Fun Classroom Games that Every ESL Teacher can Use

Getting English learners to speak up in classes can be really tough. Learners can however be made to participate actively if the learning is fun. This is particularly true of young men and women in their teens taking ESL lessons, teachers have discovered. Learning is fun when they are coaxed with games. Keep the games as simple as possible and in no time you will get them involved and talking. Fun games can really break up the silence that pervades language classes. Games will make your classroom reverberate and lively.

Here are 3 games for ESL teachers who have tough time in making their students speak up. As a teacher of ESL, make the games an integral part of your students’ experience. They have been tried and tested and there is no reason why it should not work in your classes as well. Depending upon the age group you are handling, you can vary the games.

Game # 1: Dice Game

This is one of the simplest of games, and all that you need for this game is a dice. You can buy a poker dice in a sports goods shop; they cost very little. The next thing that you need to do is prepare 6 questions that are simple to answer, but need eloquence to answer. Make the questions relevant to the learner – it should relate to the learners’ family, the college where the learner studied, places they have visited or would like to visit, foods they like most, dresses they would like to wear, what their parents do, about their siblings, or any question you guess will make them think.

You can either write a list of question for each individual (though that will take time) or make a common list of 40 or more questions and let the learners choose 6 questions each. The learner will choose and write down the selected questions on a piece of paper and number them from 1 thru 6. The game begins by each leaner rolling the dice. The number in the dice is the question that a learner will have to answer. Give students enough time to rehearse their answers and then speak to the classroom.

Game # 2: Bingo Game

Most students are familiar with the rules of Bingo so you will not much of instructions to give. The purpose of this game is to get each learner know about the other. Prepare a chart with 5 numbers on it. In this game every learner will prepare a list of experiences they have had – a trek in the forest gone bad, first-time exciting scuba dive, a day in a deserted island or the first cake the learner made in her lifetime are all typical examples to write. After the learners have written down their lists, learners must sit together and pick out at least 40 great experiences to talk about. Of course the teacher can write her own experiences to talk about, but a better way is to let the learners do it.

Next, on the bingo board ask each learner to write down the experience he or she would like to talk about. Match the experience with each other learners and form groups of 2 or 3 and ask them to talk about their common experiences. Each learner should be given a minimum of 2 minutes to talk on their topic of interest. The game comes to end when a particular learner has talked on 5 experiences. He or she is the winner of the game.

Game # 3: Hidden Speaking

Hidden speaking is a fast and energetic game. You can begin the game by writing down several questions on an index card each. Every question should relate to questions that tests the learners abilities at comprehension. The purpose of the game is to improve your learner’s vocabulary. Questions should be as objective as possible. Typically questions that rest on grammar are fine. Even before the learners have arrived for the class, each of the index cards must be kept hidden within the classroom.

Now break your students into two teams (to make them compete) and make them aware that somewhere in the classroom you have hid index cards and it is for them to search and pick one card each and no more. When a student is able to find a card, he or she will have to answer the question they see on the index card. If the answer is correct, then the team to which the student belongs wins a point by retaining the card for the team. A student who finds a card and is unable to answer the question on it also has the option to find someone within the team to find answer for it and then answer it.

Once a card has been answered correctly, the student can search for another and another. Every card answered correctly will add points to his or her team. At the end of a certain time, or when all the cards have been found the game comes to an end, and the team with the most number of cards answered wins the game.

The key to teaching an alien language is in making it fun, and this is especially true of ESL classes, teachers have discovered. The three games here can be adapted to your particular needs.


Teaching English to the Japanese When You Don’t Know Japanese

geishaYou’ve made a terrible decision. To successfully avoid the drudgery of a “real” job, you’ve gone off on the adventure of a lifetime, teaching English to students overseas in Japan. How hard can it be? You’ve been speaking English since birth! You can speak it quickly, in the dark, in a car, on a train, while eating green eggs and ham, and even in your sleep. There’s only one problem, really – you didn’t learn a single word of Japanese.

