Category Archives for "Adult ESL Games & Resources"



This ESL Game is a twist on the classic ESL game Charades.   In Charades, Students act out a word or phrase without speaking while their classmates try to guess what it is.  Charades is a great game for kids. But sometimes in high school and adult classes, charades gets a little uncomfortable.

Hieroglyphics is the perfect solution!

The Details About Hieroglyphics

  • This game works with any class size.
  • It's a great alternative to charades that works very well in high school or adult lessons.
  • The only materials you'll need are a marker and a whiteboard

How To Play

  1. I usually don't even introduce this game.  I find a short phase that uses the lesson's target language and then I write one diagonal dash on the board for each word in the phrase.
  2. Start drawing pictures that represent the first word in your puzzle.  Your students will figure out what you're trying to do almost immediately.
  3. After your class guesses the first word, move on to the second one.
  4. Repeat until your class has solved the puzzle.   After your students solve the puzzle, split them into teams, remove yourself from the game and repeat the activity.
  5. Enjoy!


  1. I works great with any size of class.
  2. There's almost no materials required   
  3. It's just about as simple as a classroom game can get.

The Paper Crane (an exercise in circumlocution)


Making a Paper Crane was probably the first ESL Game (ish) activities I learned as a new teacher living in Japan and it hasn't let me down yet.   This activity is awesome for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, it really causes students to think about what they are saying and find ways to describe things that they aren't used to speaking about.    This activity is also highly adaptable.  You can use it in adult man-to-man lessons, small groups of high school students or with large classes of elementary students.   You just have to be able to gauge your students and make sure the language you're asking for is level appropriate.  

The Details About The Paper Crane

  • This game requires NO PREPARATION.   It's an awesome back up plan to always have in your back pocket.
  • The only materials you'll need are a few pieces of paper and a pair of scissors.
  • This game is highly adaptable but works easiest with higher level students.
  • A game can last between 10  - 30 minutes.  The length of the activity is entirely based on how hard you make it for the students.
  • How To Play

    1. To teach this exercise I find it works best to ask the entire class to each makes a crane.  This just helps them remember the process.  It also kind of puts students on the hook so that they have to speak.  They've shown you that they know how to perform the objective, so they won't be able to back out at a later point.
    2. Then, play stupid (this generally isn't very hard for me).  Say you don't know how to make a crane (or airplane, make coffee, etc) and ask your students how to do it.  They will instinctively try and pick up the paper to show you.  
    3. Simply smile and inform them that they are not allowed to use their hands.  Next, they all gasp in horror when they realise their lesson just got a lot harder.  
    4. When they try to give you directions, it will be very difficult at first.   Depending on your teaching style, your students ability and how much time you have, you adjust how much you're willing to help them.     For example, if a student tells you to "fold the paper" there is many ways you can fold it.  You can fold it in half lengthways, across the middle, make a triangle, etc.  
    5. It's important to let your class struggle a little bit.  If they have difficulty at first the payoff of completing the activity will increase the level of confidence they have in their own English ability by the end of the activity.   It's important you don't let your students struggle too much.  If they think it's impossible, your class will stop paying attention.
    6. At this point, I will usually take a step back and offer the class a few extra words that might help them perform the task e.g. fold, crease, turn over, repeat, etc.  I like to keep the list short just so that they still have searched for the right words.
    7. This ESL game can be as short or as long as you want to make it.  If your students are really advanced don't give them any vocabulary clues. If their lower level students work with them and act like you did it together.  Either way when students finish this activity they always have a real sense of accomplishment.  In reality, I've done this about 20 times already and I still can't figure how to make a paper crane.  

    Have fun i class!

    Fortunately / Unfortunately

    ESL Games FortunatelyUnfortunately simple past

    Fortunately/Unfortunately is an awesome ESL game for teaching the simple past tense.  It requires listening, speaking and a lot of creativity.

    The Details:

    • There are no materials required.
    • You can play with between 2 and 10 participants.
    • A game should take between 5 and 15 minutes depending on your classes size and ability.

