What if I told you that you should play beer pong with your English students? Sounds crazy, right? Many teachers of adult language learners forget that they can have fun with their EFL & ESL students. In fact, adult learners love to play games inside the classroom just as much as children do! With that in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the best ESL games for adults. Read on to find out how to bring the fun into your classroom!
Why you should embrace ESL games for adults
As an EFL or ESL teacher, you can turn beloved adult games, like beer pong, into classroom-friendly games that help adult learners memorize vocabulary and practice their language skills. Games and activities are a really powerful tool in language acquisition.
Incorporating games and related ESL activities into your teaching with adult learners can transform your classroom. Adults are collaborative learners and like to problem solve. In this sense they should not be treated that differently from young ESL learners.
“The purpose of adult education is to help them to learn, not to teach them all you know and thus stop them from learning” – Carl Rogers
Even though you are teaching English to adults, it is important to remember that everyone loves to have fun. Moreover, everyone deserves an engaging learning plan and being able to deliver one will make you a better English teacher.
Many adult ESL students have other things going on in their lives. It can therefore be challenging for a teacher to maintain motivation and concentration during their lessons if they are not using effective strategies and tools. One way to keep students interested is through ESL games and activities.
ESL games for adults are a great way to introduce fun into the classroom and boost student confidence.
Whether you are teaching adults ESL for business purposes, conversation purposes, or general language skill improvement, games can be tailored to your teaching needs. They can be especially useful for adult ESL learners who suffer from a lack of confidence, as they are a ideal to help get them speaking and remind them that learning can be fun!
When should you use ESL games in the classroom?
When teaching English, it’s often best to incorporate games into your classroom in a variety of ways rather than in a routine, expected way. After all, they are meant to be an exciting relief from studying. It’s therefore important that they don’t become monotonous or an activity that your adult ESL students dread.
To keep things fresh, one day a game can work as a warm up. Then, during the next lesson you can incorporate it as a cool-down activity. Whether you incorporate games into a warm-up or use them as a reward is down to you!
If you need extra motivation for your students to participate in the games, you can even consider setting up a reward system for the winners.
So, if you’re ready to liven up your classroom, we’ve crafted a list of effective, fun ESL games for adults to include in your lessons.
19 great ESL games for adults
Ah one our favorite ESL games… Before you say anything, we’re not suggesting that your students drink beer in class!
While the title is a little misleading, it functions exactly like the original version. Replace the beer with a vocabulary challenge and you’re playing the classic, beloved adult game! So, how does it work?
Students work in pairs to create vocabulary words, questions, or phrases. They then write down their ideas on slips of paper. They will need a slip of paper for each cup. These slips of paper are then placed into cups in a triangle formation. The game typically has 10 cups, but this number can vary based on how long you want the game to last.
Two sets of pairs then play against each other and try to successfully land ping pong balls into the cups. When a ball lands in the cup, the thrower has to engage in the speaking practice listed in the cup. Once the thrower has completed the speaking practice, the cup is then removed. Whichever team gets all of the cups out first, wins the game!
Examples of effective themes: Asking personal questions, phrases said at a restaurant, food vocabulary, and many more creative prompts.
Why to use it?
Making familiar games classroom friendly is a great strategy and will make your adult ESL students much more excited to play.
The game itself is very adaptable and can be changed to meet the needs of whatever specific learning target you have in mind. It also just happens to be one of the most fun ESL games and activities for adults!
Furthermore, it’s a great opportunity for conversation practice and speaking opportunities since it is low-stakes and one of the more relaxed games on this list. There is no doubt that it will capture the attention of your class, regardless of their age.
One student stands in front of the class, with his or her back facing the whiteboard. Another student chooses an object that they would want to have if they were on a deserted island. They write this word on the whiteboard for the rest of the class to see. The rest of the class then have to help the student in front of the class guess what the word on the board is, without saying the word itself. In this game, students have to describe the word on the board. Gestures are not allowed.
For more advanced students, encourage them to pick an object that isn’t the simplest answer (ex: firewood, telephone, blanket). However, whilst they can be creative, the vocabulary should stick to the topic. That way those guessing are not overwhelmed.
Why use it?
This is a game that plays similarly to charades or the popular game Head’s Up. It’s a great game because unlike charades, there is a limited amount of vocabulary that is applicable to the topic.
When introducing this game to your class, it will be best to initially choose one of your more confident learners to stand as the guesser. The other students can then work together as a team to achieve a goal. This will allow your shy students to ease into the game and feel more comfortable and confident to make mistakes while guessing.
Adult learners will love this game because it is challenging, but not overwhelming.
Display a topic on the board. You can choose topics that are relevant to your lesson or you could just choose topics that are fun and will break the ice. The topics can be low-level questions or creative, vague topics for more advanced students.
Once you have done this, pair up your students and set a timer for one minute for them to discuss this topic.
After a minute of talking about the chosen topic, display a new topic. The students will have one minute to discuss this topic. Display 3-5 topics and you have spent the first five minutes of your class working on speaking skills. Your class will feel energized and ready to dive into the lesson!
Here are some examples of good topics: “What are your plans for the weekend?”, “What is your favorite food to cook?”, and “What is the best movie of all time?”.
Choosing topics that will interest your students based on what you know about them makes this game much more effective.
Why use it?
This is a quick game that is perfect for a warm-up for a lesson!It will also test how well you know your class.
Furthermore, one of the best strategies to incorporate into any ESL class is to get your students involved in planning their own learning. This particular ESL game is a great example of how to do just that and make them feel rewarded for it.
Each week you can have students write topics that they would like to discuss. This way they’ll be excited about the topics and feel like they have a voice inside the classroom.
