Language Games

Five-Minute Activities for Motivation

1. Blackboard Bingo:

Write 10—15 words on the board that you would like to review. Tell students to choose any five of them and write them down. Read the words one by one in any order. The first student to mark all of their words calls out Bingo and wins. 

2. Brainstorm around a word:

Take a word that the class has recently learnt and ask students to suggest all the words they associate with it. Write each on the board with a line to the original word. Example: clothes-. 

3. Categories:

Ask students to draw two or three columns on paper and give them a category heading for each. Then dictate a series of words and have students write or mark which category the words go in. Food/Drink * apple bread tea cake egg coffee water meat 

4. Chain Story:

Begin telling a story. Then going around the class, each student has to add another brief "installment" to the story. 

5. Controversial Statements:

Write up two or three controversial statements or proverbs on the board. Each student writes down agree, disagree, or don't know for each statement. They then discuss their choices. People work better if they are paid more. Punishment never does any good. A woman's place is in the home. 

6. Correcting Mistakes:

Write up a few sentences on the board that have deliberate mistakes in them. Have students correct the mistakes. You can tell students how many mistakes are in each sentence if you want to. He loves her very much. Which one you prefer? She raised slowly the hand. I would have come if you asked me. 

7. Crosswords:

Ask a student to write a word of not more than five letters in the middle of the board, for example, "melon." Now, think of a word which shares one letter with the word on the board. Give the students a clue to your word. For example, "I like reading them." 

8. Diary:

Ask students to keep a diary and allow five minutes once a week for this to be done. It can be on class experiences or on any other matter of concern to the students. 

9. Discussing Lessons:

Five minutes before the end of a lesson, ask students how the lesson was divided and what basic activities were done. Write these on the board and ask students what they got out of the lesson. 

10. Draw a Word:

Whisper to one student or write down on a slip of paper a word or phrase that the class has recently learnt. The student draws it on the board and others guess it. 

11. Favorites:

Write on the board five or six names of times or topics in the same field (i.e., television programs, foods, singers, songs, school subjects, etc. Give each word a letter. Each student then writes the letters in order of preference. 

12. Five-minute writing storms:

Tell the students they have exactly five minutes to write about something. Set a subject that you feel will focus the students' minds but encourage personal rather than general responses. A generous act, a memory from my childhood, my favorite possession, an unexpected meeting, etc. 

13.Hearing mistakes / Mistakes in reading: 

Version one: Tell or read a story that is well known to the students introducing deliberate mistakes. When they hear a mistake, they put up their hands up and call out the correction. 

Version two: select a text in the students' course book. Say that you are going to read the text aloud and they should follow in their own book. Read to the class but substitute, add, or omit words. Have students stop you whenever you make a mistake. 

14.Guessing/Twenty questions:

Choose an object, animal, or person and tell the students which category it belongs to. They have to guess what it is asking yes / no questions. Encourage narrowing down questions and give generous hints if the guessing slows down. The student that guesses the answer chooses the next thing to be guessed. 

15. Jumbled Words:

Pick a sentence out of your course book and write it up on the board with the words in a jumbled order: Early the I week to during have to go sleep. Have students work out the correct order: 

16.My neighbor's cat:

Draw a cat on the board. Introduce it as your neighbor's cat. Say "My neighbor's cat is an awful cat." Write the letters of the alphabet on the board. A b c d e etc. Students have to give adjectives for all the letters. Awful, beautiful, careful, delicate, etc. 


Write a well-known proverb on the board. Have students discuss its meaning. Live and let live. Live and learn. Better late than never. Better safe than sorry. 

18.Tongue Twisters:

Write a tongue twister on the board. Have students practice pronouncing it. Swan swam over the pond, swim swan swim; swan swam back again-well swum swan! 

19. Why do you have a monkey in your bag? 

With an empty/full bag, go up to a student and ask why they have a monkey in their bag. They must make up a reason (convincing or original). Then they take the bag and ask someone else a similar question why do you have an axe in your bag? 

20. Wrangling:

Choose a dialogue consisting of two short sentences and expressing disagreement. Have students read the dialogue trying to convince each other. Have many students try. The answer is no. / But why? It's not fair!

A: It's late, there's no time. Let's go! 

B: But I haven't had breakfast yet! 

English in Action 

Activity 1: Naught and Crosses 

T draws a naught and crosses grid on the blackboard and fills each space with a cue for a grammar exercise. For example, to practise irregular past tense verbs, T writes: 

  • come stand catch 
  • buy begin leave 
  • sing take choose 

T divides Ss into two teams, naughts (0) and crosses (X). Each team takes turns to select a word and create a correct sentence using that word in the past tense. If the sentence is correct, T marks the square with a cross or a naught. The aim is to create a line of three naughts or three crosses. 


