The Game Gal – A Virtually Untapped Treasure Trove of Classroom Activities

Without naming names, the trouble with ELT game sites is that they often feel like ELT game sites. Too much focus is placed on reviewing a certain grammatical concept and too little on making the activity fun for children. It may be just my own personal hang-up, but I think a classroom game needs to be really fun or what’s the point?

The Game Gal is just the opposite of ‘those’ kinds of sites by the virtue of the fact that it really isn’t intended for teaching English at all. Just a steady stream of wholesome family fun with tons of crossover appeal in the ELT world. I’m constantly mining its archives for new gems.

Here are a few examples:

  • Pictionary – There are almost a dozen free word lists organized by theme that you can download for free. You don’t even need a board to play, just check out one of my older posts.
  • Charades – Instructions and word lists of various difficulty levels of this classic game are available for free. Check out Picturades while you’re at it.
  • Speed Scrabble – Try this new take on my favorite board game.
  • Categories – A classic game I’ve been playing for years with my youngest learners but which I’ve sadly neglected with my older kids. Check out the list of categories. It’s good stuff!
  • This or That – A quick and easy ice breaker that will get your kids talking.

There’s so much else to sort through. Do yourself a favor and just check it out.

A Cheap and Easy Game for Let’s Go 4

Last week I was teaching from the latest edition of Let’s Go 4 by OUP. Page 44 introduces the verbs download pictures, practice the violin, watch a baseball game, listen to music, play a board game, and visit my grandparents in conjunction with the question “What did you do (on Sunday)?” Meanwhile on page 45 there’s this awesome table of images meant for pairs to practice asking each other with.

Here’s a pair activity that is really simple to set up and really fun for the kids. You just need two dice and the coursebook.

On the count of three, two children each roll their dice. The student who rolls the higher number asks one of the 27 possible questions to the student with the lower number, who of course has to answer the first student’s question. The student who asked the question then gets the sum of both dice for points, which they can write down on a score card.

Take the case of Tom and Jerry, for example.

Tom and Jerry each roll their dice on the count of three.

Tom and Jerry:  Three, two, one!

Tom rolls a five and Jerry rolls a three. Since Tom has the higher number he gets to ask a question to Jerry. Tom looks at the table and for no particular reason chooses the third picture from the left in the second row.

Tom: What did she do on Tuesday?

Jerry: She practiced the violin.

Tom now gets eight points, which he gleefully writes down on his score card and then crosses off the picture of the question he asked. The two of them continue in this fashion until all the boxes have been crossed off. The one with the highest total points is the winner.

I know what you’re thinking! What if they both get the same number when they roll the dice? No problem. Let the points accumulate.

Imagine Tom and Jerry each roll five. They then roll again but this time Jerry gets six and Tom gets one. Jerry of course wins but instead of getting a measly seven points he now gets seventeen points! The excitement involved is nearly unimaginable to grown ups. Give it a try next time you teach this page. You won’t regret it.

Now if you are teaching with Let’s Go 4 you may also be interested in this:

Ready Made Worksheets for Let’s Go 2


Click on the image to download this product.

When you’re pressed for time and need a quick and easy activity for your young learners, The ESL Review has ready made games and activities for your lessons. In our Let’s Go 2 worksheet booklets you can simply print off these colorful snakes and ladders board games and pass them out to your students. They’ll get tons of speaking practice and they even have something they can take home with them. Everybody’s happy.

Its super easy to prepare and auper fun to play.

The booklets include other great games like concentration, tic-tac-toe, roll & read among many others. There are also a ton of extra worksheets that you’ll be happy to have in your teacher’s toolbox. 

Just click here to try.

About Time – No, Not the Movie!

스크린샷(11)This morning I had a ball singing the “What Time Is It, Mr Wolf?” song by Genki English, a truly inspired piece of EFL music about which I have written elsewhere. It’s my favorite way to introduce the concept of telling time to young learners because the song is just so sticky. We also get to play the classic children’s game, so what’s not to like?

Just before walking into my morning lessons I had one of those moments of inspiration that sadly seem to come less and less often with age. Remember the pilot of Newsroom when they discovered that the Deep Horizon oil rig had exploded? They tossed out their plan for that evening’s show and did it completely on the fly. It’s those kinds of moments in teaching that I love – when I ignore what my own experience tells me to do and I improvise. It’s like jazz, man.

So, just like that I ditched my original lesson plan and tried a new game that was simple but lots and lots of fun. First, I spread my laminated teachers’ cards across the classroom. Some were in obvious places like on tables and chairs, while others were nestled in the hidden nooks and crannies of the classroom. Each one shows a clock displaying a time of day ranging from one to twelve o’clock.  Time (Genki Mini cards)

They were all clearly visible from afar but you did have to get up close to see precisely what time was displayed.

