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Archive for the ‘Simple games’ Category


One of the early lessons with any group of beginners is the alphabet one. You know, the one where you teach them the song and they recite it back to you beautifully…

…but forever afterwards they have to go through the whole alphabet to work out what letter they need next, and there’s a bit of a mush in the middle because L-M-N-O-P is too fast and they can’t hear it.

That one.

I can’t remember the last time I taught that one.

Instead, I approach it as an exercise in de-confusing, not with the aim of teaching the alphabet, but of teaching the letters, so that students can spell and understand spellings. Today with my beginner teens it worked better than ever before, in part because they were teens and in part because we were on Zoom 🙂

Caveat: there are only 4 students, and I speak enough Polish to be able to justify what I’m doing with them sometimes.

I started by showing them the alphabet in the book. Cue rolling eyes and one kid saying ‘No’ loudly and repeatedly. Another kid started to immediately recite the song, so I got them to try that first. Two knew the song perfectly, one had the L-M-N-O-P problem, and the fourth one is generally pretty shy and said she didn’t know it at all.

I told them that was great because now I knew what was a problem. One of them said “No problem!”, so I asked them to write ‘A’ in the chatbox. Cue a series of E’s and I’s. “Not E, A.” I I I E E. “Not I, A.” Eventually we got there. I could then explain that for the rest of the lesson we’d be working on groups of letters and helping them to remember what the difference is. I already had the first group (A-E-I-Y) written in black on a mini whiteboard.

I pointed to each letter and elicited it, writing some prompts in green next to the letter to help them remember. For these four letters the prompts I normally use are:

  • A a (b c)
  • E eeeeeeeee [but drawn linked together, coupled with me ‘pulling’ the sound out of my mouth]
  • I like dogs [or in a classroom I’ll stand very straight and indicate my whole body, as in ‘I’, which compares to…]
  • Y Why? [or stand with my arms in a Y shape to compare to I]

We then worked out how these letters might be written in Polish ‘spelling’, and I wrote it in red on the board, something like this:

  • A /ei/
  • E /i/
  • I /ai/
  • Y /uaj/

They copied the black letters, green reminders, and red sounding out into their notebooks. I asked any student who had finished and was waiting to spell their first name, and helped them with the problem letters.

We then played a game in the chatbox where I said one of the four letters and they wrote it, then they took turns being the teaching and calling out a letter.

With revision of 1-100 and a homework check, that took the first half of the lesson. I wasn’t sure how interested they’d be when we came back after break and repeated the process with other sets of letters:

  • G-J-H
  • C-S
  • K-Q
  • U-V-W
  • X-Z
  • O
  • R

…but they absolutely loved it. This is mostly because they started racing each other to be the first person to get it right in the chat box, with no prompting from me. Then they started racing to show me what they’d written in their notebooks, to the extent that by the time we got to the final board (shown below), they wanted to copy the black letters immediately. Then when I was writing the red they were saying ‘Pani pisze’ (Miss is writing!) and were poised and ready to go as soon as I held up the board.

The whole lesson was very entertaining, and they really loved challenging each other on the particularly confusing combinations which they knew their classmates would get wrong because they were rushing. This forced them to think a little more.

I’m pretty confident that in Thursday’s lesson they’ll remember most of the letters because they know we’ll play the letter race game again, and they know I’m going to ask them to spell their names so they’ll practice that too.

The best kind of lesson: minimal planning, just enough variety to keep them engaged, lots of practice, driven by students, fun, and memorable for a long time!

Hitting the drawing board

This is a very simple two- or three-stage activity I’ve successfully used with small classes of young learners and teens to revise both grammar and vocabulary. They love drawing on the board!

Stage one: drawing


Drawing the past simple

Divide the board into a space for each student/team.

Say a word (e.g. car, trousers) or a sentence featuring the grammar structure you want to practise (e.g. I went to the beach. I played with my brother.)

Ask the students to draw a relevant picture. They shouldn’t worry about their artistic skills, just draw anything that they feel represents the language.

