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Games That Work

The Language Teacher Toolkit by Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti is now available from Amazon.

2cv-300x225I don’t think that you have to use games to teach classes successfully.  Inexperienced teachers should be wary of using games if class control is still shaky or if you have an unusually difficult class.  I believe classes appreciate teachers who make them work and with whom they get on, not teachers who play games.

That said, games bring variety and a bit of fun to lessons.  They can be very motivational.  They should almost always be used when there is a specific point to be practised.

Here is a list of some games which I have found to work well over the years.  I have not included the blindingly obvious, such as regular bingo, “effacez” and  hiding flashcards.  I hope some of you out there discover something new here or at least enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you have far better ideas!

Strip bingo

Give each pupil a piece of A4 paper which is then divided lengthways so that each pupil has a long strip of paper. Each strip is then folded three times to provide eight boxes.
To take animals as an example, each pupil chooses eight different animals from the list s/he has been taught, writing the English equivalent in the boxes.
The teacher reads out the list of animals in the target language while each pupil concentrates on two words at a time; the first animal on her/his list and the final one.
When the word is heard the pupil needs to tear off the word from that list. Another word has taken the first (or last) place on this list.

Alternatively: pupils write down about 15 words on a long strip of paper and tear of from the top or bottom when you call the words. Winner has no words left. You can call words repeatedly.


Pass the bomb

Form groups of about 10. Each pupil has three lives. Buy a few pretend plastic ticking bombs cheaply off the internet. Once set, these bombs make an exploding noise at random intervals. Give the pupils a vocabulary category or a sentence to complete orally. The pupils pass the bomb around. They cannot pass it on unless they have added a new word or phrase. If the bomb goes off in their possession they lose a life. Pupils become ingenious under pressure and revise or embed language effectively (from David Clark, TES Resources).



This is the one where you give pupils a set of categories (e.g. towns in France, food, drink, objects in the classroom, objects around the home, hobbies, sports).  They draw a column for each category and then you give them a letter.  They have to find a vocab item for each letter in a given time limit (e.g. 3 minutes).  They can work individually or in pairs/small groups.  If a group finishes before the time has expired you can stop everyone.  Pupils could use dictionaries if you want dictionary use to be an aim.

Pupils get 10 points for an item which no-one else has got and five points for an unoriginal one.

This practises vocab and keeps pupils quiet (if that’s what you want).  The tricky bit is the correcting of answers after each round, which can get a bit noisy, but it does teach pupils to listen to others.

This game can work at all levels.  You just have to adjust the categories.




A definite winner for intermediate groups and above. You tell the class that there has been a crime committed in the town last night at 8.00.  (Make it plausible e.g. a mugging, a burglary.) You explain in dead-pan fashion that there are two suspects. You go on to explain that the suspects are thought to come from this school and that it is even thought they come from this classroom. At this point a few pupils will see that you are joking (many won’t, however!).

Then explain that you are going to ask for two volunteers who will leave the room for five minutes to make up an alibi.  Stress to them that they must prepare in great detail to explain what they were doing together last night.  They should have a common story (e.g. cinema visit, meal, night at friend’s house).

While the two volunteers are out of the room, you prepare questions with the rest of the group.  You can put these on the board/screen so pupils can read from them later, if necessary.  Questions will include:  Qu’est-ce que vous faisiez à 8 heures?  Qu’est-ce que tu portais ?  Quel temps faisait-il ?  Comment êtes-vous allés au cinéma ? etc

Stress to the class that they must look for details.

After five minutes the first volunteer returns to the room to be questioned in mock courtroom style.  E.g. get the pupil to swear an oath on the dictionary or textbook.  Je jure de dire la vérité, toute la vérité, rien que la vérité.

After questioning the first suspect, you get the second one to come in for questioning.  This is when the fun starts as the class discover if the two stories tally.

At the end of the second interrogation ask the class to sum up any discrepancies and to vote on whether the couple are innocent or coupable.

The whole activity takes about 30 minutes or so.  With clever classes it practises use of perfect and imperfect tenses.  With most groups you might want to stick with perfect tense, even if that makes some answers a little awkward.  The lack of authenticity in tense use is probably worthwhile for the practice that you get.


