As I wrap up my final week of teaching English overseas (well, after several months later, I’m actually posting this) I thought I’d pass along all my tips, tricks and games that have helped this first time English teacher muster her way through this entirely new experience. To those of you starting out, good luck in your next adventure! I hope you find this site useful and it saves you some time from endless “TEFL game” searches. Please feel free to contribute your own ideas or other websites you’ve found helpful!
If you only take away one thing from this site, take away this: ‘Enjoy your own classes and make them fun! If you’re not having fun, chances are your students aren’t either. which makes learning harder on the both of you.’
Ages 2 to 8:
**Drawing Flashcards – If your students are old enough, let them create their own flashcards. Not only is this a fun way for them to memorize words, but it also saves you time and takes up time in class.
Jumping Flashcards – Line up flashcards and have students jump from one to to the other. Switch it up by having them jump on one leg or doing actions as they jump.
Circle Flashcards – Place flashcards in a circle with student in the middle. Have students jump over the flashcard you say and then back to the middle.
Touch and Say – Have students touch and say flashcard, but let them add some character to the game. If they say the word in a funny voice, copy their manner. If they hit and say the flashcard a hundred times, hit and say the flashcard or do a certain action and say the word 100 times. My students also like it when they hit the flashcard and I make a funny face or dance around the room.
Say Loud – Have your students repeat a word or sentence LOUDLY. When they repeat it, make a really funny face. The louder they speak, the funnier the face.
Slap – Place two flashcards in front of the students. Say one of the flashcards and whoever hits the correct flashcard first gets a point.
Suicides – Line objects or flashcards up. Students run suicides to pick up the object and say it out loud, then run back to you to give you the object before they can pick up the next one. Time them to make things more interesting.
Time bomb – Students sit in a circle and pass a ball around. Make a fun beat as they pass the ball around. Whenever you stop, gasp and look at them in surprise. Then make them say a flashcard or word.
Drilling large quantities (months, weeks, foods, etc):
Train - Create a line of chairs and attach flashcards to them. Whenever you call out the vocabulary, the student must sit in the correct chair. Once everyone is seated, the person in the first chair gets to act like the conductor of a train. Chugga, chugga, chugga, boom! Ahh, we crashed. It’s fun to shake the chairs if you’re sitting behind students.
Touch and Go – For chapters with lots of vocabulary, stick flashcards on wall and time your students to see how quickly they can hit each one in order.
Race – Students race one another to collect the correct flashcard or time your students individually to see who can bring you the correct flashcards the fastest.
Snowman - Draw a handprint, footprint and snowman on the board. Show them flash cards for them to say or say a word and have them do an action. When you hit the handprint they have to clap, the footprint they stop and when you hit the snowman, they have to freeze. Give them a point for remaining frozen.
Little Teacher – For drilling actions, let the students come up one by one, point to an action in the book and let them mime it for others to guess. (Basically charades).
Teacher Says – For practicing actions. Teacher says ‘clap your hands,’ teacher says ‘read a book’, etc. If teacher doesn’t say, they lose. (Basically Simon Says).
Personal Possessive (Mine, Yours, etc) :
Mine/Yours/Ours/Theirs – Have students pass a ball, saying ‘it’s mine or it’s my ball’ and when they pass it, ‘it’s yours.’ Then have them hug and both must say ‘it’s ours.’ (Super cute!) To practice ‘theirs’ line up a bunch of stuffed animals or figurines and let them throw the ball at them saying ‘it’s theirs.’
His/Hers Duck Duck Goose- In certain countries, like China for example, this can be really hard to grasp because many places use the same word for ‘his’ and ‘hers.’ I’ve found the most effective way to teach is by playing duck duck goose. Student’s walk around the circle tapping each on the head and saying ‘it’s his,’ ‘it’s hers.’ When they say ‘it’s yours’ that student must chase them around the circle.
