Games for Language lessons

These are short language games, with little or no preparation. To be used as a starter or as a reward at the end of a lesson.

General precaution: As most of the games are known with many variants, it’s always a good idea to check the rules before they get started.

A few tips to make the activities entertaining:

  • Speed
  • Speed
  • Speed
  • Rewards of some sort. Glory is better than candies, and much cheaper.
  • Only a few minutes in a row. If the result is not perfect, it’s better to play the game again a few days later than to prolong it until the students are bored. By the way, it’s also much more effective for memorization to space the repetitions a little bit than to try to memorize everything at once.

The hanged man

No preparation needed.

Goal : to guess the secret word

The master of the game thinks about a word.
He draws as many lines on the board as there are letters in the word. For instance, the word “serendipity” has got 11 letters:
__  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

The students propose some letters in order to guess the word. They can also propose an entire word, but it’s a dangerous strategy, because for each mistake the master of the game will draw one line of the picture of a hanged man. If the picture is complete before the students have found the word, the class has lost and the master has won. If a student guesses the word correctly, he wins and becomes the master. He can then choose a new word and draws a new picture.

Variants: You can decide to draw a more complex “hanged man” and the game go on with the same picture until it’s complete. It’s a good way to end the game.

Caution : As for many games, please keep a look on the clock. In the class, you should not spend too much time on them. Those games are good to remind some vocabulary, but the students won’t learn new stuff. And it’s only about separate words. The pupils don’t have to make full sentences, which can become a problem if you rely too much on this kind of games.

The magic bag

No preparation needed.

Goal: to remember a long series of words.

Have the students in one or several circles depending on their number.

Say the ritual sentence: “I’ll go to England. In my magic bag, I put…”
Then, you name an object, for instance “a book”.
The next player in the circle must repeat the sentence and add another object:
“In my magic bag, I put a book and a pencil…”
And so on:
“In my magic bag, I put a book, a pencil, and a ruler…”
A player loses if:

  • He takes too much time.
  • He makes a mistake.
  • He names an object that is already in the list.
  • He doesn’t speak in English.
  • But he can say some fantastic things, like “a castle”, “a baby dragon”, “a unicorn”. After all, it’s a magic bag.

The loosing players make a step backward and are eliminated.
The game goes on until only one player remains.

Caution : It’s better to make several circles instead of a big one. The game can become very difficult and boring if there are too many participants. The children will have to wait too long before they get their turn. And the fact that some of them are eliminated can become a problem if the game lingers too much.
Variant: Have the children mimic the object. For instance, they do the gesture of opening a book, when they say the word “book”. It helps to memorize the meaning of the words.


May require some preparation (e.g. a set of cards with words).

There are many ways to play this game. A player mimics a word and tries to make his classmates guess the word. No sound may be uttered by the mime. He cannot spell the word but is allowed to make as many gestures as he wants. For instance, he can mime several things in order to make a charade or to associate different ideas (like “soldier” and “many” to get to “war”).
You can make everybody play together, especially if the words are difficult. The winner replaces the mime. In that case, the mime can choose the word by himself.

Variants: You can also play in teams. The mime will try to make his team guess as many words as possible. Or the player who’s guessed the word replaces the mime and mimics another word. In that case, to make the competition fair, many words will be written on pieces of paper. Each mime picks up one word at a time. If the mime doesn’t know the word, you can allow him to pick up another one, maybe after a few seconds of penalty. It’s a good variant because the teacher can choose which vocabulary the children will work on. You can also easily set a time limit and count how many words each team has guessed.

One more variant: Instead of miming the words, you can also draw a picture. Same principle: the player who draws the picture is not allowed to write any letter or number, nor to speak in any way.

With a ball

Almost no preparation needed. The ball can be made with a mere sheet of paper. 

Have the students form a circle. The first player takes the ball and ask a question. Then he throws the ball to another player who will have to answer the question and ask a second one. The game goes on until a player makes a mistake. At this point, you can dismiss the player who made the mistake, or just have him loose his turn or loose one life.

Caution: If you decide that the losers must leave the circle, it can become boring for those who aren’t in the competition any more. Also consider that the size of the circle can change the experience considerably. In a class of 35 students, it may be better to make 3 small circles instead of one big.