Before you resign yourself to eight weeks of playing Dora the Explorer videos and doing terrible mime in front of a group of bewildered Japanese students, take some time to familiarize yourself with some techniques for getting past the language barrier.

Start with introductions. Introducing yourself is a universal piece of language that your students will quickly pick up on, as there are no known cultures on earth that enjoy floundering around without knowing each other’s names. The Japanese word for “Nice to meet you” is “hajimemashite” (pronounced Ha-gee-may-maw-she-te), and saying that once will indicate to your students that you’re about to introduce yourself. Keep things simple. Start with “My name is _______”. Point to yourself, for good measure. When doing so, don’t point to your chest like your cultureless Western upbringing has conditioned you to do. When indicating themselves, the Japanese point to their noses; jabbing your finger into your chest repeatedly is only going to make your students think that they should perhaps be calling you a cardiologist. Point to your students expectantly, and ask “What is your name?” Continue to do this until your students pick up on what you’re trying to do, and fire their eighteen-syllable names at you in response.

Since you were heinously unprepared for this job by neglecting to learn the language, try to make up for that by at least having the foresight to bring some flashcards. Don’t bother with nouns like “tiger” and “rhinoceros” – the odds of an escaped African herbivore barreling down the streets of Tokyo are very slim at best. Instead, focus on the basics – colors, letters, numbers, common foods and body parts are all very good places to start. As punishment for not bothering with the effortless Japanese verb system, you will be acting out verbs for your student’s amusement. Japanese speakers frequently rely on the all-purpose “shimasu” (she-muss) verb that means “to do”, and the even more generic “desu” (dess) verb that translates to several variations of “is” and “am”, so the sooner you impart on your students that English likes to have lots and lots of different verbs for everything, the better off everyone will be.

A lot of time in your early lessons can be spent on proper pronunciation alone. Japanese does not have the letters “V” or “L” or many of the other consonant sounds we enjoy, so getting students to even recognize, let alone say, those sounds is a challenge. Japanese is a very flat, toneless language – by comparison, English is the mouth-breathing, nasally nerd of the language world, and teaching students to speak through their noses and place stress on their words is another skill that needs to be worked on. If your students are failing in their Fran Drescher impressions, start by getting them to hum and work the sound up into their noses. If they’re not finding it immensely uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right.

Sentence structure will be something to be worked on gradually. While we English speakers like our sentences to go “subject-verb-object”, the Japanese are very much insistent upon having it go “subject-object-verb”. Start with simple sentences, and use the flash cards and ridiculous actions to illustrate your point. The dog is brown. The cat is running. Be patient, and correct mistakes as you hear them; soon enough, your students will be much more bilingual than you are.

Following TEFL Certification, what are the next steps?

After completion of your certification to teach abroad (whether that TEFL, TESL, or TESOL course), what do you do next? If you’ve got aspirations to teach abroad, which you should considering you just shelled out a few hundred bucks to receive certification, you have to first decide a general timeline for when you want to teach. If you aren’t in a hurry to get into a different country to begin your international teaching career or if you’re eager to get out of North America as soon as possible and embark upon your next adventure, the steps getting there are identical.

Where do you want to teach?

Depending on your interests, goals, and desires, there are many different opportunities to teach abroad. For me, national histories and cultures were the main draw. For others it may be the geographical location, weather, landmarks/tourist sites, surrounding countries, language spoken, and a bevy of other items that may grab the attention of the aspiring teacher. Would you like to experience the nightlife of Rio de Janeiro, or would you care to experience the Chinese New Year, or feature the Kremlin in your backyard. While the last may have been an exaggeration, the point remains that the world is your playground to pick and choose where you desire to study.

Crafting your Resume

Tailor your resume to fit the position, like any other job you would apply for. Emphasize that you hold an international teaching certification along with any and all teaching experience in the United States. Even by substituting a few times at the local high school shows potential employers that you are not alien to the teaching process. And while the school system will certainly not be identical wherever you choose to teach, at least you have experienced standing in the front of a class and presenting a lesson plan.

