Category Archives for "High School ESL Games & Resources"

Criss Cross

How to practice asking Questions with the ESL Game Criss Cross

How to teach answering questions with Criss Cross

Answering questions can be extremely difficult for language learners. Especially if their entire class is watching them. It is our opinion, that difficult does not mean impossible and if you do not require your students to stand up and talk in front of all of their classmates, you are doing them a disservice.

We love the game Criss Cross because it's a fun warm-up that requires participation from everyone in the class and focuses on a common objective (sitting down). If executed properly your students will be cheering each other on as everyone works together to achieve their common goal.

The Details About Criss Cross

  • This is a game for big classes. 
  • Criss cross works best for junior high school and high school students.
  • It works great as an icebreaker.
  • You don’t need anything to play Criss cross.

How To Play Criss Cross:

  1. Before the class, make a list of questions you think the students can answer. They can be about a topic you’re studying or a general English review. 
  2. To play Criss cross, you need to make sure the desks or students are lined up in rows. 
  3. Get all the students to stand up.   
  4. If they’re sleepy or not very enthusiastic, you could make them do some jumping jacks, or something.
  5. The aim of the game is to have the whole class sitting down.
  6. Ask a question.
  7. Any student can raise their hand to answer the question. If they answer correctly, they have 3 choices. They can choose "up and down", or "left and right". If they choose up and down, they and all the students in front and behind them sit down. If they choose left and right, then they and all the students on their left and right sit down.
  8. The last choice is "just me". That means, only they sit down.
  9. The last row standing has to choose just me.
  10. This is great because kids who are quiet or less enthusiastic, may have to stand up the longest, and answer a question in front of the whole class.
  11. You can use a timer to make the game more exciting.
  12.  Sometimes the choosing can cause problems, so be prepared to choose for them or choose randomly.

Criss Cross

  • It’s a perfect warmer for students in a large class. 
  • It’s excellent for practicing questions and answers.
  • It encourages everyone to play.

If you liked this ESL Game for High School classes you might also enjoy some of these classroom favorites!

Have fun in class!

A Relay Race

How to use a relay race in your EFL classroom - Thumb
A Relay Race is a fun game that gets your whole ESL / EFL class using new vocabulary and language targets quickly.  By emphasizing cooperation and more importantly fun, a Relay Race is all but guaranteed to be a class favorite.

The Details:

  • The only materials you'll need are a few vocabulary cards.  Pretty much any topic will work.
  • A Relay Race works best with a larger class. Ideally 20 - 30 students.
  • Depending on how many variations of the game are used, it should take between 5 and 10 minutes to set up and execute this ESL game.


How to:

  1. Introduce your lessons target language.  E.g. "I like cookies".
  2. Divide your class into equal teams.
  3. Have each team form a straight line.  Students should be standing about an arm's length away from each other.
  4. Give the first student in each line a vocabulary card.  Students will have to pass the vocabulary card to the next student in the line while using the target language.
  5. The first team to pass the card from the front of the line to the back of the while making sure each student uses the target language wins.Repeat steps 4 and 5 several times while increasing the complexity of the game.


If you want to make the game more difficult you can add personalization, questions, and answers ("What do you like?", "I like cookies".), more complex language targets, etc.


If you like Relay Race you'll also love this other Easy ESL Game.  We call it Watermelon Race.






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!

    Listen and Draw

    Listen and Draw - Easy ESL Games Thumb (1)
    This Game is one of the first games I ever used in class.  It builds on one of our first activities, the  Preposition Chant.  The Preposition Chant helps students learn 7 basic prepositions quickly by using a total physical response method for language learning. 

    The only materials required to play Listen and Draw are a pencil and paper. A stuffed animal doesn’t hurt either.

    Heres the "Set Up":

    After your class has learned the 7 basic prepositions (on, in, under, next to, between, in front and behind) by using the Preposition Chant they are ready to test out their new English.

    Start by writing the sentence: “The dog is on the car” on the whiteboard in your classroom.

    At this point, I usually pick up a prop (toy dog)  move it around to see if the class can use the sentence.  If you don’t have any toys it’s no problem you can use literally anything as a replacement.

    Start by putting the dog on the desk and say “The dog is on the desk.” Next, move the toy dog under the desk and wait for the class to say “The dog is under the desk.”  Repeat this several times until you are confident that your ESL students have grasped the target language.  

    You can also draw an object on the whiteboard, a car for example and move the toy around that image.

       Heres How to Play:

    1. Have your students take out a piece of paper and ask them to draw a fishbowl in the middle of the page.
    2. Then, tell your ESL class that “the fishbowl is on a table.
    3. Next, instruct your students to draw “the table is between two chairs.”
    4. Next, ask the class to draw “the cat is under the table.”
    5. Then, say “a cup is in front of the fishbowl.“
    6. Finally, tell your  students that “a panda is behind  everything.”

    Listen And Draw Full Pic - Easy ESL Games

    Once your class has completed the activity invite students to come to the front of the class and draw the various pictures and prepositions on the whiteboard.

    Obviously, all of the pictures are interchangeable.  If you know your students love Mickey Mouse, by all means, make sure to include him.

    *To keep Listen and Draw to 15 minute maximum time, I like to set a 30 second timer for each new picture the students draw.  Otherwise, this ESL / EFL game can end up taking a really long time to execute.


    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!

    1 Pictionary

    This is a really fun game that sure to be a hit. You might know it as Pictionary, or Listen and Draw. It's great for vocabulary review and question and answer practice. A game usually lasts between 15 and 20 minutes.

    The Details About Pictionary:

    • ​You can use it to practice almost any vocabulary item.
    • The materials you'll need are a whiteboard, a few markers and some vocabulary cards or realia.  
    • ​A game usually lasts between 10 and 20 minutes depending on class size.
    How to play Pictionary in your EFL Classroom - Easy ESL Games 1

    In this example we are teaching THINGS as our topic.  "Is it a bear?" is our Target Language.


    • ​Is it a  vampire watermelon?

    Here's How To Play Pictionary

    1. ​Split your class into teams.
    2. If possible set up two whiteboards facing in opposite directions like in the picture below.  This game works best if the  players can only see their teams drawings.
    3. Stand as far away from the whiteboards as possible so that your students will have to run to you find out which picture they'll be drawing.
    4. Pick one player per team to go first.  Give those students markers.  
    5. When you say go the students that are holding markers will have to run across the room from their whiteboards all the way to the teacher.  The teacher secretly shows those students a vocabulary card.  
    6. Then the students run back to their team's whiteboard and attempt to draw the picture from the vocabulary card.
    7. The students that are drawing are not allowed to talk!
    8. All of the other players have to try and guess what their team mate is drawing and then connect it with the lesson's language target.
    9. The first team that correctly guesses the vocabulary item and uses it in the correct sentence wins the round.
    10. Repeat until just before the game gets boring.

    How to play Pictionary in your EFL Classroom - Easy ESL Games


    • It has lots of question practice.
    • It's a great vocabulary review. 
    • It's really fun.

    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.


    1 2 3 7