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Movie lover. Growing Capoeirista. Space enthusiast. Dedicated craftsman. And best of all, homegrown Los Angeles native. Wait, how in the hell did I end up in China!?
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Teenagers, you just gotta’ love them. It’s that age where those once young, sweet, and joyful kids turn into obnoxious, rebellious, uninterested adolescents—at least, some of them. Oh what the hell, most of them!
As an ESL teacher, just how in the heck are you supposed to keep these kids entertained with learning another language? And that’s without allowing them to play on their phones or computers. How can you keep them engaged, or, having enough fun to want to learn more?
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:
You should already know—every age group, from toddlers, teens, and adults, loves the hell out of that game!
Checkers / Chess
Classic board games are a must. Believe it or not, in some places like, let’s say, China, kids don’t even grow up exposed to these games. Can you believe it? I mean c’mon, it’s checkers!
It’s one of the easiest and most entertaining games to play of all-time. Yep, all-time. I guarantee you, your ESL students will want to play this game each opportunity they can get.
Scrabble is the epitome of a fantastic ESL board game. It’s definitely only to be used by your advanced students, but even then they may have trouble keeping a good pace for the game.
Hey, who doesn’t love Uno? Enough said!
Alright, now that that’s out the way, let’s get to some fun but more challenging games you can play using everything from cards and coins to chairs, cups, and ... magic!
Remember those 3D pictures you use to see as a kid? The ones that were colorful and filled with repeating patterns, but if you looked closer and focused your eyes just a bit, you could see a hidden 3D image? Those were freaking cool, right? Well, they’re called stereograms. Print some out and have your kids’ minds blown! Can you see what's hidden in the pic above? It's a shark!
These mind games are for your advanced ESL students only. After all, most native English-speaking adults can’t even solve them. Rebus puzzles usually contain popular English phrases hidden in pictograms. Take the picture above. Get the meaning?
Left: I understand | Right: Split Personality
Gather up some chairs, play some easy English songs, have your students spell out English words, or have them repeat a poem or phrase as they circle around the chairs.
Draw What I Say
It’s always good to have a fun games that could stimulate your ESL students’ listening skills. Why not try this one?
Btw, get creative and funny. The picture doesn’t even need to be a face—It could be an entire body, a car, or even a Christmas tree! Your students will have a blast hearing your call-outs and looking over each other’s pictures to see who matched the best.
Line Up, Fast
Maybe your students are bored out of their minds and you want to get them moving without doing anything too crazy. Well, here’s a good one:
Try to choose subjects that get the students speaking in English with one another, but make sure to mix in some silly topics as well.
The most popular hand clapping game of all-time. You know, where the number of claps you do increases with rounds. You start by—Oh boy, this one is actually too difficult to explain, so why don’t you go ahead and watch a “how to play Patty Cake” instructional video, here.
Here’s a simple game you can play on the whiteboard:
Collect all those coin you have lying around the house and under your couch, and try this one for 'change':
Celebrity Heads / Heads Up
One of the best scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds involved this game. Remember it? There was a big shoot out at the end and—wait, that's just about every Tarantino movie. Of course, your playing it won’t end the same!
9 Card Magic Trick:
Here’s the WOW factor, but you must do it absolutely right. And for this one you’ll actually need someone, maybe your assistant or student, in on the trick.
Hey, this one’s easy. If you’ve ever been to a college party or two then you’ve most likely played this one:
This one right here is a classic and it fits in perfectly with ESL learning. You know the drill:
Chase the Ace
Here’s the simplest card game you can play to entertain your ESL students.
Honestly, I’ve played this game a million times. Yeah, that’s about right. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s fast, meaning your ESL students will have more chances to play.
BullSh*t / “You’re Lying!”
I played this one all the time with my cousins back in the day, so I had to teach it to my older and advanced ESL students. After awhile, they practically begged me to play before each class! Here’s what you do:
There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ve played King’s Cup at least once or twice in your life. Remember that game? Sure, it’s a drinking game, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play it in the classroom with your ESL students. All you’ve got to do is switch around a couple of rules and apply it for English language learning. But first, let’s refresh your memory on how to play the game:
Ace = Waterfall: Whoever pulls the Ace drinks. The person standing to the right of them doesn’t stop until the Ace-puller stops, and the person to the right of them doesn’t stop until the previous person stops. This cycle repeats.
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.
Got it? Now, how can we apply this for your ESL class? Well, 4, 7, 9, 10, and Queen are perfect just the way they are. So, let’s spice up the rest. How about trying these rules out?
Ace = Whoever pulls an Ace must sing or dance.
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!
And as for the King? Well of course we don’t want your students drinking! For this game you actually don’t even need the cup; after all, they’re kids, so just pulling out cards from a pile will do just fine. What’s more, you don’t even need your students to sit in a circle; instead, use the game as a reward. Teach for a bit, then have the good students come to the front a choose a card. Wa lah!
This one’s pretty dope, but more of a game for advanced ESL students. Here’s how it works:
I know, it’s a little complicated, but once you get it right, trust me, it’s a blast!
Woah! There you have it—20 games to entertain those bored ESL teenage students. Hopefully you’ll have found several that are a hit, and the others, I’d say keep on trying or try to find some video that can help explain them clearer. Better yet, I hope this list has inspired you to think of other creative ideas to engage your students. So what are you waiting for? Start preparing!
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