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12 Best Board Games for Your ESL Classroom


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Board games are a useful and ready asset for the ESL classroom. Most require little to no preparation, and with a little patience, your English learners will add a new language learning resource. In addition to all this, board games are a fun way to learn new vocabulary and get away from the usual routine.

Here are some tried and true board games that have been enjoyed by many ESL classrooms.

Try these 12 best board games in your ESL course

  1. 1


    Hundreds of ESL students have played this classic word game. In the game, students are given a set of letters that they must use to form a crossword-style word. If you, as a teacher, also play, you have the opportunity to introduce your students to unusual vocabulary. A slight deviation from the rules makes the game more enjoyable for non-native speakers. Try to allow any player to use the dictionary and refrain from keeping score.

  2. 2

    Higher words

    Like Scrabble, Higher words is a game where students use their collection of letters to form words in a crossword-style grid. In this game, students use their collection of letters to make words in a crossword style. Unlike ScrabbleArt Higher words players can place letters on top of existing letters to change a word already on the board. For example, on a player’s turn, she or he can add a T to the point Bash turning it into bath. In this game, your students will see relationships between words and recognize patterns in English writing.

  3. 3


    Relatively new to the board game scene, Banagrams uses letter tiles to create a grid of words, but no structure is permanent in this game. Players start with a set number of letters and use them to create their own word grid. When one player has used all of their letters, each player must draw another tile and add it to their set. Each person can rearrange their word grid at will. This game can be fast when played by more advanced students, but even for less advanced students it is a ready source of learning new vocabulary. In addition, it teaches students flexibility with words and spelling patterns.

  4. 4

    Scrabble Slam

    Similar to Higher words, Scrabble Slam uses letter cards to change an existing word. In this game, there is only one four-letter word on the playing field, and all players must use their cards on that word. According to the traditional rules, everyone plays at the same time, and the player who uses all his cards first wins. However, ESL classes may want to take turns playing the word so that your class has time to think about and digest each of the words created.

  5. 5


    Categories it’s a way for your students to practice using it vocabulary they already know. In this game, students are given a list of 10 categories. When rolling a 26-sided die, a letter is assigned to the round. Players must then come up with a word starting with that letter to match each of the categories. The answers might be something like this: boy’s name/Tom, food/tomato, city/Toronto, game/ticker. A timer is set and when the time is up, the group looks at the listed items. Any words listed by more than one player are removed. Each remaining word is worth one point. This game can be challenging for students who are still learning the language, but can easily be adapted for lower level students. Feel free to define your own categories, perhaps related to the chapter you are studying in class, and then continue as usual.

  6. 6

    Clear phrase

    Clear phrase is a hot potato style word guessing game. The starting player has a disk that gives him a word. He can say anything to have the other players guess the word on the screen. As soon as the word is guessed, he passes the disc to the next player. That person then does the same. After a random amount of time, the disc will signal that time is up, and the person holding the disc at that time gets a point. The goal of this game is to score as few points as possible. To make the game easier for your ESL students, you can invite each participant to guess the word before the timer rings. Then drop the disc and pass it to the next player.

  7. 7


    Tabu accepts the concept Clear phrase and brings an even greater challenge. In this game, players have to get their team to guess a given word, but each word has related vocabulary that cannot be used in the description. The key to this game is to come up with another way to give clues on the card. Players do this by using similar but not identical vocabulary. You can change this concept and ask your students to write clues for a given word, avoiding the vocabulary on the flashcard. Limit your description to four to five sentences. If the class can guess the word from the clues provided, the author gets a point. Feel free to use the vocabulary that the class has studied or choose specific words from those that the game suggests. This game encourages your students to use language creatively, a skill that is useful for all language learners.

  8. 8


    Game in canopy best reserved for advanced students. In this game, each player takes a turn and gets an obscure word. The player must create a false definition of a word in the hope that they can convince other players to believe that it is the real definition. The teacher should moderate each move and correct any grammatical problems in the fictional definitions and also write the correct definition on the same piece of paper. She or he must then read all the definitions to the players, who must vote for the one they think is correct. Any player who guesses correctly gets a point, as does any player who gets a vote from another player.

  9. 9


    Although not a traditional board game, Jenga can be a handy resource for students to get to know. Using any list of icebreaker questions (you might try the following: 50 Weirdest Conversation Starters) , write one question on each block. Then, as your class plays the game, each person must answer the ice breaker before placing the block on top of the pile. By doing this, your students gain speech practice for now get to know each other better. Plus, it’s always fun to see who makes the tower fall!

  10. q

    I-Spy Books

    Create your own board game with pictures from I’m a spy book or any other drawings containing many objects. Ask students to write the letters of the alphabet from A to Z on a piece of paper. Then let them look at the picture for the allotted time (three to five minutes is good) and try to identify the object that starts with each letter. Of course, it will be nearly impossible to find an object for every letter, but by using creative vocabulary and good eyesight, your students will be able to fill in more letters than they might think. This is another game that is useful for vocabulary development and less dangerous for elementary level students.

  11. w

    Scholastic race across the USA

    We found this new fun board game Scholastic race across the USA. Players answer geography questions while visiting the states and then return home to win. It helps students learn about our country and improve their thinking skills.

  12. d

    Apples to apples

    This traditional game, Apples to apples consists of two types of cards Red and Green. Red cards contain nouns such as people, places and things. The green cards have adjectives to describe nouns. Divide your class into groups and let each group choose a “Judge” who gives each player five red name cards (this number can be varied). The judge then shows the group one green adjective card. Students then choose one red card from their collection that they think best matches that particular adjective. You can change part of the description according to the level of the students. In a small class, you can play judge and deal cards to each student.

Sometimes the best English lessons don’t come from the pages of a book, but from a piece of brightly colored cardboard.

Try one of these games in your classroom or find others that work for you and your students and make today’s learning fun!

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