Since there were more than twenty children in the class I divided them into two teams. This was not for competitive purposes. I just wanted to reduce the mayhem that was to ensue a bit. I mean, I was going to purposely let the children run around the classroom like little maniacs after all.

The first team gathered in front of me and on the count of three asked, “What time is it?”

I then unleashed utter chaos simply by answering, “It’s eight o’clock.”

Within a split second the children began to search the class for the right flashcard as if their lives depended on it while I counted down from ten. When I reached zero, I yelled “stop” and all the children froze in their tracks whether they had found the right card or not. The ones who hadn’t were tagged out. It’s important to try and make this process as fun as comical as possible (I have a whole array of sound effects just for this purpose) so no one feels like they’re just being excluded or punished.

The ‘survivors’ gathered in front of me and we tried again, repeating until there were only one or two children left. At this stage I declared them the winners, and then the next group of children got to try (but only after I rearranged all the cards around the classroom).

It’s a lot like The Camera Game, which is also quite a hoot for practicing almost any kind of vocabulary words you could think of.

What Are You Talking About?: A Real Fun Game.

EFL Sensei should be an essential resource for teachers needing activities to liven up their classes. Just the other day I tried out the “What Are They Talking About?” game in a class of grade five and sixes. Here’s the link: What are you talking about?

Essentially, the teacher writes the final sentence of a dialogue, something the students don’t understand the context of, and students have to construct what comes before it.

It was fun. There was a bit of groaning at the beginning, but that might have been more to do with my choice for the out of context sentence.

Here is a sample conversation produced by my students:

A: Tomorrow is my birthday! Oh, the phone is ringing…

B: Hello. This is the zoo. Would you like a free animal?

A: Yes, I would!

B: We have some lovely gorillas.

A: Um…I’m not sure.

B: We will send them to you today.

A: I don’t want any gorillas! (this last one was the out of context sentence I wrote on the board.)

The 26 Country Challenge

This past Friday I tried something new while teaching Unit 5 of Let’s Go 6, which introduces nationalities and languages. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing when I asked all the students to write the alphabet in their notebooks vertically. I then played the entire Countries of the World series from Kids TV 123 on the classroom screen and the children then had to try and write the name of one country for every letter of the alphabet:

Aruba, Belize, Cameroon, Djibouti etc.

They weren’t allowed to look at the world map at the back of the classroom and I told them spelling wasn’t important. So even the kids who think geography is about as interesting as counting toenail clippings on a Friday night at least took the challenge aspect of the activity seriously.

When at the end of the activity we made a master list on the board I realized it had worked out better than I thought. Almost everybody completed more than 90% of their list and some of the children recorded less commonly know countries such as Republic of Congo and St. Lucia. I was pretty proud of them.

Categories Game from ISL Collective

Last week I began teaching Spectrum Writing Grade 4 to my advanced class of elementary students, a series I’d definitely recommend as the most fun to teach out of the entire Spectrum line. The first lesson is about sorting items by categories, to supplement which I dug up this fantastic FREE activity on ISL Collective, by Philip Roeland, an EFL teacher based in Thailand. It’s a simple enough board game in which to win children roll a dice and land on squares that instruct them to list things in a certain category, like name 3 things that are black or name 3 things that need electricity, with both easy and difficult version of the game. My students had a real blast with them.

스크린샷 2014-11-09 오후 10.02.20

스크린샷 2014-11-09 오후 10.01.34

The Harry Potter Game from Genki English

The Harry Potter game from Genki English (GE) is one of the most exhausting games I’ve yet to play with my preschoolers, but it’s also one of the most exciting. Originally the creation of teacher Bridget McNamara, it reinforces the language taught in the classic GE theme, “What are you doing?” by Richard Graham. (You can read about Bridget’s experience playing the game on the Genki English site.)
This theme is a great follow-up to the super energetic and warm-up par excellence, Eat! Drink! Dance! since both use the same vocabulary words, and it teaches probably one of the most useful questions a child could ever need.
What are you doing?
by Richard Graham
I’m eating
I’m drinking
I’m reading
I’m sleeping
What are you doing?
What are you doing?
What are you doing?
What are you doing?
I’m singing
I’m cooking
I’m dancing
I’m fishing

(Repeat Chorus)

What are you doing 01

These are mini cards that you can print and use in your class. They’re great for playing concentration and a host of other activities.