Don’t/Do/Does/Doesn’t (Also works for can/can’t and is/isn’t)- A good way to teach these words is to play red light, green light. ‘Do walk,’ ‘Don’t walk. ‘He Does walk,’ ‘He Doesn’t walk.’ Once the students get the hang of the exercise, let them be little teacher and shout commands.
Who, What, Where, When – This is one of the hardest lessons for me to teach as it’s a hard concept for younger students to understand. The best way I’ve found to teach this is by listening to different songs with these words (for ex: ‘Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?). I also have a big dice with the words written on each side. I draw a board game on the board, let them roll the dice, then ask them a question pertaining to that question word. If they get it correct they get to move a certain number of spaces.
Food Print out flashcards or have your students make flashcards for different foods, then let them be the waiter. Younger kids especially love this. Spread the flashcards on the ground and ask one student to come up to the front of the class. He or she tells the other students ‘I’m hungry! May I have a … (let the choose the food).’ The kids love it and start adding made up ingredients to the food. Make sure when the ‘waiter’ brings it over he or she says ‘Here you are, it’s a …’
**If your students are just completely out of control, calm them down with drawing pictures. Either make your own pictures and photo copy them or find some on the internet that relate to the lesson. After they finish coloring one object, make them say the word 10 times before giving them a new color (always hold onto the markers and let them have one color at a time). When they finish coloring, write dotted words on the paper that relate to the image and let them trace the words. This is a good way for them to practice asking for colors, saying please and thank you and practicing new vocabulary.
Fill-in-the-song – Print off the lyrics to a song that pertains to the lesson with some words missing. Let the kids listen to the song and try to fill in the blank.
MadLibs – Find one that pertains to the lesson. Students might not find it funny at first (because of the language barrier), but after doing a few and with the help of your TA translating, students will soon find them fun and interesting.
Tongue Twisters – Great for practicing pronunciation and make for a good laugh. Plus, your students will love to teach you tongue twisters in their own language.
I spy – Great way for students to practice asking questions
Being able to ask questions is such a valuable skill students need to learn. It’s even better if you can teach them to ask questions by describing things in different way, so that if they don’t know the word, they can at least describe what they’re looking for to get their answer.
**Question Master – My students LOVE this game. First, I write numbers 1 – 6 on the board with different practical sentences next to each one (Ex: 1) I don’t understand 2) How do you say 3) What is the meaning…). Everyone sits in a circle and is assigned one of the sentences. Start by looking at a student and saying your sentence, the student doesn’t answer, but instead looks at another student and says their sentence. The game continues until someone pauses, answers the question or just isn’t paying attention. Once they get the hang of it, students can ask any question (Ex: What are you doing? Who are you? Is that a chair? Do you like dogs? etc.), but students cannot repeat a question that’s already been asked or pause when asking a question. The game is played through direct eye contact and is a great way for students to think outside the box and have fun with asking question words.
Hangman – There are a ton of hangman varieties to mix it up, even simple things like drawing a picture of yourself or Hello Kitty rather than just a stick figure to be hung.
Jeopardy – Pretty straightforward, just make up questions in respect to the topic you’re discussing. Split the class into teams. Winning team gets a prize.
Do you love your neighbor? – Set up your chairs in a circle. Choose someone to be “it” and have them stand in the center of the circle of chairs, everyone else should take a seat. “It” then goes up to one of the seated people and asks, “Do you love your neighbor?” the person then chooses to say “yes” or “no”. If they say “yes” then the person’s two neighbors (the ones seated directly to their left and right) have to switch seats before “it” can steal one of their chairs. Who ever is left standing is “it”. If the person says “no” they then says, “but I love people who __________.” They fill in the blank with anything pertaining to one or more players. (ex. Who are wearing red or who were born in Shanghai) Those players must then leave their seat and try to find a new one before “it” steals their chair.
