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Playing games in the ESL classroom is a great way to get students engaged and motivated to learn English. Kids want to have fun. It's in their nature! Educational games make room for effortless focused learning, encourage creativity, critical thinking, and reinforce key lesson points. The best part? Students think they're just having fun! There are plenty of great educational games that can be utilized in the classroom. Here are a few for you to use the next time it's time to play!


Students love this game, and it's always a fan favorite. Pictionary is a great game to play, mostly as a vocabulary practice game. Break up the class into two teams. One at a time, a student from each team goes up to the board and attempts to draw a picture representing a vocabulary word. Their team must try to guess which word it is. If they guess, have them spell the word out next to the picture. The team with the most points wins! To spice things up, draw a line on the board and have students from each group come up to the board simultaneously. The students will compete to draw as their teams battle to guess the word first. Pictionary is terrific and helps students understand the meaning of words!


Board relay races can be great for both grammar and vocabulary practice. Divide the class into two teams. Have the two teams line up behind the whiteboard. The students must race to write the most words on the board. For example, if your lesson is about "comparative words," call out one adjective at a time. The students must write the correct comparative form of each adjective. This also works great with vocabulary words by calling out keywords and having the students spell out the right vocabulary word. It's a lot of fun and gets the kids moving!


Safety first! You'll need a sticky ball for this game. Draw a dartboard in circular form on the whiteboard. Number each circular part with a score. The outer part is the easiest with a lower score, and the middle circle, the most challenging point, being the highest score. This game can be excellent for both grammar and vocabulary practice. Mark a spot where the students must stand to throw the sticky ball. Have one student at a time come up and throw the ball at the dartboard. Then, ask them a question, like "make a present perfect simple sentence." If they give the correct answer, they get the points.


Hal, a teacher at Houhai English, loves incorporating games in all his classes. One of his favorite games to play in the classroom is Mafia! "I love playing Mafia, especially for grammar practice. I'll play Mafia in short 4-5 minute intervals throughout the class. Since Mafia is such a long game, it's best in these short sprints. Then, I bring them right back into the lesson after each interval. To play the game, write a scenario on the board, like 'We need to figure out who killed…' Then ask students to use the learned grammar to answer questions. It's a beautiful interactive learning exercise."


Tic tac toe is a classic game, and for a reason! It always seems to be an enjoyable experience, and for all ages. There are numerous ways one can play tic tac toe. One of the favorites is beat the teacher! The students love trying their best to beat the teacher in this game. Draw out a tic tac toe game on the board. Ask a student to answer a question about the lesson. This can be about anything, even about the reading material. If the student answers correctly, they come up to the board and try to beat the teacher.


Nelis, a Lead Teacher at Houhai English, gave us a bit more insight on how he gets creative with sticky balls in the class. "My students love to play sticky ball games. I will draw a big block or square on the board with 20 to 25 numbers randomly in small blocks. Then, they throw the sticky ball and hit a number. I look in my vocabulary book and read them a definition of the pre-numbered words. They have the opportunity to write the word on the board. If they spell it correctly, they get one point. If they do not spell it correctly, another student would have the opportunity to assist them. Then, they would score half a point for themselves and half a point for the student they helped."


This is one of the simpler games, but the students always get so into it. There are a variety of ways one can play hangman. Of course, the most common version begins by dividing the class into two teams and drawing the hangman structure on the board. Come up with a phrase or sentence incorporating vocabulary and a particular grammar point. The wackier, the better! Write the lines indicating how many words there are next to the hangman figure. Each team gets to choose a letter from the alphabet. The first team to guess the correct word or phrase by filling in the missing letters in the written words using the letters they chose wins!


There are many different kinds of story games. Here is the favorite, creative version. Using the vocabulary words of a particular lesson, have the students make up a story. The catch is that each student only tells one sentence of the story. Each student must include at least one different vocabulary word in their sentence. The first student says the first sentence, and then every student adds to the story. No one knows where the story will go! The final student wraps up the story and gives the ending. Students love hearing their classmates add on and tell crazy, wacky stories.


You can use hot seat to practice vocabulary. Divide the class into two teams and place a chair at the front of the class. One student from a team will sit "in the hot seat" facing the class. Write one vocabulary word or grammar point on the board behind them. Each team must try to make their team member sitting in the hot seat guess the vocabulary word. I like to throw in some challenges with this game. For example, I'll have the team only say one word at a time to try and guess the word. I'll also use a timer and only allow one-two minutes for each team to guess the word. The group with the most correctly guessed words wins!


Nelis enjoys playing a riddle and rhyme game in his classes. "In this game everyone has the opportunity to write a little riddle and test a classmate to see who can say the other student's riddle/ rhyme. The person who cannot say it will then have to answer the question. Sometimes, I have ended up in a lot of trouble. They test me, and I have to give the answers. This game is also a lot of fun, and they get to improve their English speaking and writing abilities!"

Any deviation from the books is a treat for the students. Incorporating one of these games, or others, will surely make for maximum learning engagement and productivity in the classroom. One of the best parts of educational games is that students often forget they continue to learn the lesson. Constant reinforcement of lessons through games can serve a playful, imaginative classroom learning environment.

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