    How To use Fortunately/Unfortunately to teach the simple past tense:

    1. Pre-teach the words fortunately and unfortunately.
    2. Divide your class into 2 teams: Optimists & Pessimists.
    3. Tell your team of optimists that it’s their duty to always look on the bright side of things.  They must begin every sentence with the word “fortunately”.
    4. Conversely, your team of pessimists must always see the negative side of every situation.  They have to start every sentence with the word “unfortunately”.
    5. The teacher starts by making a random statement about something that happened earlier in the day, e.g., ” I talked to a famous actor at lunch today”.
    6. Then the optimists must then expand on the story by adding an extra detail about talking to the famous person while using the simple past tense, e.g.,  “fortunately, they looked really cool”.
    7. The pessimists must then add the next link to the story, e.g.,  “unfortunately,  they smelled really bad”.
    8. The process continues until one team cannot think of an appropriate response.  Depending on how the game is going you can either restart the game with a new story or end the activity.

    ESL Games_FortunatelyUnfortunately simple past Here’s an example of Fortunately/Unfortunately that my students used in class (I’ve edited out the mistakes).

    Teacher: I saw Tom Cruz at the lunch today.

    Optimists:  Fortunately, he looked really handsome.

    Pessimists: Unfortunately, he didn’t speak to me.

    Optimists:  Fortunately, he smiled at me.

    Pessimists: Unfortunately, he kicked me in the leg.

    Optimists:  Fortunately, it didn’t hurt.

    This ESL game has little to no structure.  It’s fun, crazy and gets everyone talking while practicing the past tense.


    If you think that this ESL story chain is a great way of teaching the simple past tense you’ll love this game as well.

    1 Rapid Question and Answer

    Rapid Questions & Answers Site Thumb

    One of the hardest things about teaching EFL classes is finding ways to make language drilling and repetition fun.  This classroom game makes drilling a breeze.  Your students will happily practice any target language as many times as you see fit and when your lesson is over, they will beg you to play more.  Sound impossible?  Well then you've never played Rapid Questions and Answers!

    The Details About Rapid Questions & Answers:

    • ​This game combines language review, competition and a time limit.
    • ​It will work with any target language.
    • ​You can easily adjust this game so that it works with students from the ages of 3 to 103!  
    • This game works perfectly as a language review.
    Rapid Questions and Answers Game play - Easy ESL Games


    In this example we are teaching Food as our topic.  And "What's your favorite food?   My Favorite food is ___________" as our Target Language.


    Q - What's your favorite food?

    A - My favorite food is strawberries.​

    A - My favorite food is grapes.​

    A - My favorite food is pizza.​

    Here's How To Play Rapid Questions & Answers

    1. This game is all about repetition.  All you need to do is set up a timer and define an objective.  
    2. In the game Launch Across the objective is to make rows of balls.  Steve made this game all about using the target language.  Each time a student makes a sentence that uses the target language they get to shoot one ball in the hopes of building a line of balls. 
    3. Set the timer for an appropriate time (shorter for younger students longer for older students).  We definitely recommend keeping the time limits to a minute or less.  More than a minute is even hard for a native English speaker!
    4. Show your students the AGO Card you are using and give a few example answers.
    5. Start the timer and let the games begin.
    6. When the timer expires check to see if anyone made a line.  If not, you can either count the balls to see who got the most into the game board or play again.  It's important to remember that you're the teacher.  If you need to adjust the rules, it's okay.
    7. Repeat this process until 2 minutes before it gets boring.  That way your students will want to play again and again.

    Rapid Questions and Answers:

      • ​It's a great way to review any target language.
      • ​It's fast paced  and extremely fun.
      • Your students will LOVE it!

    Have Fun in Class!

    The Super Memory Game

    The Super Memory Game - Easy ESL Games

    This Easy ESL Game comes from Hans. An English School Owner living between Tokyo and Yokohama In Sagamihara Japan. Hans says, he love teaching with Games because they take away the fear of failure and stimulate students to repeat and repeat and to try and try WITHOUT getting bored of frustrated.

    This game is take on concentration he calls the SUPER memory game. It’s a great way to practice a ton of language in a variety of ways.