Repeat, ensuring they don’t clean the board in between.

When they have about 10 pictures, stop! 🙂

Stage two: hitting


Before giving students the flyswatters, I normally give them two rules:

  1. If you hit anyone with it, we stop.
  2. They’re very cheap. If you hit the board too hard, it’ll break and we’ll have to stop. (This happened once!)

Give the students flyswatters.

Call out one of the words/sentences.

The students hit the relevant picture.

Start with them hitting their own pictures, then move them around – this can be quite challenging if other students have interpreted the language in a more abstract way!

You can also ask one of the students to be the teacher. With small groups, you replace them as the player.

Stage three: cleaning (optional)

Repeat stage two, but this time, instead of flyswatters, give the students board rubbers. They clean the relevant picture each time you say the language.

When there are only two pictures left, they have to tell you the words/sentences.


You can also use paper rolled into a tube instead of flyswatters. Stage two works well with flashcards too.

Adults would also enjoy this game.

With larger groups it could be done in teams or on paper.

Simple, minimal preparation, and lots of fun! Enjoy!

A homemade revision game

This is a very simple game which is perfect for revision, and requires almost no pre-class preparation. All you need is some small pieces of scrap paper, some kind of blutack to stick it to the table, dice for each group, and a counter for each student. The blutack is optional, but it does stop the paper from blowing away! You could use post-it notes instead, but sometimes they curl up making it easy to see the answers! It works best for revising grammar or vocabulary in closed questions.

Give a pile of pieces of paper to each pair/group of students. Ask them to go through the units of the book which you want them to revise. They should write questions for other students in the class, writing one question on each piece of paper, and write the answer on the back. They can create the questions themselves, or copy them directly from the book, along with any relevant instructions, like ‘Write the correct form of the verb.’ My students normally spend about 15-20 minutes doing this. Here are some examples from my intermediate group:

Examples of revision questions

Once you have a pile of questions, shuffle them all up (easier if you have scrap paper than post-it notes at this point!), then divide them evenly between all of the groups in the class. Each group should lay out a track of questions to create a board game, so it looks something like this:

The board game laid out

The groups then play the board game. When they roll, they should answer the question they land on. If they’re correct, they can stay there. If not, they have to go back to the question they were on at the start of the turn. The winner is the person who gets to the end first, or who is in the lead when they run out of time.

Creative students!

The board can even go up and down!

I got this idea from somebody at IH Brno, but unfortunately I can’t remember who. I use it almost every time I’m revising for a mid-year or end-of-year test, and it always prompts a lot of discussion. The group shown in these pictures even asked if we could keep playing it when I said the time was up!


I like it because as well as reminding the students of the grammar and vocabulary areas likely to appear in the test, it always prompts a lot of discussion and shows them which areas they still need to revise.


A revision game

On Friday I created a new revision game for my students. I hope you like it too!

Collect a series of mistakes your students make throughout the week/course, for example with tenses or collocations. Or choose a set of lexis you’ve recently taught. You need about 15 things.

Write a key word prompt at the side of the board for each of the mistakes. For example, if your students always say ‘I want to make a Masters’, your prompt could be ‘do a Masters’.

Turn it into a table, like so:

Divide your class into teams of 4-5 students. I had two teams, so there were two empty columns, but if you have more, add more columns! You need one column for each team.

Each team needs a mini whiteboard, a pen and a board rubber. If you don’t have mini whiteboards, you could put a piece of paper in a plastic wallet and give the students tissues to rub out the sentences after they have scored for them.

Now that you are all set up, this is how the game goes:

  • Each team chooses a prompt from the table (they can use the prompts in any order).
  • They write a sentence using the prompt correctly. I was very strict and told my students that all punctuation had to be correct too.
  • They show the teacher the sentence. If they are the first team to use that prompt and the sentence is perfect, they get 2 points. If they are the second team to use it, they get 1 point. If there is a mistake, they don’t get any points. Instead, put a little cross in the corner of the box. They have to rub out that sentence, work on a different one, and then they can come back and try that prompt again later. (With 4 teams, give 4 points for the first team, 3 for the second and so on)
  • When one team has used all of the prompts, the game stops and the points are added up. The team with the most points wins.

