7 Games for Online ESL Classes

Games are fun! Games are engaging! Games are disguised learning!


I LOVE using games throughout ESL lessons, especially when teaching online. The online medium for teaching is very different than being physically with a child. When I used to tutor children and physically sit beside them, it was much easier to gauge their level of interaction.


With online classes, although students are engaged, their attention span can wander quickly. After all, they are looking at a screen with this weird, animated human bopping around next to their courseware. There are physically distractions around them that can be more interested than a virtual teacher. It's nothing personal!


Although online lessons are only 30 minutes (which is DEFINITELY long enough!), students still need brain breaks throughout. In my humble opinion, there is no better brain break than a GAME .


Super fun, but also educational, games help students to redirect their focus. It helps them to stay on target. It ensures that their brain isn't overwhelmed. Remember, students are learning English as a SECOND LANGUAGE, but being taught only in English. This is overwhelming. This is an intense process for their brain wires. This is a lot of learning for a little human!


When students start getting off track, looking uninterested, or not grasping a concept, it is better to not push them too far. Otherwise, they'll start to feel frustrated, become anxious over failing, or start to resent classes. So, avoid all that and play a game instead!


Here are some of my favourite spelling and vocabulary games. They are short and simple so they don't consume too much time. They focus on words, letters, and sounds to keep it phonetically focused. And they help bring students back to thinking you are AWESOME and this class is the BEST!


Have a look and give them a go in your next class.



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Wordy Words

One of my favourites that I still don't have a better name for (open to suggestions!) that I also recommend as a warm up for a session. This game is so fun and easy and I haven't seen students ever get bored of it!



Start with a word, such as DOG. It ends in the letter G. What word starts with G? GREEN! Ok, what starts in N? NICE! Great, what starts with E? And so on and so forth. You get the idea! Enjoy this one!




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Letter Lists

Here is a good fun game to start or finish a class. Take a small whiteboard or piece of paper. Choose 4 letters are random. I like to use my flashcards to show the student and get them to say what letter it is for reinforcement.


Then, divide the whiteboard or paper into 4. Go round each letter and think of a word. It is better to go out of order so that the student has to jump from one letter to another, keeping their brain on its metaphorical toes. The game can last up to 4 or 5 words per letter before students start to lose interest.


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Unscramble It

A timeless little game, this one is lots of fun. The premise is simple - unscramble the letters to spell a word. I don't know about you, but I've found my South Korean and Chinese students were unbelievably good at this!


Create a pre-made list of scrambled up words on a piece of cardboard (why throw that cookie box out - you've got a great resource right there!). I cut mine out individually with fancy borders and colours because that's what a cake box can truly become! (yes, I ate the cake while colouring them!) Hold up the scrambled words and challenge the student to unscramble them as quickly as possible. It is a quick, verbal game and great for students aged around 9-11 years old.


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Memory Flip

This game is perfect for building sight recognition of words. You can play it at any level and adapt it using easier or harder vocab. For instance, I take my CVC spelling cards and turn them into this memory game.

I hold up three cards at a time and get the student to read them out, slowly at first. Then, we read them faster, picking up a rhythm of the words. Then, I jumble them around and turn one backwards, so the word isn't visible. Animatedly ask, 'which one is missing?!' and the student has to remember the hidden word. It is great fun and can last for as many rounds (or as few) as you need.


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Colour Craze

This game is so basic but so entertaining. It is all about colours, vocabulary, and quick thinking from your student. You can play where you write the words or just say them aloud to keep them verbal. Simply start with choosing a colour. For the sake of being suspenseful, dramatically choose a colour from inside something, like a pencil from inside a pencil case. The mysterious element is hard to beat!



Then, get your student to think of something that is that colour. For instance, if I pull out the colour green, the student needs to think of something green, like 'grass' or 'tree'. You can add another level to this game by pulling out a number (or holding up fingers) at the same time, so the student has to think of 2 blue things or 4 yellow things, depending on the number/colour combination.


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Spelling Scramble

This was actually one of my favourite games as a child! It is exciting bringing it to online teaching platforms and in standard ESL classes. It is recommended for more advanced learners as it involves some critical thinking.

Start with a word - ideally a long one like ELEPHANT. Then, get the student to create as many words using the letters available from the given word. It is a great game to implement at the start of the lesson and keep coming back to throughout the lesson. Students will often pop up randomly and be like 'I've got one!' and quickly write it down! I think, for online teaching, this is best played with pen and paper at the student's end.


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Who’s Got an A?

Ok this game isn't specific to the letter A - disclaimer! With this game, start by getting your student to write 3-5 words they know (either on the computer screen or a piece of paper). You can categorise the words to help them think of some, eg: 'think of 5 animals' - cat, dog, fish, bird, rabbit.


Now, randomly select a letter. I love using my flashcards for this. I hold up a letter A, for instance, and ask the student to circle which word has an A. Choosing letters at random gets the student to recognise the letter out of context. The student needs to use sight recognition to then scan the words to find one. It is good to mix up the alphabet rhythm so that letters mean something on their own, not just in that sing-song sequence.


Gamey goodness! There are so many other great spelling and vocab games out there. I'm sure I'll be adding more to this list in the future. As teachers, we should never underestimate the power of fun and games to enhance learning.



What's even better about games? They are simple and easy to prepare. Students are more focused on having fun, rather than what is providing them with the fun. You don't need to spend cash at the two dollar store (or whatever they're called now) and stock up plasticy disposable toys to have fun. More importantly, we shouldn't be in today's environmental crisis!

Keep it eco. Keep it educational.













Have fun with recycling, up-cycling, and repurposing! It is easier than you think. All of these games are created with recycled materials and happy smile (that's the most important ingredient for life!). Keep it eco, keep it educational.