    The Details About The Super Memory Game:

      • This game is great for 2 or more players and works excellent in 1 on 1 lessons.
      • Materials needed: A total of between 12 and 20 pairs of flashcards
      • A game should take between 5~30 minutes depending on the class size and level.


    In this game players take turns trying to find pairs of vocabulary cards while using the vocabulary item on the card in a full sentence. You can find a link to an in-depth video in the description.

    In the example video below we are teaching time related verb clauses  as our topic. With language expansion being the main focus of the lesson.

    Here's How To Play

    1. Spread the cards face down on the table/desk.

    2. Get 6 to 10 pairs of flash cards (any type will do: food, verbs, things).

    3. Player 1 turns over 1 card and uses the target language.

    4. Player 1 turns over a 2nd card and uses the target language for the 2nd card (target language for the 2nd card depends on whether it's a match or not.

    5. If it's a match, the player gets to keep the cards. If it's not a match, player1 turns over the cards (face down)and it becomes the next player's turn.

    6. The game continues until all cards are gone.

    You can find more information about how to play The Super Memory Game here!

    The Super Memory Game:

    • It's a really easy way to focus on expansion.
    • You can practice a lot of different language points at the same time.
    • It's even fun for the teacher!

    Tic Tac Twist

    Easy ESL Games - Tic Tac Twist

    This game is a great twist on Tic Tac Toe that can work with almost any subject.

    In this example we'll use food as our topic and "What do you like?" "I like bananas." as the language target.


    • 9 different lesson related vocabulary cards
    •  A whiteboard.
    • Magnets.
    • A whiteboard marker.

    How to:

    1) Split your class into two teams.

    2) Pre-teach the vocabulary using the 2-1-0 method.

    3) Draw a nine square tic-tac-toe grid on the whiteboard and place one vocabulary card into each square on the grid.

    Easy ESL Games Tic Tac Toe

    Here's the twist

    4) Have one member from each team come to the front of the classroom and have a "janken battle" (rock-scissors-paper) to see which team gets to choose a square. Instead of saying "rock-scissors-paper", replace it with an easy chant about the lesson's target language. Ex, "What - do you - like?" or "What - do you - want?" Make sure to practice the chant with the class as a whole.

    5) The winning team then picks the square they want by using the correct answer to the question chant. Ex, "What do you like"? -> "I like pizza" or "What do you want"? -> "I want pizza", etc. Remember that its a group game so make sure the entire team agrees on the square selected.

    6) Take down the vocabulary card the team chose and draw an X or an O in the corresponding square just like you would in a game of Tic Tac Toe.

    7) Repeat until one team gets three squares in a row.


    Comparison Chain

    Comparison Chain -site Thumb - Easy ESL Games

    A Comparison Chain is a fun and easy ESL game that will help you teach comparisons in your ESL / EFL classroom. In practice it's a more complicated version of the classic game Shiritori. Where Shiritori is a word chain that connects words based on the last and first letters, this ESL game connects nouns through the usage of comparative adjectives.

    The Details:

    • The only materials required to play this game are a whiteboard, marker and a timer.
    • This game works with students from about the ages of 10 and up. They fairly advanced vocabulary to play.
    • A game can take between 5 and 20 minutes.

    How to use a Comparison Chain:

      1. Brainstorm a list of comparative adjectives. I personally love using an A - Z Race as a fun way to brainstorm.

      2. Write the grammar structure "(noun) s are (adjective) er than (noun) s" on the board.

      3. Pick a topic. E.g., animals.

      4. Fill in the target grammar structure with examples. E.g., "Rabbits are cuter than Donkeys."

      5. Divide your class into teams. And have each team form a circle.

      6. Set a timer for an appropriate amount of time...say 1 minute.

      7. Pick which team goes first.

      8. Pick which student goes first.

      9. When you say “go” the first student must use the target language to make a sentence.  Ex, “Dogs are bigger than cats."

      10. Then the student immediately to beside them has to link to the second noun in student 1’s sentence to form a new sentence of their own.  Cats are smarter than birds.