Dumb customer

A game for pairs (near beginners or above).  Explain to the class that one person is a department store assistant and that the other one is a customer who is mute (i.e. who cannot say a word).  The customer has drawn up a list of items for wedding presents.  By using gesture alone, the customer has to explain what he wants to buy, while the shop assistant guesses out loud.  A list of ten items would be suitable.

Although only one person is speaking, the game rehearses vocab effectively and you can soon swap partners to play the game again.  Classes like this game very much and you could make it fit particular vocab categories e.g. household items.  Two rounds would last about 20 minutes.

You can play this with near beginners if you stick to simple classroom items, clothing and so on.  At least you know that at any time half the class will be quiet!


In the teacher's shoes

Put students into 2 teams. Ask the teams to write five questions they’d like to ask you. Then ask for a volunteer from each team to sit at the front of the class. They are going to imagine they are you, and spend a few minutes ‘in the teacher’s shoes’! The teams ask their questions and the students at the front who are in your shoes must try to answer the questions as they think you would answer them.
You decide whose response is closest to your own answer to the question and award points accordingly. (From Andy Gemmel the British Council site.)


Press Conference

You will need a sticky label for each student or a pack of Post-It notes.

Tell students that they are a reporter for a magazine about famous people. They are going to interview some famous people and they need to prepare some questions they can ask to actors, singers, sports stars, politicians etc. Give some examples, like, ‘Do you enjoy your job?’ or ‘Are you happy being so famous?’ and get students to write four questions and put them into a table with the questions going down the left hand side and space for five columns to the right. Then ask students which famous person they would like to be and give each one a sticky label for them to write the name of the famous person on and stick on themselves.

Put students into two concentric circles with the inner circle facing out and outer circle facing in. Tell students that they are going to interview the person directly in front of them for two minutes and note down all the information they find out. They are also going to be interviewed. The facing pairs take turns in the different roles of interviewer and famous person. At two minute intervals shout ‘stop’ and ask the outer circle to step one person to the right. Shout ‘start’ to give students two more minutes with a new famous person. When each student has interviewed and been interviewed five or six times stop the activity and seat students. The information they have gathered about the famous people can then be shared with the group orally or used for a piece of writing for a gossip magazine. If you have an odd number rotate one person out of the circle each time you move the other circle around. This person can help you to monitor and can walk around the circle listening to the others in action and making a note of any mistakes they hear. This activity gets very noisy with a large group but it can be a great way to keep students speaking English for quite a long period of time and you will probably see how their confidence grows as they get the hang of asking and answering the questions. (From the British Council.)


Future tense chain game

This game is good to revise and practise si + future tense. The teacher begins with a sentence, for example “Si je sors ce soir, j'irai au cinéma.” The next person in the circle must use the end of the previous sentence to begin their own sentence. Eg “Si je sors au cinéma, je regarderai...” The next person could say, “Si je regarde..., je mangerai beaucoup de popcorn” etc. etc. (from Jo Budden).


“Running to the board” games

These are dead simple and can be adapted to all sorts of teaching points. They make a good starter or plenary (ouch, I hate those words!).  Let’s say you wanted to practise animal vocab with beginners.

You split the class into two groups, left and right of the class.  You give each pupil in each group a number, probably from 1 to 15. (For each number there are two pupils in the class, therefore.)  On the board you have drawn or stuck up pictures of animals.  You then call out the name of an animal followed by a number.  The two pupil with that number have to “run” out (well, well, walk briskly – health and safety) and the first to touch the right animal wins a point for their team.

You can imagine that this can be adapted to all sorts of areas of grammar and vocab and can work with all levels.  Time: 10 minutes.


“Just a minute”

Ay good fluency activity for more advanced students.  This is like the the radio panel game from BBC Radio 4 (known to many people in the UK).  Split the class into groups of about 4.  Give them a list of easy topics (e.g. related to your exam syllabus).  One pupil has to start talking about the topic without repeating themselves, going off the subject or hesitating (i.e. coming to a halt).  They have to try to talk for one minute.  If they break the rules another member of the group intervenes (e.g. with a tap on the desk).  This person then continues on the same topic and tries to complete the minute.  You get one point for a correct intervention and one point for completing the minute.  If you go non-stop for a whole minute you get 5 points.