Interview Prep

As with any interview, you’ll want to dress for success. Suit and tie, dress, and slacks should be fashioned regardless of the interview type. Some schools may be able to meet with you in person, talk to you on the phone, or conduct the interview via Skype. Speak clearly and concisely while demonstrating your desire to teach abroad and why you are qualified for the position over any possible competition. Be aware that your interviewer may be ESL themselves.


Dealing with legal issues that may arise from improper documentation can be an absolute damper on an otherwise wonderful adventure. Filing claims at an embassy, away from home, and out of your comfort zone is nerve-wracking and an absolute mess. Any and all of your plans can be put on hold for several weeks at a time until the matter is settled.


Teaching English abroad can be a wonderful experience, but I’ve known many unprepared individuals going overseas to teach or travel who have not had such a positive experience. First and foremost, make sure your all travel documentation, visa, and passport are up-to-date and in proper order. After getting all the kinks ironed out in regards to deciding where you want to teach and completing your interview process, leave ample time to prepare your mind for traveling abroad. While teaching English in another country can be great, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. It isn’t easy – the students you will be in control of pose a unique challenge for the simple fact that they do not speak the language you are most comfortable with. Oftentimes you could feel lost and sometimes alone out there, so try to make some contacts before heading over. Other than these minor qualms, enjoy your stay teaching abroad and be sure to share your experiences with others interested in the program!

A system to help write in English for a local or global business audience

Wherever we are and whatever we do, we need to communicate. Communicate well and it can make you, communicate poorly and it can break you.  Even in the common language of English, one size is never going to fit all, so below are a few steps to follow when using business English in writing, for both home and global markets.

Step 1

Be correct for purpose

  • Know what you want to achieve each time you write
  • Align this with your personal and organizational values – and reader expectations
  • Check quality and remove mistakes before you send

Written messages can be judged when we’re not there to explain them!   Business readers largely expect written communication to appear professional.  If spelling, punctuation and grammar are wrong and if messages are muddled, this often leads to reader complaints.

Getting business messages across can be tricky enough without entering linguistic debates, interesting and worthwhile as they are.  In my workplace emails I definitely avoid starting a sentence with “but” or “and” – knowing it will irritate some readers’ sensitivities.

Step 2

Be clear

  • Use accessible English and express facts simply, wherever possible
  • Edit well so that your key messages are both seen and easy to understand
  • Use a good layout so your writing looks good

Step 3

Be smart and make the right impact

  • Use the right words, content and style to get “brand you” and organizational brand noticed for the right reasons
  • Understand which variety of English to use – and when to “use a splash of local color” or “colour”! (either your own or your target audience’s, if different)
  • If you want to use idiom or slang, think carefully first. What might work for a local market might be misunderstood globally.  It might even cause offense. Should you run that risk?

Sometimes we feel we have mastered a language when we know how to use its idiom.  It might, however, be a really unhelpful barrier to understanding for others for whom that language is their second or third one.

Step 4

Focus on your readers

  • Be valuable to your valued readers and use words that are relevant to them
  • Be aware of differing personalities’ and cultural expectations
  • Write from your readers’ perspectives as well as your own

When we talk about understanding cultures, we are often referring to a set of customs, traditions, values and conventions that are specific to a particular group. Naturally, where there are humans, there are differences in the way any one culture is practiced, expressed and reflected. It’s the same with business organizations.

So, for example, you might seriously embarrass someone from China or Japan by putting them in a position where you ask them to answer yes or no on behalf of their organization.  The concept of empowerment is not global.  It sits well with many cultures but not all.

The common usage of English doesn’t mean automatic understanding or tolerance of individual foibles! In fact, whether you speak English as a first, second or even third language, the new global and digital economy means “getting it right” for your readers, has never been more important for you – “brand you,” we could say – and your organizational brand.  Native English speakers can no longer think the language “belongs to them.”  Alongside ESL speakers, they actually face challenges too when using global business English. In the digital age, nobody “owns” English outright. It belongs to us all!