The idea behind this very simple game is to transmit the turn of speech as fast as possible. The ball is nothing but a mean to draw the attention of the players. Nobody knows who will be the next player. Therefore, everybody must stay alert and prepare an answer. To be efficient, the player should ask the question first and only then designate the next player.
This game can be adapted to many kinds of lesson. It could be words, it could be questions and answers. It could be just a few expressions previously memorized or some more creative answers. Up to the teacher. The only thing is to keep the questions and answers reasonably short and to decide quickly if a student doesn’t know the answer. If one player is stuck, all the group is stuck. Keep in mind that speed and rhythm are keys for entertainment.

With flashcards

Needs some preparation. The preparation can be made by the students themselves.

Flashcards are very common pedagogic tools. They constitute a very efficient way to memorize any kind of lesson.
A learner can use them alone. In that case they are not so much of a game, but rather an easy and effective way to review one’s lessons.
Flashcards can also be used to play a large variety of games.

Make the cards

Many sets of flashcards are available on the market, but they are usually quite expensive, and not necessarily suited to your specific needs. They are however so easy to make by yourself that it would be quite stupid to spend a lot of money on them.

You can also find many softwares to make electronic versions of them. They are usually designed for individual training and not collective games but can be very useful. You can also use some templates for business cards to print them with Publisher, if you need something more professional or simply more durable than handwritten cards.

It’s a good idea to have them made by the students themselves. It’s a good way to involve them and make them copy their lesson. If each student has its own set, there are much more possibilities of games and the students can use them at home to review their lesson.

Usually, flashcards are just cards with a question on one side and the answer on the other one. It can be for instance:

  • The Khmer word on the first side, and the English word on the other,
  • An addition and its solution,
  • A picture of an animal and its name,
  • A musical note and its name,
  • A chemical symbol and the name of the element,
  • Almost anything in fact.

Just a few rules to make the cards:

  • Keep them simple.
  • Keep them unambiguous (straight, simple questions with only one possible answer).
  • Make them of a suitable size for the intended use.

Some sorts of cards can be used on both sides. The question becomes the answer and vice-versa. It’s pretty obvious that you must be able to recognize a foreign word and tell its meaning. But you must also be able to find the right word if needed. From Khmer to English. From English to Khmer.

Examples of games:

1. In small groups, present the flashcards to the group. The fastest player to give an answer earns the corresponding card. When all the set is dispatched between the players, just count the cards to know the winner.
2. By pairs: a tester and a tested. Set a timer to 2 or 3 minutes. The player tries to earn as many cards as possible in the given time. Then invert the roles. You can keep record of the scores and replay the same game a few days later. Very effective to assess a progress and to learn on the long term, if done regularly for a few weeks. A few minutes each day is generally enough.
3. By chains and circles: a student answer a question, then question the next one in the chain or in the circle.
4. With actions: instead of giving an answer orally, the players are supposed to write the answer or to perform some action, such as taking the right object, making the gesture, miming the character and son on. Make sure to have enough room if there are many players at the same time. Count the scores as suits you.
5. By teams.

The dictionary game

Requires a dictionary.

Caution: Best played by persons with at least a little intellectual background. It may require some knowledge about lexical creation, e.g. suffixes, prefixes and etymology. As the players are supposed to find rare words, those who have strong technical or scientific knowledge are at a major advantage.

The master of the game proposes a rare word. Something complicated that the other players are not supposed to know. The others have a few minutes to write a possible definition. Then the master of the game gives his own solution and they check it in the dictionary. The player who is closest to the actual definition (except the master) becomes the new master. If the master himself was wrong, he must pay a forfeit.

The Chinese whisper (or the Arabic phone)

No preparation needed.
By teams of equal size.

Each team form a column. The master of the game whispers a sentence to the first player of each column. Make sure that nobody else can listen. Then, the player whisper the same sentence to the next player’s ear, and so on. The last student of the file must tell the sentence aloud (or whatever he’s understood).

Variant: The sentence can be given in written at the beginning. The last student will have to write it on the board.
Precautions: Make sure to organize the game properly. The game must be relatively silent to be interesting. Eliminate the students who try to cheat by speaking too loud.
The size of the teams should be adapted to the difficulty of the sentences and to the skills of the players. With beginners, 4 or 5 should be enough.

Although it trains only memorization and doesn’t require any creativity, this game is rather complete for a language lesson, as it involves reading, speaking, listening and writing skills.

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