And with one of the most memorable melodies of all Richard Graham’s work, the song is really, really sticky – so much so that the kids won’t be able to stop asking you or their classmate what they’re doing.
But back to the game….
The way I play, I pretend to be the Dark Lord Voldemort while all the children are little witches and wizards whom I want to entrance with my evil magic. I may even have a magic wand (actually a plastic xylophone mallet) just to look cool. I then chase the children around the class, trying to lightly tap them on the shoulder with my wand or hand. When I do, I say the magical spell “I’m eating” in a moderately spooky voice, and trap the child where they stand.
what are you doing 03The child is now doomed to continuously say “I’m eating” again and again while also having to pretend to eat something. As the game continues, more and more children become trapped and helpless against my evil magic. Ha ha ha!
what are you doing 04
But wait! That is not all. The other students can save their trapped comrades by rushing up to them and saying the counter spell, “What are you doing?” thus releasing the child from the spell.
What are you doing 05
There is no real ending to the game unless Voldemort catches everyone so after five minutes I call time, take a rest for a bit and then start again with a different “spell” like “I’m fishing.”
With larger classes of older children I’d probably appoint a third of the class to be Voldemorts like Bridget suggests but with the preschoolers I was teaching I like to keep a little more control of things-even if that means I feel like collapsing by the end of the hour.
Disclaimer: In teaching this song and game I’ve made a disturbing discovery – I’m getting really old, really fast. Now I was never the biggest fan of the series, but when I first got into teaching, kids young and old all seemed to know who Harry Potter was. Five year olds would dress up as him for Halloween parties and recite spells from the films. The whole reason I bothered to watch the movies and even read the first book was just to keep up.
But the kids I teach nowadays are all “Harry-who?” and “Volde-what?”. Not even classic photos of the characters enticed a smidgen of recognition. Even the older kids just dismiss it all as “old stuff.”
That said your kids WILL get into the game and have a real blast, just like mine did. They didn’t give a hoot who Harry Potter was so long as they got to run wild.

Play Pictionary with your Students for Free

One of the most popular games played by my students is Pictionary. I drag it out every once in a while as a reward for when they do well on a test or have a particularly productive day in the classroom. It’s not a filler game either. You’d be surprised at how many vocabulary words your students will recall when winning a game is at stake. (You can read up on the rules here if you are unfamiliar with the game.)

The trouble is that it retails for between $40-50 on Amazon, and I HATE forking over that kind of cash when there is a cheaper (or free) alternative that is just as good in the classroom.

So, just visit a wonderfully useful blog called The Game Gal, which provides pages and pages of topical clues for Pictionary such as these:

Pictionary 01

The clues are downloadable as pdf files and thus easily printable and savable.

Lacking a physical game board, I draw one on the white board, making sure to leave enough space underneath for the kids to draw the pictures. I also use big red or blue dots as team tokens. The advantage of this vis-à-vis a regular board is that if you have a large class, now everybody can see where their team is in the game. You’ll also need some dice as well.

Pictionary 04

And to add to the excitement I also use an online timer from

Pictionary 02 Pictionary 03

And now you’re ready to play Pictionary for free.

The Camera Game

There are so many vocabulary activities that involve finding, pointing to, or matching vocabulary words on flash cards, and they’re great, but why not turn the whole process into a bit of an adventure for the children? This past week I dug out a personal classic for my preschool classes called the camera game. As the name implies, it’s all about getting the children to take pictures of the words they are learning. This is great for getting them up off their bums, inspiring their imagination, and getting lots of speaking practice.

As for materials, if you happen to have twenty or so toy cameras, great, or you could just make them. Don’t worry, it’s simple. Copy and paste some camera clip art from Google Images onto a word document, print off a bunch, cut them out, and laminate for durability.

Camera game 02

After several uses some of them look a little worse for wear. One young child even insisted I take his camera into the shop for repairs like his daddy did with his camera.

To set up, I go around the class putting up pre-taught A4 sized flash cards in places that the children can clearly see (although realia would obviously be great, too). In this case the flash cards depict the fruit from Genki English’s Fruit Market song: apple, orange, pineapple, banana, lemon, cherry, strawberry, watermelon, peach, grapes, pear, and kiwi fruit.

fruit market 01

Just some of the great fruit characters from the high energy Genki English theme, Fruit Market.

Now for the game! After first demonstrating and giving a safety lesson, I pass out the “cameras”. Boy you should see how excited the children get! I then start calling out the vocabulary one by one, and the children go off and take pictures of them. As I call them out I show a picture of each word using the Genki English mini flashcards. Now you might think that this activity doesn’t involve any actual speaking on the part of the children, but you’d be wrong. They constantly repeat the words in their search and keep asking each other where they are, even bellowing out the names when they find them. 

Anyway, it is a huge hit for my students. I hope it works for you.

photo (8)

Here are a group of four-year-olds, cameras in hand, searching for grapes.