Monday, 23 April 2018

Classic ESL Childhood Games

Cops and Robbers

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 15 minutes     Players: 2 teams    Preparation: objects or flashcards of objects

Aim: To practice the names of objects and the structure: What have you got? I have got...

This game of cops and robbers has been specially adapted for the ESL classroom.


Divide the class into two teams: Cops and Robbers.

The two teams sit in a line facing each other and each student is assigned a number, e.g. 1 to 8.

Arrange various objects or flashcards of objects in the middle of the room.

Also create a space for the jail (See PDF for an example layout).

Call out the name of one of the objects or flashcards and a number, e.g. pen four.

The number 4 ‘robber’ student grabs the pen and tries to get back to their place before the number 4 ‘cop’ student can tag him/her.

If the robber is successful, the other robber students ask the robber, “What have you got?" The robber answers, “I’ve got a pen."

If the cop tags the robber, the robber has to give the pen to the cop. The cop then takes the robber to the jail where he/she sits out for a few rounds or the rest of the game.

The other cop students then ask the cop, “What have you got?" The cop answers, “I’ve got a pen.”

The game continues until all the objects or flashcards have been gathered.

The team with the most objects/flashcards at the end of the game wins.

Cops and Robbers.PDF


I Spy

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 10 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: None

Aim: To look for something beginning with a certain letter

You may remember this entertaining word game from your childhood.


Have the students sit down in a circle.

One student looks for something in the classroom or surrounding area and says, "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with (the first letter of the chosen object)…"

This is the only clue the other students get.

The other students then take it in turns to try to guess what it is.

When someone guesses the word correctly, they get to choose something.



Mr Crocodile

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 20 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: A blindfold

Aim: To revise clothes, appearance or colours.

This ESL childhood game is a lot of fun for young learners and can be used to teach or revise clothes, appearance or colours.


One student is chosen to be 'Mr Crocodile'. He or she 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 people pass who match a certain criteria. This could be people wearing certain clothing, the way someone looks or a colour someone is wearing. So, 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. They are safe.

Mr Crocodile then puts on a blindfold, and the other students try to run past without being tagged.

If a student is tagged by the crocodile, they are out.

This process is repeated until there is only one student left. That student is the winner.

Mr Crocodile.PDF


Mr Wolf

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 15 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: None

Aim: To practice time or numbers.

You may have played this delightful childhood game when you were a kid. It works equally well in the ESL classroom.


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 against the opposing wall.

The students say, "What's the time Mr Wolf?"

The wolf turns to face the students and shouts out a time, e.g. 7 o'clock. The wolf can only look at the students when he or she tells the time.

The students then take seven steps toward the wolf. The students always take the same amount of steps toward the wolf as the number of hours in the wolf's time, e.g. 3 o'clock = 3 steps, 9 o'clock = 9 steps, etc.

The wolf then turns around, and the students shout, "What's the time Mr Wolf?" and so on.

When the students get close to the wolf, the students shout, "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 opposing wall.

If the wolf catches a student before they get to the wall, they become the wolf.

Mr Wolf.PDF

Red Light, Green Light

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 15 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: None

Aim: To revise numbers or letters of the alphabet

Here is a childhood game for teaching numbers or the alphabet.


Choose one student to come up 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, students can play in rounds.

The players at the board are given certain things to write, e.g. the alphabet, numbers 1 to 25, 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 becomes the new announcer.

You can vary the game by changing the stop and go commands to other synonyms. You can also blindfold the announcer if you wish.

Red Light, Green Light.PDF


Simon Says

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 10 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: None

Aim: To practice imperatives

This is a classic ESL game for young learners. It's ideal for teaching imperatives.


Have the students stand in front of their chairs.

Give a command to the students by saying 'Simon says' followed by an imperative, e.g. sit down. 

Students must only respond to you when you use the phrase 'Simon says'.

If a student responds when you don't use 'Simon says', they are out.

The last student left is the winner.


Teacher: Simon says sit down.

Everyone sits down.

Teacher: Simon says touch your head.

Everyone touches their head.

Teacher: Stand up.

Tim and Helen stand up. Everyone else doesn't move. Tim and Helen are out.

Simon Says.PDF


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