My answer? Be their teacher when teaching, and become their friend when taking breaks. And the more breaks, sometimes, the better. Before class, during class, after class, you need to play some simple and fun games with them to penetrate their thriving I-am-a-teenager-you’ll-need-to-work-100x-harder-to-impress-me shields.
And I mean it’s the simplest games that can do the trick. So let’s see…Here’s where you start: Whenever you’re teaching ESL to teenagers, first, make sure you’ve got these must-have games somewhere in your classroom:
Checkers / Chess
Draw What I Say
- On a piece of paper, draw the strangest, ugliest, most insane face ever. The key here is to draw parts of the face using vocabulary your students have recently learned, and try to incorporate as many adjectives as possible.
- Next, hand out a piece of paper to each student.
- Have your students listen to your instructions and try to copy exactly what you’ve drawn. For instance, let’s say you’ve recently studied food. Start off with, “Draw a big circle. This circle is a face. This face has two eyes, but the eyes are huge watermelons. There are two ears. The left ear is a hamburger, the right ear is a slice of pizza.” And so on. Get it?
Line Up, Fast
- Tell your students, while their sitting down, that they can receive a reward only if they’re able to line up, in order, under a time limit, according to a category of your choosing.
- You can say something like, “Line up by your birthdays, youngest to oldest. 2 minutes. Ready? Go!” Or how about, “Line up by your height, shortest to tallest. Ready? Go!” And what about, “Line up by ugliest to prettiest!” Wait a sec, scratch that one!
- Draw 16 dots on the board via 4 x 4.
- Only 2 players are allowed.
- Have Player 1 draw a single line connecting 2 dots. The lines can only go vertically or horizontally. No diagonals! This repeats with Player 2.
- The player to draw the last line of box gets that box and writes their first initial inside it. Whoever has the most boxes by the end of the game wins.
- Grab a pile of coins. The number of coins should match the number of students in the class.
- Arrange the coins by their year. Only use coins that are about 10+ years older than the birth year of the youngest student, all the way to present.
- Scramble the coins and pass them out.
- One by one, have each student tell a story about something important that occurred during that year.
Celebrity Heads / Heads Up
- Sit in a circle and deal a post-it to everyone.
- On it, have everyone write down the name of a historical figure, cartoon, or celebrity, living or dead.
- Once finished, have everyone pass their post-it, face down, to the person on their right.
- Without looking, each person should stick the post-it onto their forehead with the name showing face up.
- Each person should try guessing the name on their post-it by asking 10 YES or NO questions only. For ex: “Is it a boy or girl?”, “Is it a real person or fictional character?,” “Is he from America?” Again, answers can only be YES or NO.
9 Card Magic Trick:
- Find someone to secretly help you perform the magic trick.
- Gather around your students. Place 9 cards on a table face down, 3 x 3.
- Choose 1 student. Tell them that you’ll leave the room, and while you’re out, you want them to point to one card and have everyone see. All they have to do is point! Let them know that once you return you’ll read their mind and guess their card.
- Here’s how it works: Before starting the trick, have your ‘insider’ gather a small or large piece of paper resembling a rectangle, or the 3 x 3 cards. During the trick, have them sit close to you. When you arrive back in the room to guess which card was chosen, your ‘insider’ should discreetly place their finger or elbow on the paper, on a spot exactly coinciding with the location of the card in the 9 card layout. All you’ll have to do is glance, out the corner of your eye, and see where their finger or elbow is.
- Once you’ve spotted it, look into your victim’s eyes to act as if you’re reading their mind. Ask them all kinds of funny, crazy questions that don’t have anything to do with anything, but let them feel as if you’re leading up to the answer. After a while choose their card. PERFECT!
- Form 2 teams and have each team line up on opposite sides of a table.
- On the whiteboard, write down an English problem—i.e. fill in the blanks, fix the grammar in the sentence---for each number of players in the game. If there are 10 players, write 5 problems on the left and 5 on the right.
- Give each player a cup and have them set it directly in front of them on the table.
