Tag Archives: Games



I know just about everyone has played telephone before, but sometimes you forget about the games you played as child, or don’t think of how familiar games can be repurposed for ESL. Telephone is a fun way to get students to listen carefully and make logical guesses to fill in any gaps.

To play, line your students up in two or more rows (teams) starting from the front and going to the back. The student at the front of each team is given a sentence.

You need to consider the level of the students carefully when choosing your sentence– make sure the lead students can all understand it really easily. It can work well to take something that you’ve been studying from the textbook and adjust it slightly. They whisper the sentence

The lead students whisper the sentence one time to the next student in their line. That student whispers it to the person in front of them, etc. The last person to hear the sentence must correctly state what they have heard. The team with the closest phrase is the winner.

You may need to explicitly forbid students from using their L1. It is usually pretty obvious if someone has translated along the way, because the ending sentence has the same meaning as the original but uses synonyms.

You can either give each group the same sentence or use different ones. I like to take the team leaders into the hall, give each a different sentence and allow them the chance to have it repeated before we begin. Then, the students return together and the game begins.

Keep the teams to about 8-10 students or fewer in order to increase speaking time. Remember that students will only say one sentence each per round. Remind students that even if they didn’t hear the sentence clearly, they need to make their best guess and tell something to the next person instead of nothing.

Using Task Cards for Small Group or Pair Work

Irregular Verbs Simple Past Task Cards 1-6
Irregular Verbs Simple Past Task Cards 1-6


Task cards are one of the most versatile group activities you can do. The beauty of them is that you can reuse them over and over for different activities.

Here are just a few ways I like to use them with small groups. Give each table, group, or pair a deck of task cards, and:

  1. Have students draw cards and quiz one another.
  2. Have students work together to complete them cooperatively.
  3. Use them as draw cards for a game board– land on a square, answer a task card.
  4. Create different “stations” around the class, so each table is completing a different set of task cards. Give a time limit (about 5-10 minutes, depending on the number of cards and difficulty, etc.), then have students rotate. This is a great activity for an end-of-unit/ book/ semester review before a comprehensive test, or if you only have one deck, but you want to work in small groups.

Task cards are excellent for multi-level classes. Group students according to their level, and give them different decks of task cards. For example, lower level students can complete multiple choice tasks while higher level students fill in the blanks.

If you have a group of students far above or below the rest of the class, they can work on something completely different, but more appropriate to their level. I’ve had classes with returnees mixed with phonics students and task cards gave me the chance to attend to both groups’ needs. It’s also great for keeping everyone engaged while you go from group to group.

Task Cards for Individual Work

Christmas Part of Speech Review Task Cards 1-4
Christmas Part of Speech Review Task Cards 1-4

Task cards get used in group work most often in my class, but they are perfectly suited to individual use. You can always direct early finishers to a set of task cards to work on. Just keep your collection sorted by grade or book, and let your students know to choose a deck from their area and just get to work. Your more advanced students can self-study with higher level cards. At the other end of the spectrum, lower level students can get remedial practice. If you keep the file of answer sheets handy, they will always know what they have already done.

If your school wants students to get to work as soon as they walk in the classroom, you can use task cards as a bell ringer activity. Either choose a random card and write the task on the white board or have each student draw a card from the deck as they enter the room. The task can be anything from a writing prompt for a quick write to a card (or cards) related to the previous lesson as a review.

Task Cards in the ESL Classroom

ABC Task Cards 1-6
ABC Task Cards 1-6

You may be asking, “What are task cards?” and the simple answer is they are cards with tasks (activities or questions) on them. Typically, a card will have a single task for the student to complete. For example, complete a sentence, circle a noun, respond to a journal prompt, or pretty much anything else you might create a worksheet to practice. In fact, task cards are a great reusable replacement for worksheets.

Since worksheets require wide line spacing to give students room to write, the number of items which can fit on a page is limited. You are left choosing between less practice or more pages. However, with task cards, you simply create a larger deck to provide more practice. With only one item per card, students are less likely to feel overwhelmed by the total amount of work they will be doing. And think of all the trees you’ll save.

Students can work on a single card, a few cards, or an entire deck, depending on the time you have and the specifics of the lesson. Whether you have an extra few minutes at the end of a lesson or an activity took half the expected time, you can grab some task cards and keep your class working productively. The same deck of cards can be used over and over, in different ways, to recycle material.