Play Your Way to Better Grammar! Fun ESL Activities for English Class

Let's be honest; learning English grammar might not be at the top of your English language learners (ESL) list of fun, especially if you've got a group of reluctant non-native speakers. Still, it's a necessary step to get to grips with a new language and improve fluency. As a teacher or language tutor, you can prevent the inevitable groans of despair with these fresh, tried, and tested ESL activities & fun games.

These teacher-approved resources spin English grammar and vocabulary on its head to engage your learners while still improving their English language skills.

Surprising Language Benefits of Using Games in Your Instruction Methods

Regardless of how long you've been an ESL teacher, teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) or teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL,) you probably know that using games and engaging activities in ESL instruction is crucial. However, it can be challenging to explain these benefits to others who perceive games as simply "playtime," especially if you're instructing in a public school and have admin on your back.

Here's an expert breakdown of the benefits of using games in ESL classrooms.

  1. Games motivate learners by providing a fun and relaxed context for language use, reducing anxiety, and increasing persistence in their English skills.
  2. Games alleviate tension and frustration for language learners, especially adults.
  3. Games improve students' observation skills.
  4. Games are adaptable and can be played collaboratively by English language learners of different levels.
  5. Games enhance student attention and can be highly motivating for learning a non-native language.
  6. Playing games and fun everyday activities facilitates the natural acquisition of language skills without force, similar to how toddlers learn.

Rethinking Your ESL Activities, Games & Resources

There are so many ESL grammar activity ideas out there, but it can be difficult to narrow them down. So, here's a list of fresh teaching materials, activities, and resources in one place to keep your ESL classes engaging, effective, and highly enjoyable for your students while ensuring you're teaching them what they need to know.

Online ESL Activities & Resources

These are teacher-approved ESL online activities and resources that you can easily slot into your curriculum.

Duolingo

Duolingo is a hugely popular language-learning interactive platform that offers free courses in multiple languages. It features a wide range of grammar activities and exercises for English learners, from basic to advanced levels. Some teachers use Duolingo at the beginning of the class or for a specific topic; it really is open for you to explore.

https://en.duolingo.com/

Letter Games

Letter games like Scrabble or Bananagrams are a great way to improve students' vocabulary, spelling skills, and grammar practice. You can try and focus on specific grammar topics like nouns, verbs, or adverbs or keep it open for students to showcase their skills.

https://playscrabble.com/

Activities for ESL Students

Need help with planning? A4Esl has a ton of teacher-approved, ready-to-go quizzes, tests, and puzzles to work on English grammar sorted by easy, medium, and difficult. They also have bilingual quizzes to help students confidently learn and review vocab.

http://a4esl.org/

Drawasaurus

An online drawing and guessing game that can be a fun way for non-native English speakers to practice grammar skills. Players take turns drawing a given word or phrase while the other players try to guess what it is. You can create a private room and invite students.

https://www.drawasaurus.org/

Online Grammar Practice

Incorporating gamification into your lessons should be easy with Learning Games for Kids. Check out their library of online educational games and videos designed for preschool up to elementary.

https://www.learninggamesforkids.com/

Games4ESL

Games4ESL is a website that offers a variety of interactive grammar games for ESL learners. Their platform features games that cover various grammar topics, from verb tenses to prepositions.

https://games4esl.com/esl-classroom-games/

Paperless Worksheets

Free paperless grammar worksheets for ESL learners from preschool through to grade 6+. Students can practice parts of speech with flashcards, using and identifying helping verbs worksheets, rhetorical questions, and much more.

https://word.tips/grammar/

Film English

If your students are into films, Films English by Kieran Donaghy is a fantastic resource. It's an independent publisher that provides fun activities alongside short films and videos. Their lesson plans are easy to use and highly adaptable.

https://film-english.com/

Board Games & Card Games

Go back to the basics and utilize some of the classics or some of the newer board games on the block. Sure to delight your students.

Rory’s Story Cubes

Let imaginations run wild in your classrooms with Rory's Story Cubes. Simply roll a die, look at the image, and create a story starting with a prompt or let students make their own. Because they are so versatile, you can also use them for any grammar topic or as a conversation starter for less confident learners.

https://www.storycubes.com/en/

Scrabble

If you don't want to carry around a Scrabble board, the tiles are great. You can use them to play categories, generate words, or work alongside a letter solver to learn new spellings. The possibilities are endless!

Wacky Challenges

Love a challenge? Engage your students' natural competitive side and practice English grammar with superlatives and comparatives simultaneously. You could even create a class checklist at the end, like Find Someone Who, where students ask each other questions about the wacky challenges, or as a quick 5-minute brain buster.

Apples to Apples

Remember Apples and Apples? Did you know it's also a fantastic ESL learning resource? The red cards name either a person, place, thing, or event, and the green cards describe a person, place, thing, or event. Great for practicing parts of speech!