For this game, you will simply provide a category topic to students and they have to make a list of vocabulary words that they associate with the category. The categories can range from simple topics: colors, animals or foods to more complex topics: activities, nouns, or vocabulary terms from a previous lesson.
Why use it?
This game is a great tool to use for review or prep for an upcoming lesson. Each word written down counts as a point. Students can either work individually or in teams. The individual or team with the most points wins! Similar to the Speed Talking game described above, you can have students create the categories themselves. You can also have a vote on whether or not they would like to choose the categories or have you choose for them. Having students’ voices involved in any aspect of their learning is important, even if they decide to give the control to you.
This will probably be one of the easiest games for you to introduce to the class as it doesn’t put much pressure on any particular student.
Dixit is different from the other games suggested on this list as it is an actual board game rather than a game crafted by yourself. For this game, it is best to divide the class into groups of four. One student in each group chooses a card from a deck and has to tell a story based on the image on the card. The student then randomly places the card back into the deck and the other three students in the group have to look at the deck of cards and choose which card the storyteller based their story on.
Why use it?
This game really is suitable for both beginner and advanced level students and can be tailored to their needs.
For beginner learners, they can say a word that they associate with the image rather than an entire story. This makes it a lot less intimidating! Students will love being able to work on their speaking skills without the pressure of creating conversation topics.
These first 5 games will surely win your students over and make them more excited to participate in your class. But just in case you need more inspiration, here’s a list of 14 more ESL games that your students will love as well:
Head’s Up is an exciting smart phone app that is similar to the classic game of Taboo. It works by displaying words or a phrase on the phone. One student holds a phone to his or her head and the rest of the class has to help the student guess what is displayed on the phone. Easy set up and lots of laughs!
This is a game that will definitely get a lot of laughs. Using a list of vocabulary words provided by you, students will silently mouth the words to their partners or teams. Lip reading can be really challenging, so it is best to choose words that they have already studied previously. Needless to say, it is not the time to be introducing new words!
Tip: Play music to mask the words even more.
Never Have I Ever
This game is perfect as an ice-breaker as students will get to know each other better. Get them to place five fingers up and then go around in a circle sharing experiences (make sure to keep it classroom-friendly). If they have had the experience before, then they put a finger down. Last one left with a finger up is the winner!
Taboo is great for advanced learners. Similar to Head’s Up and Charades, the students have to use clues to help a designated student guess the vocabulary word. However, in this game, they have a list of words that they are not able to say during their clue giving process!
This activity is a challenging, but fun way to quiz students on their vocabulary. Break students into teams, write a word on the board, and have one student from each team guess the word. Here’s the catch: team members are only allowed to use one-word clues to help their teammate guess the vocabulary word!
This is an adult card game that can be adapted for your classroom. You will definitely want to print a list of the instructions for students to keep on them as they play. Simply make each card represent an activity (example: Queen = the student has to ask another student a question). You can change the activities based on the English level of your class, so adapt it as you see fit.
Call My Bluff
Call My Bluff is a little trickier than some of the others on this list, but the challenge is great for more advanced students. Essentially, they have to guess the correct definition of a word that they have not learned in class before. You can either provide them with the definitions or have the teams do their research and write the definitions. Either way, this is a great way to get their complex thinking skills going!
Similar to Scrabble, students draw nine letters at random. Here is where the creativity kicks in; they then have to try to make a word using those nine random letters. You can separate the letters into consonants and vowels to ensure they grab enough of each to actually form a word. However, this should be a creative and challenging game and is ideal for intermediate students and upwards.
This is great for practicing vocabulary and it’s okay for students to engage in discussion for this one!
Reverse Charades is perfect for lower level learners or advanced learners who are in need of a speaking break! In this game, students have to guess a word based on the actions and gestures of their team members. This is a great way for them to learn and practice verbs (think: running, swimming, hiking).
Stop is ideal for a quick warm-up. It has the same format as Categories, but instead of thinking of as many words as possible for each category, students just try to think of one word per category. Whoever completes all of the categories first is the winner!
Box of Lies
Your students will love this game because it gives them permission to lie without consequences! Pair them up and provide one of them with an image. That student then has to write a description based on the image they see. They then share their description with their partner. The partner has to guess if they lied in their description or told the truth.
This is the last of the category games on this list, but it’s a good one. Students have 60 seconds to write down as many words as possible for the given category. Here’s the catch: they will only receive a point for unique words (words that their classmates haven’t also used). You can make this game easier or harder based on the level of your students, but the quickness of it is sure to keep them excited and on their toes!
Kahoot is an online quiz platform that can be used to quiz students on vocabulary, grammar, or just provide fun questions for a nice break! You can either create your own quizzes or use quizzes that have been created by other teachers. The quicker the students answer, the more points they get, so this game will bring out their competitiveness!
Check out Kahoot.
We’re finishing this list with a fan-favorite. The classic television quiz game has made its way on to educational sites. You can create your own Jeopardy board in class and ask your students questions related to the topics you are currently learning. Separate them into teams and have them try to earn the most amount of points. Give them one minute to answer a question correctly!
Summary (Plus a bonus game!)
Teaching ESL to adults is not without its challenges. However, if you embrace that lessons with adults can and should be enjoyable, then your students will follow your lead and enjoy these fun ESL games.
So, if you are struggling with creating engaging lessons for your adult students, or just want to add a touch of fun to your classroom, then it might be time to consider implementing these ESL games for adults into your classroom.
Bonus game: If you have a bit of time a the end of class, challenge your students to have a go at pronouncing the longest words in English. This can be a great way to close out the lesson with a bit of fun.