Fiona Talbot runs TQI Word Power Skills, a Business Writing Skills consulting company. She delivers training/remote coaching at all levels in all sizes of business. She is the co-author of Improve Your Global Business English as well as the Better Business English series, both published by Kogan Page.

ESL – Subject or Communication Tool?

What happens in a math class? There were so many rules, but only one answer. You sit there and listen. Maybe the teacher asks you to come up and work out some problems on the board. But, honestly, if you find math boring, then you probably just copy the homework off your friend. Exams are an exercise in guesswork.

And, you know what? You were right, and your teacher was wrong – this stuff really isn’t useful after high school.

Of course math is absolutely necessary for certain professions, and some people really love it. I have engineer friends who use it all the time. But for your average high school screw-up, math isn’t nearly as useful as, say, a foreign language.

I teach university in Mexico. I see the looks on my students’ faces on the first day of class – the dull glaze to their eyes, the fear of losing so many hours of their young lives in stuffy classrooms at the mercy of some bore droning on and on.

This learning method – teacher speaks, students listen, students do exercises, repeat – has been beaten into them. It sure was beaten into me back in my university days when I was forced to study Spanish.

How ironic. Back then Spanish was one of my most boring classes, right up there with math. And now I live in Mexico and study Spanish as much as I can. What happened?

While in university I zoned out in class and barely learned a thing. Now, here in Mexico, studying Spanish is a means to an end. That end is communication.

My Spanish teachers taught Spanish like how my math teachers taught math. Learn the rules and formulas. Listen to some explanation and then do exercises from the book. Sure, to her credit, one of my Spanish teachers put us in pairs to get us to practice, but it just didn’t work. We all had a common language, English – too easy to fall back on.

My point is, why teach a language the way math (or history, or science) is taught? Languages have much more in common with music or sports, and they should be taught that way. Practice is vital. Mistakes are normal, even to be encouraged.

You don’t learn piano or hockey by opening up a book and answering questions. You learn by doing it. Your students should spend the majority of their time in class practicing, usually by speaking. Explain the grammar, give some examples, and then give them plenty of time to speak, with corrections of course.

Have you studied the P-P-P teaching method: presentation, practice, and production? It really does work. The presentation part, where the teacher explains the grammar topic, should be as brief as possible, maybe only five minutes in a one-hour class. The other two parts, practice and production, are when the students use the language. Maybe they make a survey, give a presentation, or have a conversation. Remember, it’s not only practice, but practice with correction. Strive to correct every mistake. Make notes if you have to.

That’s the benefit of learning in a classroom, which is why ESL teachers still have a job in this Internet age. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, which isn’t the same as, say, studying to be a doctor.

Using Music in the Classroom

Nothing breaks up a long class like listening to a song or two. But don’t just hand out lyrics and play the song. A little preparation will help you get the most out of a music lesson.

First, it’s a good idea to remove some words. It encourages the students to actively listen. Put some thought into which words you choose. By removing certain words, you can introduce new vocabulary, emphasize phrases that illustrate some grammar point, or draw attention to something that isn’t sung clearly but can be guessed from the context of the song.

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Circle Time

“Good morning!” I say, just loud enough to turn heads, silencing all other conversations.

“Good morning,” answers the class. There are eleven students, from teenagers to 50-year-old retirees.

I look to my right and ask Carlos, “How was your weekend?”

Carlos sticks to just a few short sentences. “It was great. I went to Mexico City and saw a concert.”

I look around the class, silently inviting the other students to ask Carlos, “Who played?” “How did you get there?” “Was it crowded?”

Carlos then turns to his right and asks Cynthia, “How was your weekend?” She answers, and the class has a few follow-up questions for her too. “How was it?” “Why did you go there?”