        ESL Games - Comparison Chain how to
      11. Continue around the circle until the timer expires.The most important rule is that in this game is that, students can not reuse any comparative adjectives or nouns (except when linking).

      12. Add up the the number of links the team made that’s their score.  Reset the timer and change the topic of the nouns to (food) and repeat the process with the second team.

      13. When the timer expires, the team with the most links in their comparison chain wins!

    Comparison Chain

    • There are no materials required.
    • It’s a team game.
    • And there is lot’s of relevant target language repetition disguised as a game.


    Vocabulary Xs and Os

    Vocabulary Xs and Os thumb

    This super simple game submission comes from David Robinson.  David is a tesol and tefl certified teacher from Toronto, Canada that is currently living in Beijing.  David teaches students from the ages of 4 to 85. He has worked in a variety of places including government schools, English training centers, corporate boardrooms, universities and even his own V.I.P. classes.

    David uses this this version of the game tic tac toe with all of his classes and it’s a hit everytime. Not only is it a great way to review the lesson vocabulary and check grammar, the strategy brings out the competitive nature in each and every student.

    The Details About Vocabulary Xs and Os:

    • ​The objective of the game is the same as Tic-Tac-Toe.  Teams must get three X’s or O’s in a row. Rows can be horizontal, diagonal or vertical.
    • ​This game is good for shy or low level learners because teammates are allowed to collaborate on their group's answer.
    • This game can easily be adapted to almost any level​ of classroom simply by changing the vocabulary and or language target.
    • Games can last from about 30 seconds to 15 minutes depending on class size and difficulty.

    Here's How To Play Vocabulary Xs and Os

    1. ​Draw a large 9 square grid on the blackboard.
    2. Write a keyword from your lesson in each of the nine squares.
    3. Divide your class into two teams:  Xs and Os.
    4. Teams take turns using one word from the grid in grammatically correct sentences.  If a team uses the sentence correctly they capture the square and mark it with their teams symbol (X or O).  If not, they lose their turn to play.
    5. If a team makes an error, correct the issue and explore it in more detail if necessary.
    6. Repeat until on team wins by capturing 3 squares in a row.
    7. In this game ties are not ideal but they are sometimes unavoidable.

    Here's A Few Extra Rules For Playing: 

    • Students are allowed to use their course materials but they are not allowed to read directly from their text books.
    • Students must begin to formulate their answers within 10 seconds.  Otherwise students will be too reliant on written materials.
    • When a student makes an error you should review it with the class.  The only student allowed to use the corrected statement is the same student that originally made the mistake.

    Vocabulary Xs and Os:

      • ​It uses teamwork.
      • It reinforces grammar.
      • It involves strategy.


    ESL GAMES #62 -telling time8

    Routines is a simple ESL game that requires almost no set up and is an extremely effective way to teach phrasal verbs and time related vocabulary.


    The Details about Routines:

    • The only materials required are a deck of playing cards plus a pencil and a piece of paper to keep score.
    • This game is ideal for a small class of either 2 or 4 students.  If you have a larger class simply divide your class into groups or pairs.
    • I love this game because it uses so much concentration students forget the amount of target language repetition involved.

    The target language is (person) (verb + noun) at (number on the card) o’clock.  E.g. “I watch T.V. at 9 o’clock.” “She goes to school at 7 o’clock”.



    How To Play Routines:

    1.  Introduce the target language.  In this example I’ll be using routines and time.
    2. Take the 1 – 9 card out of a regular deck of playing cards.ESL GAMES #62 -1
    3. Shuffle the cards and lay them face down on the table in a 3 x 3 grid.ESL GAMES #62 -4
    4. Player one turns over any card and uses the number on the card to make a sentence using the target language. E.g. “I go to school at 3 o’clock.”  From now on that card is the first card in the routine.
      ESL GAMES #62 -telling time

      I go to school at 3 o’clock.

