Lessons & Classroom Games for Teachers

ESL Warm-Up Games
By:Rebecca Bagwell

When your students first arrive to their ESL (English as a second language) class, they may or may not be ready to learn English. Help your ESL students out by playing warm-up games at the start of class. Using the first five to ten minutes of class time to warm up will allow students to focus and improve their English skills during the rest of the lesson.

Secret Code
For a quiet ESL warm-up game, write a sentence in your secret code on the board. Teach your students that breaking your code is easy if they know the alphabet in order. Every letter in your secret code is just one letter after the right letter. For instance, "dmbtt cfhjot" would be "class begins." Students should sit right down and start working on that day's phase or sentence using the secret code. Use silly and encouraging sentences as well as reminders and pointers. Reward the first student who gets the correct translation to help motivate your ESL students. As students become faster using the secret code, write longer sentences.

Picture Time
After students have learned descriptive words, bring in a picture as an ESL warm-up game. Old calendars usually have large, beautiful pictures or find humorous pictures online. Students can be paired up or play individually. Hold up the picture and start with the first student to give a one-word description of the picture. He can give an opinion of the picture or state something he sees in it. Immediately go to the next student. Give each student three seconds to blurt out something about the picture that has not already been said. If they hesitate too long or repeat a word, they are out. After everyone has had a turn, start at the beginning again to eliminate more students. The last student remaining wins. Try to start at different points in the classroom so that the students at the end do not feel they always have a harder time than the students sitting at the beginning.

On the board write down five categories such as fruit, animal, place, thing and person. Vary the categories to suit your vocabulary list if desired. Students should take out a paper and pencil and as soon as you give out a letter, quickly write down one word in each category that begins with that letter. As soon as one person fills in all five categories, she should yell "Stop!" As you check her words, everyone else should stop writing. If they are spelled correctly, she becomes the winner and you say, "Continue." Give everyone enough time to fill in the five words, then stop the whole class. Review the words they chose and give special recognition for unique words no one else used.

Guessing Game
Bring an unusual object to your ESL class or bring a common object hidden in a bag. Starting at one student in the classroom, allow them in the order they are sitting to form one question about the object. Teach students to use the five W's--who, what, where, when and why--to form good questions. Do not allow your students to use their dictionaries for this warm-up game. After every student has had a chance to ask a question, ask students to write down their guesses and stand up if they think they know the correct answer. Reveal the answer and have all students who were right remain standing. Give them a small prize for winning. Make this game harder by limiting the types of questions such as using only yes or no questions. Vary the starting place where students begin asking questions so each time different people have a chance to ask easy questions instead of trying to think of a question that has not been asked yet.

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