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English classroom games for beginners

Jun 10, 2018

I saved the best for last. My students requested this game more often than any other game we ever played. It's based on the old drinking game "Ring of Fire," modified for the classroom.

Materials needed:
A standard deck of playing cards, a whiteboard, 20-30 small slips of blank paper, and a bowl.

The setup:
Almost none! Place the bowl in the center of a table and spread the cards out, face down, in a circle around the bowl. On the whiteboard (or on a photocopied handout if a whiteboard isn't available) list the 12 cards (ace to king) and the actions associated with each card. (For more on what exactly those actions are, see below.)

The activity:
Before you start the game, hand every student two small slips of paper. Instruct them to write down two questions and to keep them secret! When they are finished, they need to fold up the papers and place them in the bowl on the table.

The students will take turns pulling a card. When it's their turn, they choose one and hold it up so the whole class can see it. Now here's the fun part. They must perform the action associated with that card, whatever it is!

Here are the actions I assign to cards and the penalties involved:

K: Ask anyone. (The person who draws the king must pull a random question from the bowl and pose it to any of their classmates.)

Q: Ask a girl. (Same as above, but the classmate must be a girl.)

J: Ask a boy. (Ditto, but a boy this time.)

10: Ask your teacher! (This is dangerous! They love it of course, but once they catch on to the game, they will start slipping dangerous questions in there, hoping to catch you, i.e. which student in the class do you think is the most attractive?)

9: Bunny ears! (Everyone must make bunny ears with their fingers. The last person to do so must select and answer a question.)

8: Words. (You choose a topic: The students must go in a circle naming new vocabulary for that topic. The first one who can't say a new word has to answer a question. For example: For the topic of fruit... Apple! Banana! Orange! Carrot! Oops! The person who said "carrot" has to answer a question!)

7: Pick again.

6: Touch your nose! (Like bunny ears, except students must now touch their noses with both fingers to avoid answering the question.)

5: Answer one question.

4: Ask the person on your left.

3: Ask the person on your right.

2: Answer two questions. (Ouch! The person who picked this has to answer two questions in front of the class.)

A: Free card. (The student got lucky; she doesn't have to ask or answer any questions.)

Note: This is just an example of a setup I use for intermediate university level classes. You can adjust the actions and penalties however you want to suit the topic or grammar point you would like to work on. Students love this game: They get to talk and act silly, and the suspense of waiting to see which card will be picked is really intense!

    English language learners fall into two categories — native speakers and those pursuing it via ESL/EFL instruction (or self-instruction!). But both demographics can build up their skills, no matter their age or proficiency, through game-based learning. The Internet, in its infinite providence, does not disappoint when it comes to hosting effective resources for teaching and reviewing the core components of the English language. Here’s a few particularly useful games or, more accurately in most cases, suites of games.

  1. GameZone:

    Dozens of simple, straightforward games about grammar, spelling, and vocabulary reach out to English language learners at all levels. Keep in mind, however, that this site is based in the U.K. and follows a different set of linguistic rules than American English.

  2. Vocabulary.co.il:

    This series of vocabulary and games runs the gamut from elementary to high school levels of proficiency. Each is recommended for both native speakers as well as students learning English as a second or third (or more) language.

  3. Power Words:

    PBS’ WordGirl and her simian sidekick Captain Huggy Face do battle against Fair City’s most sinister citizens, but it’s up to players to determine the course of the action. Picking the wrong words means letting the villains follow through with their sneaky plots.

  4. LearnEnglish Kids:

    The British Council presents a suite of super cool games covering different elements of the English language. Best of all, they encourage collaborative play between friends and siblings, particularly hoping older kids will guide younger ones in their studies.

  5. Funbrain Words:

    Funbrain Words’ games and activities are meant to be enjoyed between children and their parents or teachers rather than alone. Here, they practice their spelling, grammar, and vocabulary skills and can even learn the alphabet in American Sign Language.

  6. Vocabulary at ManyThings.org:

    Adult ESL and EFL learners sharpen their skills through the usual (but effective!) word scrambles, hangman, and other challenges frequently wielded in the classroom. Teachers especially need to point their older students here for a great supplement to formal lessons.

  7. ESL Fun Games Online:

    Appropriate for all ages and skill levels, this site also provides printable games for classroom use, as well as ways to develop acumen in other academic subjects. With so many engaging activities regarding spelling, vocabulary, and grammar to choose from, any learners are likely to find something viable here.

  8. Dora’s Alphabet Forest Adventure:

    Beloved children’s television icon Dora the Explorer introduces preschool-age children to the very basics of the English alphabet. Both ESL/EFL and native speakers benefit from leading her through a tropical setting and picking up information about all the letters they’ll need to know.

  9. EnglishClub ESL Games:

    EnglishClub’s massive suite of ESL games work on honing pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary through familiar activities, like hangman and word jumbles. Older students and adults in particular will find these incredible useful supplements to their classroom lessons.

  10. Spelling & Word Relationships at Academic Skill Builders:

    Get younger kids learning proper spelling as well as how vocabulary words fit together with one another through exciting arcade-style games. Featuring aliens, fast cars, and animals, students probably won’t complain too much about these engaging animated activities!

  11. Lord of the Flies:

    Ideal for the advanced ESL/EFL student already applying his or her English abilities to its literary canon, this game comes courtesy of the Nobel Prize and promotes its Literature award. Players relive the scenarios outlined in William Golding’s scorching allegorical novel and pick up on its myriad nuances.

  12. Word Games at Games for the Brain:

    Whether an ESL/EFL adult wanting some help in classes or a native speaker just looking to build on what’s already there, this set of eclectic word games might prove invigorating. Most of them involve spelling and vocabulary, though the site does boast some great exercises in speed reading and speed typing.