Topics could include: ma maison, ma famille, le weekend dernier, mes vacances, mes passe-temps, mon école, ce que j’aime manger, une visite, ma ville, ma région, mon professeur préféré.

One pupil should keep the time.  Pupils need to be of intermediate to advanced level for this game.  The teacher can introduce the game by giving an example for one minute.  Stress to pupils that they do not have to go very fast and that fluency does not equal speed. The game obviously practises fluency and specific topic areas.  With the best quality students you can take on more advanced topics.  Allow at least 20 minutes for this.


What the queen of England never does

This is a nice filler for intermediate and above to practise use of ne.. .jamais.  Give pupils 10 minutes to write down a list of things that the queen never does.  Maybe let pupils use dictionaries.  Then put pupils in pairs and ask them to read of their statements to their partner.  The first person who cannot think of an example loses.

e.g. la reine ne prend jamais le bus, la reine ne paie jamais avec de l’argent liquide, la reine ne va jamais au pub, la reine ne fait jamais la loterie, la reine ne conduit jamais une voiture, la reine ne va jamais à la lune, la reine ne passe jamais la nuit dans un hôtel pas cher, la reine ne danse jamais dans une boîte de nuit.

For a homework pupils could be asked to write up 15-20 examples.

Total time for game about 15 minutes.


Desert Island Escape

Good for advanced level. Set the scene of a plane accident or ship wreck. A group of students have ended up on a desert island with a few random objects. Bring in a bag of objects from home or things that you can gather from around the school, for example, a coat hanger, a ball of string, clothes pegs, a corkscrew etc. etc.

Tell the students that they have to use the objects they have to help them survive on the island. They should think of ways of putting the items to good use. Give each group a set time and then listen to each group's ideas. Hold a class vote to decide which group would survive for the longest.


Twenty questions

An old favourite for intermediate to above.  Pupils work in pairs.  One pupil thinks of a vocab item, then the other pupil has to work out what it is by asking yes-no questions.  They must find out the item in no more than 20 questions.

Good preparation for this would be to display a list of adjectives or adjectival phrases on screen or board which pupils can select from.  This, of course, is the main practice point, as well as structures such as On peut + infinitive

Adjectives: grand, petit, gros, long, court, solide, en métal, en plastique, en bois, en tissu, léger, lourd,

Plus qualifiers : relativement, assez, très, plutôt


Jacques (a) dit  (Simon says)

This is used for practising parts of the body and the words droite and gauche. I include this old game because I find it works with all levels, not just near beginners.  Students like this!  In case you are not familiar with the rules, here they are.  The whole class stands up.  You explain that you are going to tell them to touch parts of their body.  If you precede the instruction with Jacques dit, they should carry out the instruction.  If you do not say Jacques dit, then they must do nothing.  If they get it wrong they sit down and are out of the game.  Have a practice run first, because students always fall for your tricks at the start!

The game normally takes about 20 minutes, but you can make it flexible by speeding up or slowing down.  It also, like many of the games here, needs no preparation, which I consider to be a great advantage.


Murder mysteries

These are for advanced students.  I use a couple from a commercial provider, but with some time and care you could make up your own.  You need a group of at least 8 or so students.  Each student is given a a few clues to a murder investigation. You would need about 40 clues, with one correct solution and two red herrings.  The group have to solve the crime, coming up with the murderer, weapon and motive.  The ones we use come from a file called Drama in Language Teaching.  The important thing is to let the group lead the investigation, don’t take control yourself.  One pupil might go to the board and write up details or, for instance, a chronology of events.  The whole exercise might take about 35 minutes.


Planning a visit to Paris

Another one for advanced learners in groups of about 5.  Give the whole group some tourist information about Paris (e.g. from the internet).  Then give each student a card with their assumed French name and some details of what type of activities they prefer.  Include some other points such as who they get on with, who they want to go out with and who they dislike.

Tell the group that they must prepare a three day itinerary for their visit.  Students must stay in role.  Allow them about 20 minutes.  They then report back their plans.  The amusement comes from the pupils staying in their role, particularly with regard to their relationships with others.  The activity takes some preparation, but not an enormous amount.

Example card:

                             Tu t’appelles Roger Dupont, 18 ans

                             Tu aimes :magasins, art, musées

                             Tu n’aimes pas: aller au ciné, les hauteurs, marcher très loin

                             Tu préfères la compagnie des filles et voudrait sortir un jour avec

                             Hélène.  Tu as déjà visité Paris 2 fois.


