Classic ESL Childhood Games

Cops and Robbers

ESL Childhood Game - Speaking - Young Learners - 15 minutes

This game of cops and robbers has been specially adapted for the ESL classroom. Divide the class into two teams: Cops and Robbers. Have the two teams sit in a line facing each other and assign the students in each team a number, e.g. 1 to 8. Have the students with the same number sit diagonally opposite each other. Arrange various objects or flashcards of objects in the middle of the room. Also, create a space for a jail. Call out the name of one of the objects or flashcards and a number, e.g. pen four. The 'robber' assigned to that number then runs and tries to grab the item and get back to their place before the 'cop' with the same number tags them. If the robber is successful, the other robbers ask the student, "What have you got?", and the robber replies, "I've got a/an..." If the cop tags the robber, the robber has to give the item to the cop. The cop then takes the robber to the jail where they sit out for a few rounds (or the rest of the game). The other cops then ask the student, "What have you got?", and the cop answers, "I've got a/an..." The game continues until all the objects or flashcards have been gathered. The team with the most objects or flashcards at the end of the game wins.

I Spy

ESL Childhood Game - Speaking - Young Learners - 10 minutes

Here is a simple childhood word game many people used to play when they were younger. Have the students sit in a circle. One student looks around and chooses something in the classroom or surrounding area, e.g. a bookshelf. The student then gives a clue to the chosen thing by saying 'I spy with my little eye, something beginning with B'. The other students then take it in turns to try to guess what it is. When a student correctly guesses the word, they get to choose the next thing for the other students to guess.

Mr Crocodile

ESL Childhood Game - Speaking - Young Learners - 15 minutes

This ESL childhood game is a lot of fun for young learners and can be used to teach or revise clothes, appearance or colours. Choose one student to be 'Mr Crocodile'. That student stands in the middle of the classroom. The rest of the students line up at one end of the classroom. The students say, "Hey Mr Crocodile, let us cross the river. If not, why not? We're on our way to school." Mr Crocodile then lets students pass who match a certain criteria. This could be students wearing certain clothing, students born in July, or a colour someone is wearing. For example, Mr Crocodile might reply: People wearing a T-shirt can pass. The students matching the criteria set by Mr Crocodile walk to the other side of the room and are safe. Mr Crocodile then puts on a blindfold and the other students try to get past without being tagged. If a student is tagged by Mr Crocodile, they are out of the game. This process is repeated until there is one student left in the game. That student is the winner.

Mr Wolf

ESL Childhood Game - Listening and Speaking - Young Learners - 15 minutes

This entertaining childhood game is ideal for practicing time and basic numbers. One student is the wolf. The wolf stands with their back turned to the other students at one end of the classroom. The other students line up at the other end of the classroom next to the wall. The students say, "What's the time Mr Wolf?" The wolf turns to face the students and calls out a time, e.g. 7 o'clock. The wolf then turns back around and the students take seven steps towards the wolf. The students always take the same amount of steps towards the wolf as the number of hours in the wolf's time, e.g. 3 o'clock = 3 steps, half past nine = 9 steps, etc. The students then call out, "What's the time Mr Wolf?" and the process is repeated and so on. When the students get close to the wolf, the students call out, "What's the time Mr Wolf?" and the wolf says, "Dinner time!" The wolf then runs after the students who are running back to the wall. If the wolf tags a student before they get to the wall, they become the wolf.

Red Light, Green Light

ESL Childhood Game - Writing - Young Learners - 15 minutes

Here is a fun childhood game for practicing numbers, the alphabet and categories of words. Choose one student to come to the front of the class and be the announcer. The announcer's job is to say 'Red light' and 'Green light'. Red light means stop writing and green light means start writing. The other students are players. Have the players come up to the board and give each student a board marker. If you have limited space, have the students play in rounds. The players at the board are given certain things to write, e.g. the alphabet, numbers 1 to 25, ten colours, eight animals, etc. When the announcer says, "Green light," the players start writing as quickly as they can. When the announcer says, "Red Light," the players must freeze and stop writing. Any player who is caught writing after the red light announcement is out of the game and must sit down. The first player to complete the task on the board correctly wins and becomes the new announcer.

Simon Says

ESL Childhood Game - Listening - Elementary - 10 minutes

This classic childhood game is ideal for teaching or practicing imperatives. Have the students stand in front of their chairs. You take on the role of Simon. Give commands for the students to follow by saying 'Simon says...' followed by an imperative, e.g. sit down, jump in the air, etc. The idea behind the game is to get students out by sometimes giving commands that don't use the phrase 'Simon says'. If students respond to a command when you don't use the phrase, or fail to follow an instruction which includes the phrase 'Simon says', they are out of the game. The last student left in the game is the winner.

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