  13. Building Language for Literacy:

    Scholastic’s series of three pre-K through kindergarten activities cover different skills necessary to succeed in literacy and reading comprehension. Gentle animal pals guide ESL and native speakers of the appropriate age through naming, rhyming, and letter-matching games.

  14. Grammar Ninja:

    As kids level up, they learn more and more parts of speech in order to save a threatened dojo. Throwing a star at the wrong word and everything explodes, which is actually pretty fun, even for adults.

  15. Word Games at Merriam-Webster:

    Classics like Scrabble, jumbles, word searches, and crossword puzzles are absolutely perfect for adult ESL/EFL learners or native speakers wanting to build their vocabularies. But Merriam-Webster also hosts a slew of other interactive games meant to nurture literacy at the high school and college levels.

  16. Language Arts Games at Mr. Nussbaum:

    The Mr. Nussbaum suite of educational games provide spelling, vocabulary, storytelling, and other necessary language arts skills for a wide range of age and skill levels. Right now, the featured game, Spellerz, teaches vocabulary words (and how to spell them!) to first through seventh graders in an alien-fighting challenge.

  17. Word Games at Pogo.com:

    Another great stop for high school and adult learners, packed with new twists on familiar names like Boggle and Scrabble as well as more obscure selections. Some even involve multiplayer mode for competing against friends and users from around the world.

  18. Tracy Boyd’s Quia:

    This speech pathologist has developed more than 50 games involving speech and sequencing, with plenty to engage many different types of learners. Some activities even pull inspiration from popular favorites like Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.

  19. Grammar Practice Park:

    Harcourt offers a great selection of grammar grades for third through fifth graders, appropriate for students learning English as a first, second, or tertiary language. Lessons mainly focus on parts of speech and sentence structures, with a few other relevant subjects thrown into the mix.

  20. Literacy at BBC Schools:

    Choose an age range — 4 to 7 or 7 to 11 — and play appropriate games based on grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and other necessary reading skills. As with most of the kid-friendly games listed here, these work great for students from both ESL/EFL and native speaking backgrounds.

  21. Reading Ring:

    Part of the Professor Garfield initiative, this boxing-themed game scrambles comic panels that need to be swapped back in order. For young students needing to learn about sequence in storytelling, it proves a fun little pastime with some familiar faces.

  22. ABC Order:

    Younger learners who already know the alphabet can hop aboard this train and exercise their ability to put the letters in their correct order. It’s a simple and straightforward lesson in alphabetical order that can really lay the foundation for strong literacy and organization skills later in life.

  23. Language Arts at iKnowthat.com:

    Whether looking for kid-friendly games about vocabulary, spelling, storytelling, or similar language arts subjects, iKnowthat.com has parents, teachers, and students covered. The site even provides printable worksheets for offline learning opportunities and supplements.

  24. Power Proofreading:

    Suitable for kindergartners through fifth graders, Houghton-Mifflin’s Power Proofreading challenges them to apply their knowledge of spelling and grammar to a basic editing situation. Not only does this assist in furthering their core language abilities, it bolsters reading comprehension as well.

  25. The ABC’s Zoo Learning Game:

    Fisher-Price presents a simple game blending ABCs and animals for tiny little language learners needing to learn the basic building blocks of English. As with many games aimed at the youngest audience listed here, this works just fine for toddlers picking up English as a primary or foreign tongue.

Download Desktop Games

You can download this site's content to use on your computer without internet connection. Or you can put these games on your students' computers in a classroom.

The following 10 links are for games made in HTML5 and Javascript. They were converted to run on the desktop using software called Electron. It's possible that they may run slow or lag. If this is a problem, then you may try the 64 bit versions, or just stick to the Flash versions (see below). Please tell me if there are any problems or if you think they are too slow.

Click on the link or right click and select "save target as" or "save link as".

The files are in .rar format, you need to have WinRAR to extract them. WinRAR

Please email me if these are slow or crash

Fast English learning English Game Fast English - Learn English vocabulary items in a fun way

Fast Phrases learning English Game Fast Phrases - Make sentences in English

Falling English learning English Game Fast Falling - Arrange phrases to match the images

Hangman learning English Game Hangman - Spell words against the man

Bubbles learning English Game Bubbles English - Practice making English sentences

Spelling Bee learning English Game Spelling Bee - Spell vocabulary items in a fun way

Animal Mystery learning English Game Animal Mystery - Practice making questions in English

Concentration learning English Game Concentration - Match English words and pictures

Describer learning English Game Describer English - Read descriptions and match the image

Phrase Maker learning English Game Phrase Maker - Learn English phrases

The following links are for games made using Flash. They should be quicker and more compact than the HTML versions, but they are also older and not as good.

Fast hand learning English Game Fast Hands - Learn English vocabulary items in a fun way

Speed Balls English Game Speed Balls - Practice matching images and pictures with English vocabulary

Grammar Bubblesglish Game Grammar Bubbles - Practice English grammar in a fun way

Falling Clouds English Game Falling Clouds - Fun with English sentence order

Hangman English Game Hangman - A version of the classic game for practicing vocabulary spelling

Spelling Bee English Game Spelling Bee - A game to practice English spelling for vocabulary items

Concentration English Game Concentration - Match English words and pictures

Slow Click English Game Slow Click - A game to practice English

Big Describer English Game Big Describer - Practice English language descriptions for vocabulary items

Desert Drag English Game Desert Drag - A game to practice English vocabulary

Compare English Game Compare - Practice making comparative sentences in English

If you are an English teacher and use an Interactive whiteboard in class, then you can download some content specifically made for IWBs - follow the link below.

Interactive White Board Games

I hope you find this content useful. Leave any comments below.



Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Albert Einstein

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