Lateral thinking stories

For high intermediate or advanced groups.  These are quite well know and students may have their own to contribute.  The teacher poses the problem and the class have to guess the solution by asking yes-no questions.

There are some good ones here:



This is a familiar game show format based on the long-running French show called Le jeu des Chiffres et des Lettres.  It is played as a whole class activity and practises numbers as well as simple arithmetical operations such as plus, moins, multiplié par, divisé par and égale.

You get an individual to nominate six numbers – 4 single-figure digits and two numbers which must be 25, 50, 75 or 100.  You write them on the board. (Alternatively you can download  a Countdown random number generator if you look around on the web.)  You then “randomly” put a 3 figure number on the board and the class have two minutes to arrive at that figure using some or all of their chosen numbers.  They must not use a number more than once.  When a pupil thinks they have solved the calculation you get them to explain it whilst you write it up on the board.  To help them write up the terms they will need to explain the calculation.

This game works well with near beginners up to intermediate.  Classes could use calculators, but it is probably better for them to use pencil and paper solutions.



Another mental arithmetic game for the whole class.  It’s a good filler for near beginners to intermediate.  You explain to the group that you are going to count up to 100, but whenever you get to a number with a 5 in, or a multiple of 5, they must say FIZZ.  When they arrive at a number with 7 in, or a multiple thereof, they must say BUZZ. When 5 and 7 are involved they must say FIZZ-BUZZ.

This can be quite hard for pupils if they are not good at math(s), so allow them to make mistakes and don’t discourage.  Give an example of the counting method yourself before they start.  This game is a favourite of maths teachers and they will be happy that you are doing your bit for cross-curricular.  It takes about 15 minutes to get to 100.


Reverse bingo

Pupils choose 11 numbers between 1 and 90 inclusive.  Instead of playing normal bingo, the class all stand up and if any of their numbers come up they must sit down.  i.e. you don’t want to hear your numbers come up if you want to win.  It’s all over in about 5 minutes, so it’s a handy filler if you want to practise numbers.


“Yes-no interlude”

Best with advanced students, this mainly practises the use of negatives.  Put students in pairs and give one partner a list of straightforward questions, including yes-no questions.  Explain to the class that the person answering the questions must not say oui or non.  Every time a mistake is made, they lose a point.  Have several sets of questions available and get the partners to take turns at asking the questions.  You might suggest some alternative locutions such as c’est vrai, effectivement, justement, je ne crois pas.  The whole activity might take about 15 minutes.  Pupils will get very good at avoiding yes and no with practice.


Miming games

Using mime is clearly a necessary strategy in language teaching.  Pupils like doing it too.  You can get pupils in pairs and give each partner a list of items to mime to their partner. E.g. jobs, sports, hobbies, verbs.  Simple, but an effective way of getting pupils to use the second person when they spend most of their class time using the first and third person. You can use this at all levels.  Why not get a pupil to mime their daily routine?  Or why not describe actions to pupils while they mime them?



Many children know the rules of Battleships, as it’s known in the UK.  Each child has a grid (there are examples in the Y7 and Y8 sections of this site).  Pupils work in pairs and each partner writes in a number of items on their grid.  Partners take turns to guess (by giving grid references) where the other person has placed the items (e.g. verb forms, vocab items).   In other words, each partner tries to sink the other person’s ships.

This is an enjoyable game and allows for repeated practice of simple items.  Setting up the game can be a little time-consuming the first time, especially if some pupils do not know how the game is played already.

Sue Gray from Australia adds:

You can do a sophisticated version to practise perfect versus Imperfect tense.

Give a list of infinitives across and down and students ask the question using those verbs

1.e. Tu regardais la télé quand le téléphone a sonné?  Answer : Oui, je regardais…. Or Non, je ne regardais pas….etc

Thias is great practice for various levels in the class, as you can make the questions or answers harder or easier depending on student ability.

Also works well Au café

Foods down one side, drinks across the top. Then you can work it into a short café dialogue.

E.g. Vous désirez, monsieur?
Je voudrais un hot dog et un chocolat chaud.