Kids Against Maturity

While Cards Against Humanity might be a little too out there for most classes, the same company has released Kids Against Maturity. There is a warning with this one, though, so make sure you've got permission from parents/admin before you bring it out, or sift through topics before you play.

https://www.kidsagainstmaturity.com/

Dixit

Dixit is a multiplayer card game open to interpretation. Their beautifully illustrated card sets transport you to another realm where anything is possible, meaning it's highly adaptable for the ESL classroom. It's primarily a storytelling game, but the cards have no words, so they can be used for many things - perfect for teachers on the go.

https://www.libellud.com/en/our-games/dixit/

Team-based Learning

Unlock some healthy competition or get students to collaboratively work together on a project. Team-based learning is great when facilitated properly.

Kahoot!

Kahoot! leads the way for gamification in the classroom. Their platform allows players to learn about any subject, in any language, on any device. Teachers can create private quizzes and invite multiple students or browse through quizzes created by other ESL teachers.

https://kahoot.com

Balderdash!

Get students to put their skills into practice with this highly addictive bluffing game. This is less of a grammar game and more of a vocabulary-building exercise, but it's a great activity to get students talking and ready for grammar class. You could create your own, but this app is a great online version for 4+ players.

https://www.balderdash.app/

Running Dictation

Work on the passive voice with Teach This's dictation activity worksheets. Teachers can browse and filter through language levels (they use CEFR) and tons of grammar topics. Most of their worksheets are free, but some require membership.

https://www.teach-this.com/grammar-activities-worksheets/passive

Theater

Many people learn by doing, often called the kinaesthetic learning style. Utilizing drama games in the ESL classroom is a great way to get kids up and on their feet. With theater, students can put grammar structures into practice; try role plays, interviews, or forming WH questions with an auxiliary verb with real-life Guess Who. Check out Drama Notebook for some ideas.

https://www.dramanotebook.com/

Categories / Scattergories

Categories is traditionally a vocab-building game, but you can make it harder by introducing grammatical concepts once kids have their lists. For bonus points, ask them to name what part of speech each word is and create a sentence using one from each category or use the verbs in a sentence using a specific verb tense. Print off a game sheet or play online.

https://scattergoriesonline.net/

Group Projects

Group projects in ESL classrooms are a great way to help students learn English while working together. They encourage teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills and can also expose students to new cultures and ideas. Here are some tips on running English projects to ensure you're getting the most out of it!

https://www.inglesnasescolas.org/en/headline/school-english-project/

1:1 ESL Lesson Resources & Ideas

We get it, as an online teacher, especially one that instructs one-on-one you get often left out in these lists. Here are some ideas you can try in your next online class.

Online Whiteboard

An interactive, collaborative whiteboard is a handy tool if you're teaching online. Jamboard is a free digital whiteboard that lets you collaborate in real time. You can use it for a wide range of purposes!

https://support.google.com/jamboard/answer/7424836?hl=en

Skribbl

This is less of a grammar activity but can help keep kids motivated during class. If you notice your student flagging, play a quick reset game like Skribbl. It's a multiplayer drawing and guessing game and is completely free.

https://skribbl.io/

Speak for a minute

Put a bunch of different topics up on your interactive board and ask students to speak for a minute on a specific topic or question prompt, share your screen, and use a timer. You can use prompts. For example, for more advanced students, ask them to use conditionals to answer questions about a future possibility or something in the past that might have happened but didn't.

https://www.online-stopwatch.com/countdown-timer/

Slides

Create your own grammar presentations and lessons with Google Slides. You can easily set slides as homework, for reinforcement, or go through them in class- your only limit is your creativity. ReliableRoots has some great teaching tips for online ESL teachers.

https://www.google.com/slides/about/

Quizlet

Tricky grammatical concepts like conditionals, the difference between who vs. whom, or grammar rules for ending sentences with prepositions sometimes need flashcards to reinforce and study the rules for advanced students. With Quizlet, you can create your own, share them with students, or browse through other ESL study sets from students and teachers.

https://quizlet.com/

Create your own Spinner

Want to quiz your students on what you've been learning? Create your very own online spinner with topics you want to include and get playing. You could create speaking, writing, and listening exercises or challenges for each topic. Like speaking for a minute, describing your day using 3 parts of speech, or recounting a story using the present perfect tense.

https://wheeldecide.com/

Get Talking!

Just because you're behind a screen doesn't mean you can't introduce theater in your ESL class. Test out your students speaking skills by playing Talk Show Expert. It's originally an improv game, but you can use it in your ESL classroom to get students speaking; it's also helpful to see where they might need a little extra grammar reinforcement.

https://bbbpress.com/2013/07/drama-game-talk-show-expert/

Box of Lies

Work on parts of speech and directions with this hilarious ESL game. Students have to draw something on pieces of paper. They can either truthfully describe it in detail or lie. It is up to everyone else to guess whether they are lying or telling the truth. Here is a video of how it works.

Resources

About the Author

Sarah Perowne

Sarah Perowne is a language and education specialist with over 10 years of experience in teaching and content creation. She has worked with students of all ages in various teaching methods, including those with disabilities and ASD. She sports an acute knowledge and skillset in teaching English as a second/foreign language (ESL) English Language Arts and creating content for online teaching resources, articles, and podcasts.