This game be used with many grammatical items, e.g. verbs used in continuous, perfect or passive forms; adjectives used in comparative form; or with different relative pronouns. If the class is large, it may be better to demonstrate with the whole class, then break Ss into smaller groups, e.g. with one pair playing against another pair. 

Activity 2: Grammar Auction 

T writes a number of sentences on the blackboard; some correct some with a grammatical mistake. The sentences should reflect what Ss have been learning in class; for example, they could be taken from homework. 

T divides Ss into groups and explains that he/she is going to hold an auction to sell sentences. (T may need to explain how an auction works.) Each group has 100 imaginary taka to spend on sentences, but they must be careful to choose good sentences, not bad ones. A good sentence is worth 20 taka, but a bad sentence is worth nothing. 

T gives Ss five minutes or so to discuss which sentences they want to buy, then begins the auction. T keeps a record of who has bought each sentence, and for how much. At the end of the auction, each team scores 20 taka for each correct sentence they have bought, plus any money they have left over. Incorrect sentences are worth nothing! 

Activity 3: I Went Shopping

Ss sit or stand in a circle. Each S must think of something to buy. The first S says, for example, I went shopping and I bought some rice. The next S must add their own shopping item, e.g. I went shopping and I bought some rice and a radio. The next S adds another item, e.g. I went shopping and I bought some rice, a radio and three eggs. If a S makes a mistake or cannot continue, he/she drops out. The game continues until only one S is left - the winner! If the class is large, it may be better to demonstrate with the whole class then break Ss into smaller groups. 


The version above practises countable and uncountable forms, but the basic sentence may be varied to practise other grammatical forms, using Ss' own names/ e.g. I'm Hakim and I've never been to Dhaka. Tania has never eaten ruhi fish, Adnan has never robbed a bank, and Mariam has never had malaria. Next week I'm going to play badminton, Aysha is going to do her homework, Fariq is going to visit his grandmother..................................... 

I'm Meena and I like singing. Faizal likes playing cricket, Kamrul likes listening to the radio…………………………………….. 

Activity 4: Quizzes 

T organises Ss into teams and explains that each team must write questions for a quiz (for example, a quiz about the story The magician in Class B). The total number of questions should be around twenty, so if there are three teams, they should each write six questions, if there are four teams, they should each write five questions, and so on. When they are ready, they take turns to read their questions for other teams to answer. The first person to answer a question correctly scores a point for their team. If nobody can answer, the team that set the question must answer - and if they are wrong, they lose a point! 


AII quizzes practise question forms, but T can also adjust the quiz to practice other grammatical items. For example, T may introduce a rule that all questions must use past tense (e.g. When did . .. happen?) or superlative adjectives (e.g. Which is the tallest building in Bangladesh?) or relative clauses (e.g. What's the name of the person who ...?). 

Activity 5: A Day Out 

T tells Ss they have to plan a day out. Each S must decide on a place to visit, a method of transport and a picnic. T elicits suggestions from Ss (they can be fanciful) and writes three choices for each on the blackboard, 


Iake museum park 

Bus rickshaw bicycle 

Sandwiches shingara samosa 

Each S must secretly choose one of each (a place, transport, food). T now tells them they need to find a friend to go with. They must find someone else who has made the same choices. Ss move around the room asking other Ss where they are going, how they are getting there and what they are going to eat. The first pair to match all three choices is the winner. 

This activity requires space to move around. If this is not possible, Ss can ask each other the same questions in groups. 


This game practises the language used for making plans, especially I'm going to , ……... and What are you going to ...? ,It can be adapted to any situation that involves plans, e.g. holding a school party, travelling abroad, making a shopping trip. 

Activity 6: Shopkeepers 

T elicits from Ss a list of items you might find in a general store and rites it on the blackboard. T divides the class into two groups, shopkeepers and customers. From the list, shopkeepers must write ten things that they sell, and customers must write five things that they want to buy. Shopkeepers remain seated while customers move round the room/ trying to 'buy' the items on their lists. The first S to buy all five items is the winner. Shopkeepers and customers now switch roles and play again. This activity requires space to move around. If this is impossible, Ss can ask each other the same questions in groups. 


This game practices language such as Do you have any ...? and Can I have some... ?. 

A variation can be played with more advanced learners, based on landlords and tenants who want to rent a room. In addition to the facilities of the room to let (e.g. bed, wardrobe, desk, table, shower, cooker), there may also be things that the tenant wants to do that may or may not be possible (e.g. have guests to stay, have own key, keep bicycle in room, play radio).

Teaching Strategies for the ESL Classroom 

BELTA and East West University / BELTA Rajshahi 

July 22, 2011 /July 25, 2011 

Steve Cornwell,