The question goes around the circle. Every student asks and answers. Later I will ask them questions more related to the grammar theme of the day, such as “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

My next class is for total beginners. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “Do you like X?” “Do you have X?” We repeat questions every day, adding or changing a few at the whim of the students. Many of them make mistakes, which I correct immediately. If they have trouble understanding I’ll write the correct answer on the board, and then cold call the same question around the room.

When I first taught children in Korea we called this technique “circle time.” We sat on the floor in a circle and asked the same questions every day. Since then I’ve found it works in nearly every class – only advanced students don’t need it.

Students can study many parts of English at home – reading the newspaper, listening to podcasts, cracking open the textbook and doing grammar exercises. There’s no reason to spend a lot of time on these in class. Students want to talk and they need correction.

Though they don’t just want to talk, but talk freely with no rush and no interruption. Learn to relax during silences. After you ask a question – “Have you ever seen a ghost?” – allow that silence to hang there unpressured.

We’ve all been in a class (or a work meeting) where someone asks a boring question, then immediately rephrases or simply repeats it, and maybe eventually answers it himself. Don’t be that teacher!

In ESL there are concepts called Teacher Talk Time (TTT), Student Talk Time (STT), and Wait Time (WIT). Here are a few questions for you, the ESL teacher or aspiring ESL teacher:

What do you want more of in class, TTT or STT?

Do you want more or less WT?

Is there a maximum limit of WT, say a minute or more?

An awareness of how much you are speaking in class in comparison to the other students is a fundamental part of ESL. Please leave a comment with your answers and ideas. And thanks for reading!

Emperor’s errors still challenge correction | Education | Guardian Weekly

A rare letter in English by Napoleon highlights the complexity of delivering good learner feedback

Trying to teach a student with a domineering personality can be a challenge, so spare a thought for Count Emmanuel de las Cases, who was Napoleon Boneparte’s English teacher when both men were exiled on the island of St Helena following the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Last month, one of just a handful of letters written by Napoleon in the language of his arch-enemies and sent to De las Cases for comment was sold at auction for $400,000, more than five times its anticipated price.

via Emperor’s errors still challenge correction | Education | Guardian Weekly.

My name isn’t really Gillian

Ninja GirlWhen Neil asked me to do some writing for the new blog (which looks great, by the way), I asked I would be limited in what I could write about? “No, no censorship here,” he replied. So I decided I would feel freer posting as someone else.

As Gillian, I wouldn’t feel bad about ratting out my pervy DoS or pervier boss (both thankfully in the past). As Gillian, I wouldn’t allow guilt to stop me admitting affairs with students (only one, and he’s now my husband) or anything of that type. I don’t have anything that scandalous to say, to be honest, probably nothing more than the average journeywoman ESL teacher, whether in Sydney or Sydenham (I’m not from Sydenham, but I went there once on a school trip when we found a dead cat near the coach station) Gillian is a brave blogger, I think, certainly one more willing to stick her head above the parapet compared to the real me. I don’t see it as cowardice, more “liberating”.
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Difference Between Learning and Acquisition in ESL

Stephen Krashen draws a big distinction between learnt and acquired language, a distinction that has caused controversy in itself, quite apart from his ideas for promoting this acquisition. According to Krashen, students who are taught in a formal, form-focussed way will “learn” the language but never fully acquire it. Acquisition, which is the basis for all L1 knowledge, consists of rules and principles that are not available to conscious attention. By contrast, learnt language can only be used as a “monitor” (a check, as it were) to what we say in L2. Krashen argues this is the only use of learnt language and further goes on to say that learnt knowledge can never become acquired knowledge. Krashen’s model has thus been termed a “dual competence” model.

We now we move onto ways in which Krashen states that this acquisition can be promoted in the un-naturalistic setting of the classroom. The crux of Krashen’s theories is that students acquire (as opposed to learn) when they are able to understand something (primarily through context) that is a little above their current level of understanding. Continue reading