- Ready … go! The 1st person on each team must rush to the whiteboard and solve their problem.
- Once finished, they must rush back to the table, set their cup on the edge of the table, then flip their cup 180 degrees so that it’s top lands facing down on the table. The next person may start only after the previous person’s cup is stably faced down. Whatever team finishes the fastest is the winner.
- Gather a long table, form 2 teams, and have each team stand at the opposite ends of the table.
- On each end of the table arrange 15 cups in a triangle shape, starting with 5, then 4, 3, 2, and then 1.
- You can play this game a number of ways. Let’s see, how about placing Inside each cup, for instance, a spelling word that has some letters missing.
- Using a Ping-Pong ball, 1 person throws or bounces the Ping-Pong into their opponent’s cup. If it lands inside, the thrower must fill in the missing letters for that word. If they spell it right, they get to remove their opponent’s cup. If wrong, the cup stays. The first team with no cups remaining loses. Easy, right!?
Chase the Ace
- Gather a pack of cards and take out the Jokers and 3 Aces, leaving just 1 Ace.
- Deal the entire pack to the players.
- Before starting, ask every player to take out any doubles they have–two 3’s, two 4’s, etc.—and place them in a center pile on the table.
- Choose who goes first. That person should then turn to their right, hold out their cards with the front facing inwards, and let the next person choose any card from their hand.
- That person adds the card to their hand. Should they now have any doubles, they should set it on the table.
- Next, they then turn to the next person and the process repeats. The objective is to get all of the doubles—and, well, cards—out of your hand. The person retaining the sole Ace at the end of the game loses.
- Pull out a deck of cards and shuffle them thoroughly. In Speed, only 2 players are allowed to go head to head.
- In-between the students, arrange 5 cards in a pile, then 1 card, another 1 card, then 5 cards again, face down on the table.
- Divide the remaining cards between the 2 students.
- Each student should pull the first 5 cards from their deck and put them in order in their hand. They can only—and must always—have 5 cards.
- When ready, each person flips over one of the 1 cards in the middle, and the match begins.
- Here’s how it works: The goal is to place the cards in order according to their number/identification. For ex., if a 3 card is displayed, a 2 or 4 can be put down. If a King, then a Queen or Ace. By the way, Jokers are wild cards and represent any number, i.e. they can be placed on top of anything. Each player can place a card in either pile. If no one can play a card, each player must stop, and then simultaneously flip over the top card from one of the two 5 card stacks on the left and right to continue the game. The player to rid of all their cards the fastest is the winner.
BullSh*t / “You’re Lying!”
- Grab a deck of cards and remove the Jokers.
- Deal out the entire deck, card by card, to every player.
- Have each player arrange their cards in order, starting with Aces and ending with Kings.
- Now, this is an order-type game. To start, the 1st player must place down any Aces they have. If they have 2 Aces, they must say “2 Aces”. The next places any 2’s, and the next, 3’s, and so on.
- This process continues entire game. BUT, here’s the catch: Every person must put down cards, whether they have the correct ordered card or not; that is, if at any point a player doesn’t have the card that’s needed next, with their best poker face, they must place down a card (or cards) and lie.
- As the game progresses it becomes easier to identify who is lying. Let’s say you have 4 Queens, and the next card needed is a Queen, but your friend puts down “2 Queens”. Nah man, they’re lying! So if you believe, or just flat out know they’re lying, call “bulls***”—for kids, teach them to say “You’re lying”--and flip over their cards. If the player lied, they must take the entire pile. If they were telling the truth, then you must take the entire pile. The key to the game is getting every card out of your hand.
- Have all players sit in a circle. Take out a deck of playing cards. Remove the two jokers.
- In the middle of the group, spread the cards around, face down, in a circle around a cup.
- Each card is assigned a rule, so let your players know beforehand.
2 = You: Whoever pulls the Two chooses a person to have a drink with them.
3 = Me: Whoever pulls a Three must drink.
