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Teaching English online can be draining for students and teachers. Online ESL games are a great way to give students a mental break. Games engage students and create a fun environment.
It is not always easy to think of different games and fillers to play, so it is good to prepare a list of potential online ESL games you can pull up if you need them when teaching.
In addition to games, I use ManyCam to engage students in online lessons. ManyCam has saved my life when trying to explain vocabulary words and change screens, and it is very fun to use.
We have compiled a list of our top online ESL games. These games can also be applied in a brick-and-mortar classroom, but we play many online without almost any prep!
Online ESL Games List
- Shark Attack
- Two Truths One Lie
- Flash the Flashcard
- Retell the Story
- Drawing Time
- Singing Time
- Would You Rather Questions
- Board Games
- Word search
- Spot the Difference
- Odd One Out
- Word Chain
- ESL Jeopardy
- Categories game
- I Spy
- How many words can you find…
- Simon says
- 21 Questions
- Online ESL Games Sites
- Stop the Bus
Possibly my all-time favorite game to play with the students is Tic-Tac-Toe. This is also called Noughts and Crosses or Xs and Os. My young students absolutely love this game. Throw in an evil laugh, and watch that smile on their face!
Draw out the 3×3 grid. Let the student mark with an ‘X’, for example, and the teacher marks with an ‘O’. The first person who places three of their marks in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row is the winner.
Tip! You can take this game further by practicing a grammar rule or vocabulary topic.
For example, if the topic is food, you could write a different letter in each grid space. The students must think of food with that letter. If they succeed in naming a food with the letter, they can secure their place on the grid.
If you studied grammar rules, you could write the verbs in the grid, and the students put them in their past form. They could also make sentences.
2. Shark Attack
Do you remember playing Hangman growing up? If you can’t remember, the teacher thinks of a secret word. Next, the teacher writes the number of spaces on the board, and students guess the word’s letters.
Each time the student gets a letter wrong, the teacher adds part of a stick man’s body to the board, like so:
The idea is to guess the word before the man is hanged.
When I was doing my teacher training course, I was told that Hangman is not a great game to play anymore due to its negative connotations. They suggested alternative ways to draw the game.
One suggestion is to draw a stick man with a parachute and a shark in the water below him. The stick man holds onto eight strings. Each time the student gets a letter wrong, he loses a string from the parachute. If he loses all eight strings, the shark will eat him!
There are other ways to draw this game– like the shark is coming to get the stick man. If you would prefer to avoid the idea of death altogether, draw a snowman or a flower.
3. Two Truths One Lie
Two Truths One Lie is a classic game that will get your student thinking. Write three statements, two that are true and one that is a lie. The student must guess which one is a lie. Then the student can write three statements about themselves.
You can make this relevant to a specific grammar rule or vocabulary topic to increase its difficulty.
- I am scared of spiders.
- I have been to China.
- I have never been skydiving.
Guess which one is the lie! (Answer: It’s the ‘I have been to China” one for me!)
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4. Flash the Flashcard
If you have flashcards with pictures, you can show your young students the flashcard very quickly. Repeat a few times until the student guesses what’s on the flashcard. This works very well in the online classroom.
Alternatively, you can cover part of the flashcard, and the student guesses what is on the flashcard based on what they can see. Make sure they know the vocabulary word first!
5. Retell the Story
Revise vocabulary by encouraging the students to tell a story.
For example, let’s say the topic that they learned today was about a policeman. Include three other words such as a mountain, ambulance, and dog. Give them a minute or two to develop an interesting story that includes these words.
Bring some realia to the online class and show it through your webcam. Realia are objects used in everyday life. You can show them many things, such as the packaging of a chocolate bar, your coffee cup, or souvenirs from different countries.
You could show them something interesting and talk about it, making it relevant to the class somehow.
7. Drawing Time
Give instructions on what you want the students to draw. Make it relevant to the class. This is good for topics such as prepositions and new vocabulary. For example, you can ask them to draw their favorite clothes or favorite season.
This is for your students who love to draw. If you have regular students, you will know who enjoys drawing. You can then make sure to incorporate drawing time into your classes.
Pictionary is a suitable online game for young learners. The teacher or student draws an object, and the other students guess what it is. You can set a timer if you want to add a bit more excitement. The person drawing cannot write anything down, and the other players must guess what it is.
If no one guesses correctly, the giver can give one clue. If still no one guesses, the giver can give another clue, and so on until someone guesses correctly or the time is up.
9. Singing Game
Some students love to sing, and it’s worth taking advantage of this. Many young kids have already started learning songs in school, such as “London Bridge” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
Bring your microphone and sing some nursery rhymes in class.
If you have older students, share a popular song and play it. You can even make it a gap-fill exercise that practices some keywords or vocabulary.
Charades can be made into an online esl game. One player acts out a word or phrase for another player to guess. It is often played with a deck of cards that have different words or phrases printed on them. Alternatively, if you are playing online, get the students to think of a word or sentence themselves and act it out. Players each take turns acting out words and guessing.
This will require some prep. You can tell the students your own riddle, or you can find something on Google. There are a ton of riddles out there!
I am cute.
I have two ears.
I can hop, hop, hop.
What am I?
