now teaches English to elementary students in Nagoya, Japan

Fruit Shoot

This game is a more dynamic variation of “categories” that works very well with young/beginner learners. It is easily scalable based on class level. In a very young or very beginner class, use this game to drill individual vocabulary words. The teacher says the target language followed by the name of a student, for example, “An apple – Aria.” Now, Aria must say the vocabulary word and point to a third student, “An apple – Riko.” Once the student says the word and name, they sit down until all the students have had a turn. Students win the game if they are all sitting. If someone makes a mistake, students repeat the activity from the beginning.

         For stronger classes, use this game as a plural/counting exercise: “One apple – Aria.” “Two apples – Riko” “Three apples – Karen” “Four apples – Yuki,” etc. And for older students, the game can be played as a categories variation, with students naming objects in a specific category. For example, “Apple – Aria.” “Banana – Riko” “Pear – Karen” “Peach – Yuki.” If a student falters or repeats, a new category is chosen.

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Games for TESOL TeachersPotato Bug 

 This is a sentence building activity to drill longer grammatical structures. Students sit in a circle and take it in turns saying a single word of the target grammar. For instance, if the target language is, “The cat is on the pumpkin” then the first student in the circle would start with “The”. Then, the second student would say “cat,” and the third student would say “is,” and so on. If any student falters or makes an error, all the students yell “potato bug!” and roll onto their backs wigging their arms and legs in the air like upturned wood lice. This activity is particularly good with grammar patterns that include many small function words.

Rhythm Drilling 

This is a very simple repetitive drill that is particularly useful for very beginner or very young learners who lack confidence in speaking. However, you can use this activity to help stronger students develop a sense of the language rhythm, syllables, and stress. Think of a few rhythmic motions that fit into the grammar pattern. For example, in the sentence “There’s a cockroach in the kitchen,” You can slap your thighs for there’s a and in the, clap your hands for cockroach, and tap your shoulders for kitchen. By adding an element of complex movement into the sentence, the students will be more engaged and focused on the activity. In addition, they are more willing to continue repeating until they have mastered both the movements and the words. You can then speed it up, to give students practice producing language at a more natural speed. And, as you move into substitutions, you can keep certain elements of the physical motions as prompts for the students. 

Recommended Reading:

TESOL Game: Memory Pairs