Learning English as a second language can be difficult and frustrating for children already accustomed to using another language. ESL teachers can use short games that will make learning less stressful while reinforcing vocabulary and comprehension skills. Simple 10-minute games will give students a break from traditional learning and opportunities to use their English language skills.

Drawing Vocabulary Game

Let students use the whiteboard to play a drawing game.
Let students use the whiteboard to play a drawing game.

Divide children into two teams and provide a large piece of paper and marker or allow students to use the blackboard or whiteboard. Write vocabulary words on pieces of paper and when it is their turn, a team chooses one player to draw the word while the rest of the team guesses in English. Allow 20 seconds for the team to guess the word, and if they succeed, the team gets a point. This is a great way to review simple vocabulary words such as animals, foods or modes of transportation.

Role Playing

Have kids practice situations such as talking on the phone.
Have kids practice situations such as talking on the phone.

Write several real-life situations on index cards and have two students at a time take turns choosing one and acting out the scene on the card in English. Scenes could include asking for directions, ordering food over the telephone, inviting a friend to come over to play or requesting help from a neighbor. Ideas that are relevant to the children's lives will be the most beneficial.

Vocabulary Ball Game

With children in a circle and a softball, play a game titled "Freeze!" Place a set of vocabulary cards in the middle of the circle and teach the children that they are to throw the ball to any person in the circle. When the teacher yells, "Freeze!," everyone must stop moving. The person with the ball must draw a card and say the word. For advanced learners, challenge students to use the word in a sentence.

Balloon Volleyball

Blow up one balloon for an indoor volleyball game.
Blow up one balloon for an indoor volleyball game.

Divide the students into two teams and use a string to make a line they cannot cross. Give the students a category such as "animals" or "colors" and have one team serve the balloon over the line. Each child must say an English word appropriate to the category when they hit the balloon. If the balloon drops or a child cannot think of a word, the other team gets a point.

Alphabet Flashcard Games

Simple alphabet flashcards can be used for many games.
Simple alphabet flashcards can be used for many games.

Using simple flashcards, teachers can play some simple games to build vocabulary skills. Divide students into two teams, and play a relay where each child must go to the board and write a word beginning with the letter on the flashcard they choose. For an individual game, teachers can hold up a card and a point gets awarded to the child who shouts out a word starting with that letter.

In "Find-It," ESL-Kids suggests holding up a flashcard letter, and seeing if students can find an object in the room that starts with that letter. For instance, if the teacher holds up a "P," students can look for a pencil to earn a point.

Creative Stories

This game can be played in pairs or as a full class. Give a starting line, such as "A funny thing happened to me in the grocery store yesterday." Then have each student take a turn adding a sentence to the story. Not only will students be entertained by their classmates' creative adventures, but they will have to use comprehension and vocabulary skills to contribute to the story.