12.Would You Rather Questions
Would you rather questions are fun and entertaining to answer. The students may want to think of their own would you rather questions.
- Would you rather have a pet crocodile or a pet snake?
- Would you rather eat pizza every day for the rest of your life or only eat salad?
- Would you rather be able to fly or read people’s minds?
- Would you rather always feel hot or always feel cold?
Kahoot is an online quiz game that can be used in the classroom. Students can compete against each other or work together as a team. The questions can be about anything, and there are millions of questions to choose from. You can also create your own questions.
You can create your own Kahoot or search for ones that others have already made here. Players compete against each other to get the most points. The person or team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
14. Board Games
Many different board games can be played online. I recommend checking out ISL Collective and searching “board game” as I have found some good getting-to-know-you and preposition board games there. Or consider looking up Google search for some other downloadable board games in PNG or PDF form.
Board games are a great way to review vocabulary and grammar. They can also be used to practice speaking. Players take turns rolling the dice or moving their pieces around the board. The goal is to be the first person to reach the finish or to have the most points.
15. Word Search
A word search is a game where you have to find all of the words in a grid. The words can be hidden horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. You can find many different word search puzzles online or use a word search maker to customize your own in minutes!
16. Spot the Difference
Spot the Difference is a game where you must find the differences between two pictures. Students get to practice their speaking skills while also having fun.
You can find Spot the Difference pictures online or in books. Get the students to make full sentences if they are able, for example, “In picture A, there is a… But in picture B, there is a…”
17. Odd One Out
In the game Odd One Out, the teacher names four things, and the students have to guess which one is different or doesn’t belong. For example, “apples, oranges, carrots, bananas” or “home, yard, shelter, house.”
This can be made more difficult according to the student’s level.
18. Word Chain
The object of the word chain game is to make a chain of words starting with the last letter of the previous word. One person says a word, and the next person has to say a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word.
For example, let’s say the topic is animals. If the first person says “dog,” the next person could say “goat,” and then the next person could say “tiger.”
19. ESL Jeopardy
Have you ever watched the TV game show Jeopardy? There are different categories with different point values. Players choose a category and a point value. They are given a clue, and they have to guess the answer.
You can find ESL Jeopardy games online or make your own. Here is a list of categories and ideas for questions.
20. Categories Game
The object of the category game is to name as many things in a category as possible in one minute. For example, the category could be “countries” or “animals.” The person who names the most things in the minute wins.
21. I Spy
I Spy can be adapted as an online ESL game. Find a picture online with a lot of different things in it. One person chooses an object and says, “I spy with my little eye something that is…” and then gives a clue about the object. The other players have to guess what the object is.
For example, “I spy with my little eye something that is round and red” or “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with the letter H.”
22. How Many Words Can You Find?
Give the students a long word, such as “Christmas” or “Alphabet.” They have to see how many smaller words they can make using only the letters in the long word. They can’t use any letter more than once. Make it a competition by setting a time limit and reporting which team won among all the different classes.
23. Simon Says
Simon Says is a game that is played with a young age group. One person is Simon and the others need to listen to Simon. Simon gives an instruction such as “Simon says touch your nose” or “Simon says stand up.” The players have to follow the instruction if Simon says it. If Simon doesn’t say “Simon says” before the instruction, then the players shouldn’t do it or they lose!
24. 21 Questions
21 Questions is a game where one person thinks of an object, animal, or person, and the other players take turns asking yes or no questions to try and guess what it is.
The person who guesses correctly gets to choose the next object, animal, or person. They can only ask up to 21 questions.
Bingo is a fun game that can be played with any age group and for any topic. You can find online bingo games or make your own. Make a bingo board with different topics in each square. The teacher calls out items from the topic, and the students mark them on their boards. The first person to get five in a row wins!
Alternatively, use pictures as squares. The students may find it easier to recognise a picture if they are only beginners. For older learners, consider getting them to spell or pronounce the words, or give a sentence with the word. Here are some bingo generators to try out: Bingo Baker and My Free Bingo Cards.
26. Online ESL Games Websites
If you are studying a particular topic, why not search Google to see if they have a corresponding game that matches your learning goals? There are a ton of ESL game websites out there. Look at the British Council, ESL Games Plus or Cambridge English to see what they offer!
27. Stop The Bus
Stop The Bus, also known as the Categories Game, is where players try to think of items under various headings, such as clothes, names, countries, cities and food. Whoever finds a word for each category first is the winner.
To play, one person recites the alphabet in their head, and another player tells them, “stop the bus!” Whatever letter they are thinking of at that moment is the starting letter for all the words in that round. For example, if the letter is “C,” then the players must write one word for each category beginning with that letter. For example:
- Clothes: Coat, cap, etc.
- Names: Charles, Christina, etc.
- Countries: Canada, China, etc.
- Cities: Cairo, Chicago, etc.
- Food: Carrot, celery, etc.
Whoever fills out all the categories first wins that round. The player with the most rounds wins the game!
28. Games to Learn English
There are some great resources for playing online ESL games. Be sure to check out “Games to Learn English.” Here is an example of a game you can play:
And that’s it! These games are fun, quick, low prep, and, best of all, they are free! Hope you enjoy playing some of these games with your students. Let me know which ones are your favorites!
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Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.