ESL Category Games

Balloon Volleyball

ESL Category Game - Listening and Speaking - Elementary - 15 minutes

This energetic game helps students to revise categories of words. Divide the students into four teams and create a large space in the classroom. Divide the space in two with a row of chairs. This acts as the volleyball net. Explain that the students are going to play in a balloon volleyball tournament. Invite two teams to play first. Have each team stood spread out on either side of the net. Give one student a balloon. You stand by the net and act as umpire. Start the game by calling out a category you wish to revise, e.g. frequency adverbs. Every time the balloon is hit, either to another player or over the net to the other team, the student hitting the balloon must say a word from the category. If the balloon hits the floor, a word is not said or a word is repeated, the opposing team scores a point. Play for five minutes, changing the category each time a point is scored. After five minutes, repeat the game with the other two teams. The two teams with the most points then face off in the final round of the balloon volleyball tournament to decide the winner.
 

Board Races

ESL Category Game - Writing and Spelling - Any Level - 15 minutes

This enjoyable category game helps students brainstorm their vocabulary knowledge for a given subject or topic. Draw three or four columns on the board and divide the students into a corresponding number of teams. Have each team line up in front of a column and give each team a marker or chalk for writing. Write a category on the board and set a target number of 10 to 20 words, depending on the level of the class. The teams' task is to write the target number of words in their column, making sure the words are correctly spelt and that they relate to the category. The first team to do this wins the round. The first student in each team runs to the board, writes a word from the category in the column, runs back, gives the marker or chalk to the next student and goes to the back of the line. Then, the second student runs to the board and so on. The teams should check the words being written by their team members. If they spot a mistake, the student who wrote the word should go back and correct it. When the target number of words has been reached by one team, stop the game and check the words and spelling for that team. If the words are appropriate and spelt correctly, the team scores one point. If not, that team is out of the game and the other teams continue to race until one of them completes the task successfully. Play several rounds using a different category each time. The team with the highest score at the end of the game wins.
 

Category Battleships

ESL Category Game - Listening, Speaking and Spelling - Elementary - 20 minutes

In this entertaining category game, students play a game of battleships to find out words and their related category. Divide the students into two groups (A and B) and give each student a copy of the worksheet. Write a category on a piece of paper and give it to Group A. Then, write another category on a piece of paper and give it to Group B. Tell the groups to keep their category secret from the other group. Working together, the students come up with seven words belonging to their category. Three words should be four letters long, two words should be five letters long and two words should be six letters in length. The students enter the words horizontally, vertically or diagonally on the grid entitled 'My ships'. Next, students pair up with someone from the other group. The students then play a game of battleships to find out what words their partner has written on their battleship grid and the name of the category the words relate to. The students take it in turns to call out coordinates to their partner, e.g. C4. If there is a letter in that square, their partner says 'hit' and reveals the letter. If the square is blank, the student says 'miss'. The first student to find all seven words and say the name of the category the words belong to wins the game.   
 

In the Circle

ESL Category Game - Speaking - Any Level - 15 minutes

Here is a challenging category game that can be adapted to any topic or level. Arrange six chairs in a circle. Invite seven students to play first. Ask six students to sit on the chairs and one student to stand outside of the circle. The student outside the circle chooses which player should have the ball and states what the person holding the ball has to name six of. For example, if you have just finished teaching sports. The student might say 'Name six team sports'. The player with the ball then passes it to the student sitting next to them and the ball is passed from student to student around the circle. The player's task is to name the six things before the ball gets back to them. If the player manages to do this, the student outside the circle chooses another player to name six things and the game is repeated. If the player cannot name six things by the time the ball reaches them, they are out of the game. The student standing outside the circle then takes the vacant seat and a new student joins the game and starts by standing outside the circle. Alternatively, you could play this game with a different number of students, depending on the size of the class. You could also have all the students play with the loser standing outside the circle.
 

List of Categories

 ESL Teacher's Notes

Here is a list of categories for you to use when playing category games.
 

Monkey in the Middle

ESL Category Game - Speaking - Young Learners - 10 minutes

Here is an energetic category game to play with young learners. Have the students stand up and make a large circle. Give one student in the circle a ball. Select another student to be the monkey. The monkey stands in the middle of the circle. The monkey's task is to intercept the ball when it's passed. Give the students a category, e.g. cities. The students in the circle throw the ball around from student to student so that the monkey can't get it. Every time a student throws the ball, they say a word from the category, e.g. London. If a student can't think of a word to say or repeats a word, they become the monkey. If the monkey manages to intercept the ball, the thrower becomes the monkey. Change the category whenever there is a new monkey. The game continues until all the categories have been used or time is up.
 