Désolez, monsieur. Il n’y en a plus. (for a miss)
OR Voilà, monsieur.  Bon appétit. (for a hit)


Code-breaking games

Pupils find these very absorbing and are effective for practising spelling, for example.  On paper you can construct a code where each letter is represented by a number (e. 1 to 26).  Give one example of a word with its code, then get the class to solve the remaining codes.  See examples on this site in Y7 section.

An excellent oral version of code breaking can be played.  Ask pupils to write out the alphabet, then get them to assign a number from 60 to 85 to each letter (this allows for practice of harder numbers), where A=60 and Z=85.  Then read out sequences of numbers from which they have to work out the word.  You can choose words to fit a particular theme.  Allow pupils to guess the word before the end.  Pupils get very competitive, whilst they listen to numbers and solve the puzzle.  This game works well, I promise!



I am grateful to Sue Watkins for this simple game for beginners.  She writes:

Students stand up and take turns to call out numbers in sequence i.e. un, deux, trois,quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix, onze. Students may choose to call out one number, two numbers or three numbers. Whoever calls out Onze has to sit down.  It can get very tactical with the boys trying to get rid of all the girls and vice versa.  When it gets down to the last two then the one going first should win if they think, but mine often don't ! Whoever says sept will lose. The winner gets a chocolate from the tin or a merit. My students , some who are somewhat challenging to teach, always play this game in a good spirit  and never moan if they are out. They play it very quickly now so we often manage two or three games .


Speed dating

Very easy!  Pupils work in pairs and change partner every 5 minutes.  You can adapt this for different levels, but with a GCSE class, for example, it’s good for conversation practice before an exam.  After they have spoken to about 8 different people they could select the person with whom they would like to have a further date.  Write down on the borad some areas they could cover:  tastes, hobbies, opinions on music, recent activities and plans for the future.


Word association

A nice starter or finish to a lesson to recap vocab.  Give pupils a theme, or let them use any words, and go round the class getting them to play word association.  Give them an example first.  They could play the game in groups.  With more advanced learners they could be asked to justify their association of words.


Kim’s game

This is the one where you place a set of objects on a table or tray to practise vocab.  You then ask the group to close their eyes while you remove an item (or more than one).  Pupils have to remember which item has gone missing.



Similar to the above, but done on the board.  You write up some words or pictures then get the class to close their eyes while you wipe out one or more items.  You can have fun adding items too.  Pupils at all levels enjoy short term memory games like these.



Pupils mime an activity while their group or partner tries to guess the activity. You could use this to practise jobs or simple daily routine tasks.


Recorded sounds

I used this once successfully, but it takes a little preparation.  You go round the house recording sounds such as: flushing the toilet, running a tap, typing on a computer, opening and closing doors, boiling a kettle, washing up, turning on the gas, putting away crockery, switching on a light.  You play the tape and ask pupils to say or write down what the task is.  The latest digital recorders make this an easier task than it used to be. Good for intermediate to advanced pupils.


Story telling

Good for high intermediate to advanced for about 30 minutes work.  Do some vocab brainstorming on various vocab topics (e.g. household items, animals, sports, towns in France, famous French people, classroom objects, clothes, furniture).  From this exercise draw up a a list of six to eight words, one from each category.  Then give the group one of the words and ask them to build a sentence around it.  Encourage interesting and humorous sentences.  Then give them a second word and get them to produce the second sentence of the story.  Continue with this until you get to the end of the sixth sentence.  The results are usually weird and sometimes amusing.

Children do like making up silly stories based on suggestive pictures or words.  Good pictures should be simple and suggest a background story, perhaps with a past and future.


Who gives up first?

You can do this in pairs with all sorts of topics. For example you may have taught the perfect tense. Pupils alternate by making up perfect tense sentences. The first one to fail to make a new sentence loses. This should provide a lot of verbal interaction. It can be done with single words too.


Other ideas

Thanks to Paul Keogh for this one.  For those items of vocab which pupils often mis-spell, why not get them to stand up, spell out the word in the air with their finger whilst spelling out the word out loud.  They could then do the same with their nose.

Thanks to Cécile Genneviève for this one. When teaching the time get pairs of pupils to draw with their finger the time on the back of their partner who has to work out what the time is. This could easily work with numbers or even simple vocabulary.