Why use Games?

Six Games for the EFL/ESL Classroom
Well-chosen games are invaluable as they give students a break and at the same time allow students to practice language skills. This paper provides some sample games that can be used in the language classroom.

Why Use Games ?

Language learning is a hard task which can sometimes be frustrating. Constant effort is required to understand, produce and manipulate the target language. Well-chosen games are invaluable as they give students a break and at the same time allow students to practice language skills. Games are highly motivating since they are amusing and at the same time challenging. Furthermore, they employ meaningful and useful language in real contexts. they also encourage and increase cooperation.

Some Advice

  • Games should be regarded as supplementary activities. The whole syllabus should not be based on games only -- even for young learners.
  • When choosing a game, the teacher should be careful to find an appropriate one for the class in terms of language and type of participation.
  • Once the game has begun, the teacher should not interrupt to correct mistakes in language use.
  • The teacher should not compel an individual to participate. Some learners may not want to participate due to personal reasons. Forcing students to participate usally does not have successful results.
  • A game which looks wonderful on the paper may not work in the actual classroom setting. If it is tiring or boring, it should be stopped.
  • Give clear instructions. Unless the learners know what he is expected to do and how to do it, the aim cannot be achieved, and the game cannot be played.
In order to demonstrate how to use games in the classroom, some examples are provided below.

Game 1: Whisper Circles

  • Aim: Speaking (using a whisper), pronunciation, listening, grammar (it takes ...to do ...)
  • Notes:

    1. Divide the students into groups of 7 to 10.
    2. Choose one leader from each group. Give the leaders the card which has the sentence "It takes about six seconds for something you drink to reach your stomach." Ask him to memorize the sentence, go back to his group and whisper what he has read on the card to the person on his right. Each person will whisper the sentence to the next person and the sentence can be said only once. The last person will say the sentence out loud. If the sentence is the same with the one written on the card, that group wins.

Game 2: Match and Catch the Riddle

  • Aim: Reading silently, reading aloud, pronouncing segmental and suprasegmental features correctly, listening selectively, grammar (simple present tense), linguistic and nonlinguistic reasoning.
  • Notes:

    1. Divide the class into two groups: The QUESTION group and the ANSWER group.
    2. Give the questions to the first group and the answers to the other group.
    3. Each student in the first group is supposed to read the question he has aloud and whoever has the answer in the other group reads the answer aloud.
    4. If the question and the answer match, put the students in pairs. If they don't, continue till the right answer is found. Each student can read his part only twice. When all questions and answers are matched ask the pairs to read the riddle they have just for fun.

Some Suggested Riddles
What animal is gray and has a trunk?A mouse going on vacation
What animal eats and drinks with its tail?All do. No animal takes off its tail when eating or drinking.
Why do mother kangaroos hate rainy days?Because then the children have to play inside.
How can you tell the difference between a can of chicken soup and a can of tomato soup?Read the label.
Why is an eye doctor like a teacher?They both test the pupils.
Why did the cross-eyed teacher lose his job? Because he could not control his pupils.
Why is mayonnaise never ready?Because it is always dressing.
Do you know the story about the skunk?Never mind, it stinks.
If a papa bull eats three bales of hay and a baby bull eats one bale, how much hay will a mama bull eat?Nothing. There is no such thing as a mama bull.
What does an envelope say when you lick it?Nothing. It just shuts up.
Why do cows wear bells?Because their horns don't work.
Why shouldn't you believe a person in bed?Because he is lying.
What is the best way to prevent milk from turning sour?Leave it in the cow.
Why does a dog wag his tail?Because no one else will wag it for him.

Game 3: Crazy Story

  • Aim: Writing, reading aloud, listening, grammar (simple past tense, reported speech)
  • Notes:

    1. Prepare sheets of paper with six columns which bear the following titles at the top

      • WHO?

      • (a man's name)
      • WHOM?

      • (a woman's name)
      • WHERE?
      • WHAT DID HE SAY?

    2. Divide the class into groups of 6. Give each group one sheet of paper. Ask the first student to write under the first part and fold the paper so as to cover what he has written. Tell the student to pass the paper onto the next person. As each person writes, he should only look at his fold. When all students finish, one student from each group will be asked to read their story in the following format. You can write the format on the blackboard.

      • ............. met ............... in/at ..............
      • He said ..............................................
      • She said .............................................
      • And so they ..........................................

Game 4: Missing Headlines

  • Aim: Reading silently, reading for specific information, speaking (discussing in pairs).
  • Notes:

    1. Cut out news items and their headlines from a newspaper. Paste the news and headlines on separate sheets of paper. Photocopy them.
    2. Ask students to work in pairs. Give each pair the photocopies of the news and headlines.
    3. Ask them to match the headlines with the news items.

Game 5: Find the Differences

  • Aim: Speaking (describing people and actions), listening, grammar (there is/are....., s/he has ......., s/he is .......ing, s/he is + adjective)
  • Notes:

    1. Find or draw two pictures which are the same except for seven features. Photocopy them on separate sheets of paper.
    2. Ask students to work in pairs. Give one copy of each picture to the pairs. The pairs are not supposed to show their copies to each other. Partner A's will describe their copy and Partner B's will listen carefully and examine their own copy to find the differences. They can ask questions if they require more detailed information or need any clarification. The pair that finishes first wins the game.

Game 6: The Secret Code

  • Aim: Spelling, guessing by using linguistic clues, reading.
  • Notes:

    1. Ask students to work individually. Give each student a sheet of paper which has the secret code on it. Tell them to translate it into English.
    2. Clue: the first word is 'the'; the most frequently used word in English.
    3. When they finish, ask them to write a secret message of their own to their friend. They can use the same symbols. If they need new symbols, they can create their own.
Æ#· ƶ¢·ÉÓ #OÉÄ ÉÄ*=·Æ#¶?¢ ¶?
#¶ÉÄ #O?ܧ ÉÄ. Å?#OÆ ¶ÉÄ ¶Æ?


Games are highly motivating because they are amusing and interesting. They can be used to give practice in all language skills and be used to practice many types of communication. The aim of this paper was to demonstrate some sample games. Teachers are encouraged to find other games which are suitable for his/her studenets or develop his/her own.


  • BALOTO, F. January 1996. "How to Motivate Learners of English". In English Teaching Forum. 34:1
  • SCHINKE-LLANO, L. & R. Rauff (eds) 1996. New Ways in Teaching Young Children. Alexandria, VA:TESOL Publications.
  • UR, Penny. 1995. Grammar Practice Activities. (9th printing). CUP.
  • WRIGHT, Andrew et al. 1989. Games for Language Learning. (7th printing). CUP.


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