One by One

ESL Category Game - Brainstorming and Spelling - Young Learners - 20 minutes

In this fun category game, students guess words belonging to a category as letters are gradually added to each word. Divide the class into two teams (A and B). Write numbers 1 to 10 on the board. Explain that the students are going to guess words belonging to a category as letters are gradually added to each word. Tell the students what the words all have in common, e.g. they are all animals. Ask Team A to choose a number, e.g. 3. Write the first letter of the word next to the number, e.g. 3. e. Team A then tries to guess the word. If Team A correctly guesses the word, they score one point and the word is written on the board, e.g. 3 elephant. The team then plays again. If they guess incorrectly, play passes to Team B. Each time a team chooses a number, the next letter of the word is added to the board. Play several rounds using a different category each time. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 

Race to the Bottom

ESL Category Game - Spelling and Speaking - Any Level - 15 minutes

Here is a fast-paced category game for students of all ages. Draw a table on the board with teams at the top and letters down the side as shown in the PDF. Divide the students into four teams. All teams start on the top row. Tell the students that to move down to the next row their team must say a word from a category beginning with the letter shown on that row. Explain that a category will be chosen at random each time and that the teams have a set amount of time to give an answer, e.g. five seconds. Call out a random category for Team A. If Team A can think of a word for that category beginning with the given letter within the set time frame, they move down to the next row. If the team cannot think of a word, they stay on the same row until their next turn when they are given another random category. Team B is then given a random category and they try to think of a word and so on. The first team to reach the finish wins the game. If two teams reach the finish on the same round, play tiebreaker rounds until there is one winning team.
 

Scattegories

ESL Category Game - Writing - Any Level - 20 minutes

This engaging game encourages students to think of unique words belonging to a category. The game can be played individually, in pairs or small teams. Write ten numbered categories on the board. Tell the students that they are going to play a game where they think of a word for each category beginning with a certain letter. Explain that in order to score points the students must come up with words that no one else has thought of. Give the students a letter (e.g. R) and set a time limit, e.g. two minutes. Students then write down one word starting with the given letter for each category. When the time limit has been reached, students read out their answers. Students score one point for each word that no one else has written. Play several rounds, changing the starting letter each round. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
 

Seek and Destroy

ESL Category Game - Reading and Matching - Any Level - 20 minutes

This competitive ESL game helps students to identify words from categories. Cover the board with words from ten categories. There should be three words for each category. Only write the words and not the categories on the board and make sure the words are all mixed up. Next, divide the class into two teams. Have each team line up at the back of the room. Make sure that the students have a clear runway to the board. Give the first student in each team a marker or chalk. Call out a category, e.g. verbs. The students at the front of each line race each other to the board and circle one of the words in that category, e.g. read. The first student to correctly circle a word scores a point for their team. Continue with the next two students and so on. Keep on calling out categories and awarding points until all the words have been circled. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 

Stick Men

ESL Category Game - Listening and Speaking - Any Level - 20 minutes

This is a fun category game for students of English. Divide the students into teams of three or four. This game can also be played individually or in pairs. Give each team a number and write the numbers on the board. Next to each number draw three stick men. The stick men represent each team's number of lives. Call out a category, e.g. countries. The teams' task is to think of words that relate to that category. Set a time limit for giving answers, e.g. five seconds. Each team in turn says one word relating to the category and this continues around the class. If a team takes too long to answer, can't think of a word or repeats a word, they lose a life. When a team loses all three lives, they are out of the game. Continue with the category until there is only one team left. That team wins the round and scores a point. Play several rounds using a different category each time. The team with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
 

Stop

ESL Category Game - Writing - Any Level - 25 minutes

In this entertaining game, students write down category words beginning with a certain letter. Students must try to think of uncommon words in order to score more points for their team. Divide the class into four teams. Write five to ten categories on the board. Give each team a piece of paper and ask them to copy down the categories. Next, choose two students and ask them to come to the front of the class. Tell one student to start saying the letters of the alphabet and have the other student shout 'Stop!' on any letter they choose. Once a letter has been chosen, tell the teams to write down one word for each category beginning with that letter. The first team to write a word for every category shouts 'Stop!' and the other teams stop writing. The teams then give their paper to another team for marking. Each team in turn reads out the words on their paper. Words that are not repeated by another team are worth 5 points. Words repeated by two teams are worth 2 points. Words repeated by three or more teams are worth 1 point. Teams then add up their points and the scores are written on the board. Play several rounds. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 

Stop the Music Game

ESL Category Game - Writing - Any Level - 20 minutes

This lively vocabulary game is ideal for reviewing categories of words. On the board, write ten categories and number them one to ten, e.g. 1. Sport, 2 Verb, etc. Divide the students into teams of three or four and give each team a piece of paper for writing. Assign each team with a number and draw a scoreboard on the board. Ask each team to choose one student to do the writing for their team and to write 1 to 10 on the paper. In the centre of the board, draw a square and inside the square write a letter, e.g. B. Then, play some dance music. In their teams, students write a word for each category beginning with the letter on the board, e.g. 1. badminton, 2. buy, etc. When a team has ten words, they shout 'Stop the music!' The music is then stopped and all the teams stop writing. The team then calls out or shows you their answers. If the answers are correct, the team wins the round and scores ten points. A new round then starts using another letter. If not, the music starts again and the teams continue playing. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 
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