I worked at a language training school when I first moved to China. I taught children aged 5 – 11 and each class lasted for about an hour. Our lessons followed a strict routine. First, we set a short warm-up activity (e.g. a brainstorm). Second, we quickly introduced the language point (i.e. either vocab or grammar). Third, we played games with the students in order to reinforce the language point. The language school I worked for was crazy about games. Any game would do, so long as the children were having fun.
We began each lesson by dividing the class into two teams. The students enjoyed coming up with funny names for their teams and they were always competitive in class. In this article I describe some of the games I played with my students during my first year of teaching. Note that I did not create these games.
1. Bomb game
This is not really a game, but it’s a very popular way of choosing which student should answer a question. Students sit in a large circle. Teacher draws a bomb and fuse on the board. One student is chosen to erase the fuse as the other students pass a ball around the circle. Once the fuse has been erased the ball stops on one student, who must answer a question and/or perform a forfeit. Young children get very excited when you draw a fuse that twists and turns around the whole whiteboard.
2. Stool race
This game only works with an even number of students. Students are in two teams and are each given numbers (e.g. there is a number 1 in each team). Teacher places two low stools at the front of the classroom, one for each team. Teacher then shouts out a number and the corresponding pair of students must race to sit down on their team’s stool. You can add extra rules in order to keep the format of the game fresh. For example, students can run around their chair and race to sit back down.
3. Hug game
The simplest games are often the most effective. This is a very popular game among very young students. It can be used to review numbers, or simply as a way of choosing which student should answer a question. Students walk around the classroom to a tune whilst possibly doing actions. Teacher then shouts out a number and the students must form groups of that number. Each group of students must form a huddle. Ask a question to the student who is unable to find a group. If there are two students in this position, they can play rock, paper, scissors.
4. London Bridge
This is a classic game that works well both indoors and outdoors. Two students form a bridge with their hands. The rest of the class must walk underneath the arch, to the tune of London Bridge. At the end of the song (i.e. at the words my fair lady) the arch is lowered and a student is trapped. Teacher asks the trapped student a question. If your students are able, you can teach them the words to the song beforehand. Remember to tell your students not to run around, as this can be dangerous.
5. Paper cups
There are a few games you can play using medium-sized plastic cups. I think the most successful is Stack cups. You will need a table and 12 medium-sized, plastic cups. At each end of the table place stack 6 plastic cups, face-down. Two students race to stack the cups in a pyramid (i.e. 3-2-1) and then to take down their pyramid. A good way to prevent cheating is to have your students clap after putting up and taking down their pyramids. Alternatively, stand the cups up normally and play a variant of the drinking game Beer Pong (where players attempt to throw ping-pong balls into cups).
6. Black n’ red
There are lots of card games you can use in the EFL classroom (others are Snap and Go Fish). For Black n’ Red, you must first remove the picture cards and the jokers from a standard pack of playing cards. Ask a student a question. Then let him or her choose one card at random from about a half-dozen. In other words, fan out the cards face-down. The red cards (hearts and diamonds) carry positive values, but the black cards (clubs and spades) carry negative values. For example, 2 of Hearts will earn 2 points for the team but 3 of Clubs will lose 3 points.
7. Sticky ball
A sticky ball is any small ball with suction pads that will stick to flat and dry surfaces. The simplest way to use a sticky ball is to draw a darts board on the whiteboard and have students throw the ball for points. You can vary this format by drawing the outline of an animal in place of the darts board. Remember to add sanctions as well as point rewards. Use minus numbers or other picture to include point sanctions. For example, a bomb will erase a team’s points. A typhoon will erase everyone’s points. And a two-way arrow will swap the team’s points around. I like to invite students to draw the animal on the board and to fill in the available point rewards.