    5. Player one is then awarded 1 point because they turned over one card and used the sentence correctly.
    6. Turn the 3 card back over so that all of the cards are face down once again.ESL GAMES #62 -telling time7
    7. Player two must then turn over the same card player one tuned over and repeat player one’s sentence.  In this example it was the number 3 card and the sentence was “I go to school at 3 o’clock.” Next, Player two must then turn over a second card and make a new sentence using the number on the card as the time. E.g. “I wake up at 8 o’clock.
      ESL GAMES #62 -telling time8

      “I go to school at 3 o’clock. I wake up at 8 o’clock.”

    8. Player 2 is then awarded two points because they used the target language correctly for the first and second card.
    9. Now player one has to turn over the the first and second cards in order and use the target language correctly before turning over the third card (they can choose any card that hasn’t been turned over yet) . E.g. I go to school at 3 o’clock. I wake up at 8 o’clock. I eat dinner at 6 o’clock.
      ESL GAMES #62 -telling time9

      “I go to school at 3 o’clock. I wake up at 8 o’clock. I eat dinner at 6 o’clock.”

    10. Repeat the process using one extra card every time until either one player turns over a card out of order or forgets the correct sentence.
    11. If a player makes a mistake they forfeit their turn and the competing player gets another turn.
    12. Once all nine cards are turned over in order while using the correct target language: it’s time to tally the points.  The player with the most points is the winner.


    This game is great in both adult and high school level classes.  Students realize that there is a lot or repetition of the target language however the difficulty of the game ensures everyone still has a great time.


    You can easily adapt this game to work with almost any target language.  Here are a few suggestions:

    • Teach singular vs plural with “I have (number) dogs.”
    • Teach food + countable non-countable  with “I want 3 hamburgers”, “I want nine plates of pasta”, etc
    • Write a list of verbs, nouns or adjectives that correspond to the numbers 1 – 9.  If number 1 on the list = the verb “play”, the student must use the verb “play” in a sentence when the 1 card is flipped over.   
    • Teach want vs have with “I want 3 cars”, “I have 6 brothers”.


    I love using this game because it’s easy to set up, effective and lots of fun.  Give it a try in your next ESL class and let us know how it goes.



    Ask the Expert

    Ask the

    Ask the “Expert” is a game for higher level  ESL students.  It requires an ability to think on your feet, the confidence to speak about almost any topic (no matter how unqualified you are) and most of all, players need the ability to lie.


    Here are the details about Ask the “Expert”:

    • Each round of this game lasts a minute or two.  I suggest playing between 5 or 10 rounds for a total of 20 to 25 minutes.
    • For larger classes it’s always fun to break students into smaller classes so that everyone gets a lot of talking time.
    • There is no preparation required.  
    • The only materials you’ll need are a timer, a die, some “Experts” and a suspicious audience.




    The object of this game is for the “Experts” to last a full two minutes without being caught in a lie.

    The only rule is that the Expert can never say “I don’t know?”.  They have to try and speak convincingly about a topic until the 2 minute timer expires.


    Here’s how to play Ask The “Expert”:

    1. Brainstorm a list of random topics and write them down.
    2. Cut the topic sheet up and put all of the topics into a hat.  
    3. Split your class into teams.
    4. Pick which team goes first and have that team Select their first “Expert”.   
    5. (It’s always best to use a stronger student as an example.)
    6. Have the first expert pick a topic out of the hat.
    7. Set a timer for 2 minutes and press “start”.
    8. The Expert starts by introducing themselves.
      •  “Hello I’m _______ and I’m an expert in _______”.Ask the "Expert"
    9. The audience has to attempt to catch the “Expert” in a lie by asking as many topic related questions as possible.   **For very advanced students this is an opportunity to teach about binding questions.**
    10. If an audience member accuses the “Expert” of lying when they are telling truth the audience member can no longer ask questions.Ask the "Expert"
    11. If an audience member catches the “Expert” in a lie, stop the timer and record how much time was left.
    12. Switch teams and repeat the game until just before it gets boring.
    13. Tally up the remaining time totals.
    14. The team with the lowest total wins.


    Ask the “Expert”:

    • It’s A great game for high level ESL students.
    • It requires almost no preparation.
    • It’s tons of fun.


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