What games work well in the language learning class?

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What games work well in the language learning class?

Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL Specialist

Brewster, Ellis and Girard (2012) discuss the idea of playing Bingo or Dominoes as games for connecting various curriculum areas. Brewster explains that playing games like these can be a support for learning target vocabulary: for example, he notes that playing a Dominoes game before or after reading, where learners can either match the words or the pictures together as they listen, is an excellent way to learn the target language. Perhaps, for example, you might be studying human skeleton vocabulary in the game and making connections to the class book (possibly Funny Bones), with learners encouraged to explore the theme of bones and skeletons by listening to the story. 

Brewster et al also give the example of using the book Princess Smartypants, which is suitable for older children, to explore the theme of gender stereotypes. The teacher might read the book and introduce a ‘classifying’ game, where the learners write descriptions of the characters using the three headings: A Typical Princess, A Typical Prince, Not Typical. Learners can then read other descriptions and decide which classification they might be: usually wears beautiful clothes, is usually handsome, likes riding horses, likes to rescue princesses, and so on. This type of game can be adapted for any other lesson – for example, to discuss people, events or cultures.

Barrier games, which require students to give and receive information over a barrier, as explained by Scott (2012), can also prove very useful. They allow learners to develop their speaking skills by asking questions in the target language. For example, Scott suggests offering each student a different, yet similar, picture, and asking the students to find out what is different in the other students’ pictures, by posing targeted questions. Scott believes that these games are not only useful for small group support sessions, but also, with adequate differentiation, suitable for the mainstream classroom. 

You might also like to use Top Trumps Cards (see a free downloadable example by clicking on the buttons above and below the article) – a trading card game that shares common themes. Mitchell (2016) discusses the idea of using revision Top Trumps, which can be adapted for revising topics or used for classroom content language. Each card will present a list of data, which can be adapted for the language around that topic. One idea for developing the use of the cards further is to see which group of students can find the most interesting facts about the topic. The language focus can be related to vocabulary and/or the present or past simple in the third person. 

Top Trumps: how to play

Split the learners into groups and give each learner two cards. They must read the information on the cards and identify one or two interesting facts about each item shown. Learners then construct a sentence. The next learner must repeat the sentence and add their own sentence, to form a sentence chain. At the end of the game, each group reports back on how many interesting facts they were able to find. There are many other ways you can adapt and use these cards, depending on the level of your group. 

Finally, another idea is to use a simple noughts and crosses game. Thompson (2017) explains that this game is particularly popular with teenagers and is best used as either a starter, filler or plenary activity. The teacher draws a grid on the board and puts in topics related to something you have been studying in class, for example, Geography. The learners then select a category and answer the question, for example, ‘What is the capital of Australia?’. You can adapt this to work on grammar points: if you have the word ‘preposition’ on the board, you can ask the students to supply the missing preposition in a sentence, such as “He is … the computer”. If the student supplies the correct preposition, they ‘win’ that box in the game and get to put in a nought or a cross, as appropriate. 



Brewster, J., Ellis, G., and Girard, D. (2002). The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Mitchell, J (2016). 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Revision. London: Bloomsbury.

Scott, C (2012) . Teaching English as an Additional Language, 5-11: A Whole School Resource File. London: Routledge.

Thomson, K. “Noughts and Crosses Quiz Game” Teaching English. British Council BBC. British Council, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

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