4 = Pull a Four and everyone must touch the floor. Whoever touches the floor last must drink.
5 = Guys: Pull a Five and all the guys drink.
6 = Chicks: Pull a Six and all the girls drink.
7 = Heaven: Pull a Seven and everyone must point to the sky. Whoever points to the sky last must drink.
8 = Date: Whoever pulls an Eight must choose a ‘date’ to drink with them every time they drink for the entire remainder of the game.
9 = Rhyme: Whoever pulls a Nine must choose a word. One by one, each player must find a word that rhymes. Whoever stumbles must drink.
10 = Categories. Whoever pulls a Ten chooses a category. One by one, each player must say a word related to that category. Whoever stumbles must drink.
Jack = Social: Pull a Jack and everybody drinks.
Queen = Questions: Whoever pulls a Queen points to someone & ask a question, fast. That person must not answer, but respond with another question.
King = Whoever pulls a King must pour some of their drink into the middle cup. The person that pulls the 4th King must drink the entire cup. Game over.
2 = You: Whoever pulls the Two must compete in a game such as Tic Tac Toe or Rock, Paper, Scissors, with whomever they choose.
3 = Me: Whoever pulls a Three must compete in a game with the teacher such as Tic Tac Toe or Rock, Paper, Scissors.
5 = Guys: Pull a Five and all the guys must complete a timed English or math problem on the board.
6 = Chicks: Pull a Six and all the girls must complete a timed English or math problem on the board.
8 = Versus. Whoever chooses Eight can choose someone to compete in doing an English or math problem on the board.
Jack = Rule: Whoever pulls the Jack creates a rule for everyone to follow, either in the moment or for the rest of the game. Make it fun; try something like, “No one can blink”, “No one’s feet can touch the floor”, “No one can smile”, or “No one can move.” The first to break the rule loses. This one’ll produce A LOT of laughter!
- Grab a deck of cards. Take out 2 Kings, 2 Jacks, and a couple of numbered cards depending on how many students present. If there are 10 students, 2 will be Kings, 2 will be Jacks, and you’ll need numbered cards for the remaining 6 students.
- Pass out the cards, face down, to each student.
- Next, assign roles: You, as the teacher, will play the Host. The 2 Kings are Killers—you can try to think of a better word—the 2 Jacks are Police, and the numbered cards are Civilians.
- Explain the rules: The goal of the game is for the Killers to ‘kill’ the Police before the Police guess who the Killers are.
- Alright, let’s begin! Ask everyone to close their eyes and put their head down. Explain that there is NO talking.
- First: The Host asks only the 2 Killers to open their eyes and point—without speaking—in agreeance for 1 person to ‘kill’, hoping that it’s a policeman. The Host should only nod their head as in “Ok”. Afterwards the Killers should put their head back down.
- Second: The Host asks only the 2 Police to open their eyes and point—without speaking—in agreeance for 1 person they suspect is a Killer. The Host can only respond by shaking their head as to answer “yes” or “no.” Afterwards the Police should put their head back down.
- Third: The Host ask everyone to open their eyes. The Host then reveals who the Killers ‘killed.” That person is then out the game and can no longer speak or give clues at any point.
- Fourth: One by one, the Host ask everyone to convincingly explain why they are not a killer, without revealing their status in the game. Remember, the goal of the Police is to give hints to others as to who they suspect the Killer may be. The goal of the Killers is to convince others they are not a Killer, but ‘kill’ those they suspect are Police.
- Fifth: The Host should ask everyone, one by one, to vote for 1 person who they think is a Killer.
- Sixth: The person with the most votes is ejected from the game and can no longer speak or give clues at any point.
- Seventh: And so the game repeats. Heads back down, Killers guess the Police, Police guess the Killer, the person killed is ejected from the game, everyone proves they’re not a Killer, there is a vote for who people think is the killer, and someone is ejected from the game. The game ends when both Killers are found, or both Police are dead.
I know, it’s a little complicated, but once you get it right, trust me, it’s a blast!