They can use more than one prompt in the same sentence if they want to. Remind the students that it’s a race, and that they have to be quick to make sure that the other team(s) doesn’t beat them to all the high point scores!

This was my board at the end of a pre-intermediate class.

My board

Examples of sentences I accepted were:

  • When were you born?
  • I have lived in Newcastle for a year.
  • I like playing noughts and crosses.

Sentences I didn’t accept include:

  • Can I go home (no question mark)
  • He is a student. (not the same as on the board – I wanted to make sure they remember you can use ‘he’s’)
  • My career is teaching. (no ‘in’)

The next teacher saw the game, and asked me to explain it to her, so we played it with her upper intermediate class too.

Upper int boardIt took about half an hour to play. By making the students write a completely new sentence each time they make a mistake, instead of editing what they just wrote, they have to really focus on accuracy. The students were engaged, and really wanted to be accurate, because they knew they wouldn’t get any points if they weren’t!

I hope that all makes sense. Let me know if you have any adaptations.

Party games for vocabulary revision

This post has been contributed by Roya Caviglia as part of the simple games series. If you would like to contribute a game, let me know via a comment on the blog or through Twitter.

Roya is currently teaching in Hamburg, Germany and has recently completed her Delta. She is about to start as a Celta trainer-in-training. You can find her on Twitter or at She’s new to the world of blogging, and this is her first guest post. I think you’ll agree: it’s a great start!

Teaching aim: Vocabulary revision

How to play:

1. Ask each student to write down 3 or 4 words, each word on a separate small piece of paper. Make sure the learners choose vocabulary that they understand the meaning of and that they are sure the others in the class will know too (vocab that has come up recently in class is ideal). They fold up the pieces of paper and pop them into a hat/bowl.

2. Split the class into 2 teams. Ask them to choose team names. Then proceed with the following 3 rounds:

Round One – Taboo
Team A start. One of the team takes the bowl of words. They have to take out a word and describe it to their team, without ever saying the word (just like taboo). When their team guesses a word correctly they get to keep it. The same player then takes another word and continues for 2 minutes (teacher is the timer, time can be adjusted if necessary).

It helps if Team B listen carefully to the words that come up because this will help them in later rounds.

When the time is up Team A keep the words they won and pass the bowl to Team B which then have 2 minutes to collect as many words as possible in the same way.

Then back to Team A who continue with another player describing the words. This goes on until the bowl is empty. Count the scores, each word = one point. Scores go on the board.

Round Two – Pictionary
Team B start. Round two is just like round one, except that the players draw the words instead of describing them. This can be done on the board so everyone can see. Just like pictionary, no talking, letters or numbers are allowed.

Round Three – One word 
In this round, the players can only use one word to describe the word on the paper (obviously not the one on the paper! But usually a descriptive word gets connected to the piece of vocabulary at an earlier point in the game).

There could also be a charades round, where players act out the word, good for young learners or for energising tired adults!

These games are learner-centred and the words are chosen by the students not the teacher, making for a really meaningful and memorable review.

Party games for teachers by @CliveSir

Party games for teachers by @CliveSir at

Spelling game

My intermediate class were really struggling with spellings, so I decided to play a game to make them a little more fun. I have lots of different word games at home, including Scrabble, which include tiles with different letters on them. I also have cut-up letters making up three complete alphabets.

We put two small tables in the middle of the room with the letters spread out on them, and all of the other tables around the edge of the room. Each pair of students was allocated one table.

I called out a word from pre-prepared list. The pairs had to work together to take letters and spell out the word on their table. When they had finished they stood by their table. There were five pairs, so the first team to finish with a correct spelling got five points, the next four and so on down to one point for the last team to get the spelling correct.