I’m a farmer – Great for learning the farm or any animals/sounds. Everyone has to choose a different animal to be and make that animal’s respective sound. If you run out of animals some can be the farmer and say ‘I’m a farmer!’. The game is played just by making direct eye contact. Stand in a circle and the first person to start looks at someone else in the circle and the person who is being looked at has to make their animal noise before they look at someone else (basically whoever you point at with your eyes has to make their animal noise before the next person can go). The game should be played very quickly and if you aren’t paying attention or take to long to make your noise, you’re out. It’s a fun improv game to get things going.
Directions – Blindfold students and set up an obstacle course through the room. Have other students give them directions to make it to the other side safely. If the student touches something he burns on ‘hot lava’ or some other dangerous surface.
-Something I wish I’d done during my first lessons is teach students important question phrases such as, ‘What is the meaning?’ ‘How do you say…’ ‘I don’t understand’ ‘Can you speak slowly?’ and ‘Pardon.’ My students have a bad habit of just turning to ask the Chinese teacher for the translation in Chinese when they should be asking me in English. I highly recommend starting off one of your first lessons by doing this.
-In certain cultures it’s not always important to ask politely or say ‘please’ ‘here you are’ and ‘thank you.’ In Western culture those are some of the most important words. Teach students these words and drill them constantly. Whenever I pass out stickers or hand back books, students must say ‘thank you’ before they receive their prize.
-Begin each class with a quick review of old vocabulary or ask them common questions, depending on their ages. For younger students I practice ‘What is your name’ ‘How old are you’ ‘How do you feel’ and for older students I ask them to tell me what they did yesterday or ask them scenario type questions.
-Drill old vocabulary while teaching a new lesson. Ask students what color they’d like their name to be written in or instead of giving them just a star on the board, draw a picture of something they learned in the past or a new object for them to learn.
-Remind younger students to ‘sit well.’ Give them a star for being the best behaved or call on them first to answer the question or play the next game.
-If students are misbehaving, write their names on the board. Give each five stars. If they behave badly, erase a star. If they have no stars left they don’t get a sticker or prize at the end and in same cases, must leave class.
-Before students leave class, I count ’1, 2, 3, 4…’ They line up at the door and then count off. Sometimes they have to answer a question or say a new vocab word before they can leave.
Getting students Excited about English:
-Decorate – Put their pictures up around the classroom (best if they have English writing on them). Not only will they be happy to see their artwork displayed and it will brighten the classroom, but if students stop paying attention to you, hopefully they’ll be reading the English decorations.
-Pen Pals – My older students had never heard of pen pals before and were anxious to have new friends from America. Once I got my cousins, nieces and nephews on board the emails kicked off. It’s great for the kids to practice their written English, especially since, at least in China, nothing translates correctly so they really have to work hard at writing correct sentences.
-Presents, stickers, etc. from your country – Sure, stickers are cool, but when they’re from your home country, the students are willing to work 100 x’s harder to get them. Silly bands are really good bribes for my older students! My students even find simple things like cards my friends have written me or maps from my hometown interesting. Kids from my old high school even wrote a message on poster board to my new students and they loved it. It’s now hanging in one of the classrooms!
-Class Outside – I always loved when my teachers held class outside, so when my kids are being extremely well-behaved (and there aren’t too many of them), I’ll take them outside. You can come up with all sorts of games, anything from giving directions to practicing scenarios. My favorite activities (because it amuses me) is telling the students ‘first to touch a ____ gets a point’ or ‘first to ask someone how they are doing in English (even if that person can’t speak the language) gets a point.’ The kids get really into it and you can come up with all sorts of wacky ideas to keep everyone laughing.
-Cartoons – If your students are really into drawing, let them draw an English cartoon. It could even be a cartoon about your own class!
-Take Photos – Even in a foreign country, it’s amazing how many signs you can find in English. Assign a homework project to take photos of English signs (not out of books, online or in another school). Whoever can find the most English signs or words wins!
-Catchphrase- While this is an easier game for adults, advanced teens can play it pretty well. Choose a category and don’t limit it to teams (unless they’re really advanced). Just give a point to whomever guesses the word first.