As you can see from this photo, the students were all involved, and the most common words we spelt during the game were much more accurate after the class 🙂

Spelling game in action



Passing pens

I learnt this during a conference at the Park School in Brno, Czech Republic. As will become a theme in these posts, I don’t remember whose session it was, but if it was you, please let me know!

Coloured pencils (bird's eye)

All you need is one of these (photo by @aClilToClimb on

All students require to play this game is one pen or pencil each. If you can, push the furniture to the side of the room and have everyone stand in the middle holding their pen. I normally join in the game and demonstrate it at the beginning.

Think of a vocabulary item you have recently introduced to the class. For example, we have looked at verb + noun combinations like “make a sacrifice” or “overcome your shyness”. Your pen ‘becomes’ that vocabulary item. Every student thinks of  a vocabulary item but does not say it yet (this is important!)

As an example, pass your pen (A) to a student and say your words. They should give you their pen (B) and say their item. Then repeat this with another student, giving them your new pen (B), with them giving you their pen (C).

Generally this is enough for my students to get the idea, but you could continue to repeat the demonstration if they are having trouble. When they understand how the swapping works, return the pens to their original owners and ask everyone to think of a new vocabulary item.

Everyone mingles, swapping pens and passing on their vocabulary items. If someone forgets the item attached to the pen they have (very easy to do!), they should just pick something they know is going round and continue the game. If they get their own pen with a different item attached to it, they shouldn’t change it back to their original phrase, but should pass on what they got. They can swap with the same person more than once, as it will be with different pens.

After a few minutes stop the mingle, and get everyone to stand in a circle with the last pen they got.

Starting with the pen you have (if you joined in), tell the students the phrase you ‘received’ with it. Then find out whose pen it is and what phrase they attached to it at the start of the game.If the two are the same, give the class a point. If they are different, no point. Continue round the circle, giving one point for every pen which finished with the same phrase attached to it.

Give the pens back to their original owners, everyone thinks of new collocations and repeat the game. As a class, they shold try to get more points by keeping pens with the same vocabulary items when passing them on.

It’s loud, fun and quite challenging!

Giant noughts and crosses

Sometimes you forget that the activities you use all the time might not be known to other teachers at all. To that end, I would like to share some of my favourite classroom games in a series of posts, and I invite you to do the same.

On to the first entry:

Giant noughts and crosses

I learnt this game (like many I will share) during an observation at IH Brno. Unfortunately I can’t remember who I was observing, so if it was you, please make yourself known!

Start by dividing the board in squares. Aim for more than 25 to give the students plenty of options later in the game.

In each square write an item of vocabulary which your class has recently studied. You could also ask the students to write these up. Your board should now look something like this:

Ready to play

Divide your class into two or three groups. Each group needs a pen and paper or a mini whiteboard if you have them. For two groups, one is noughts and one is crosses. For three, add triangles (or whatever other shape you like!)

Ask the class to choose a number between six and twelve. For example, nine. This is the minimum number of words in the sentences they must produce.

Choose one group to start (A). That group selects any word from the board. Every group (A, B and C; not just A) has two minutes to write a sentence including that vocabulary item. In this example all sentences they produce should have nine or more words.

When every group has a sentence, the group which chose the word (A) reads their sentence out. If the rest of the class think they have used the vocabulary item correctly, they can mark their nought/cross on the word. If not, the other team can try by reading out their sentence. If neither team has a correct sentence, the square is available for another turn, but they must write new sentences.

The aim of the game is to win lines of three squares, horizontally, vertically or diagonally. For every line of three, the team gets one point. At the end of the game, the winning team is the one with the highest number of points.

The game in progress

If you want to add an extra challenge, groups are only allowed to include each square in a maximum of two lines. In the photo above, that means triangles cannot use ‘rise’ in another line, circles can’t use ‘realize’ and crosses can’t reuse ‘actually’.

It is great revision, and can easily fill a two-hour lesson.

What are your favourite games? If you would like to share one as a guest post here, let me know and we can arrange it.

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