A selection of games and activities to use in your first lesson with your young learners. These activities are intended to help students familiarise themselves with you, the classroom and each other.

Throw and Ask

  • Description: This is a fun whole-class game that is good for introducing new question language. As it involves little organisation or explanation, it is also suitable for starting new classes.
  • Aim: Speaking – the practice of questions and answers.
  • Possible language points: Name, age, colours, numbers, What’s this?, How many?, etc.
  • Energy level: 4/5
  • Noise level: 3/5
  • Ages: 3 to 12
  • Organisation: Standing up or sitting down, whole-class game
  • Time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Functional incidental language: ‘Throw the ball’, ‘Catch’, ‘Nice throw/catch’, ‘Ask the question’, ‘Who hasn’t been yet?’, ‘(Throw) to me please’, ‘Kneel (down)’/‘On your knees’, ‘One hand (behind your back)’, ‘Both hands’, ‘You are out.’
  • Materials and preparation: You will need something for the students to throw and catch. A beach ball is usually big and soft enough for most classes. If this is not available (or bursts), screw up some paper into a ball and maybe wrap it with sellotape.
  • Procedure:
    1. At the start of the class, throw the ball to one of the students and ask them a simple question, e.g. ‘What’s your name?’ After they answer, get them to ask the same question and throw the ball back. Drill the question and answer as a whole class.
    2. Throw the ball and ask the question a few more times until all the class know what they are doing. If you want to do this activity in another part of the classroom or with the class in a different shape (e.g., a circle), move the students now.
    3. Continue with the same game, but with the students throwing and asking the questions to each other. Change the questions as they become too easy. Make sure all the students get to catch the ball, that the students always speak when they catch and throw, and that they don’t take too long deciding who to throw to.
    4. If you like, you can move on to a competitive version. If anyone makes a bad throw or catch or makes a mistake with the language, they have to pay a penalty. For example, the first time they make a mistake, they have to kneel; the second time put one hand behind their back; and the third time put the other hand behind their back and only use their heads. The fourth time a student makes a mistake, that person is ‘out’, and the game restarts with everyone standing up and using both hands again.
    5. If you want to move onto the chain questions drills game below, move students on to passing the ball rather than throwing, and then put them into teams.
  • Variation: In a large class or where you want to add more excitement, have several balls being thrown and caught around the classroom at the same time.

Chain question drills

  • Description: This fun team game allows every class member to speak. It also tends to prompt peer correction.
  • Aim: Speaking – the practice of questions and answers.
  • Possible language points: name, age, colours, numbers, What’s this?, How many?, etc
  • Energy level: 4/5
  • Noise level: 4/5
  • Ages: 5 to 12
  • Organisation: Standing up and sitting down team game, with optional running around
  • Time: 5 to 15 minutes
  • Functional incidental language: ‘Make a line’, ‘Ask me’, ‘Sit down (at the front)’, ‘Stand up (everyone)’, ‘(This is the) first/second place (team).’
  • Materials and preparation: None necessary. If possible, find or make a clear space for the game, but it can also be played with students at their desks.
  • Procedure:
    1. Divide the class into teams of between four and eight people, making each team as similar in number as possible. Arrange the teams standing up in parallel lines from the front of the classroom to the back.
    2. With one team, demonstrate a question going from the front of the line to the back, e.g. you ask the first student, ‘What’s your name?’ They answer, turn around, and ask the next student the same question, and so on.
    3. When each student has finished speaking, they should pass on the object (if you have given them one) and sit down. The last person in the line should run to the front of the class and ask the teacher the same question. If possible in your classroom, that final student should sit at the front of the line, and everyone else should shift back. Otherwise, the student runs back to their original seat. When the whole team has finished speaking and sits down, congratulate them.
    4. Demonstrate with more teams until the class knows what they have to do. Drill the questions you are going to use with the whole class. Almost any question is possible. Good ones for a first class are names, ages, how are you, likes and dislikes, and possibly birthdays, favourites, abilities, pets, etc.
    5. Tell all the teams to stand up. Ask all the students at the front of the lines the question at (more or less) the same time, and have them race to be the first team to ask and answer the questions and sit down. Monitor for students who are not speaking correctly.
    6. Congratulate the teams that finish first. If one team always loses, e.g., one with one more member, ask them the questions before the other groups to give them a head start.
    7. Repeat with all the language you want to cover. If you move on to introducing new vocabulary, make sure the last question is one you will use at the next stage, e.g. ‘What’s this?’
  • Variations
    • If you want to make the task a bit more mentally challenging, add one extra question each time the students play rather than changing the questions and answers. For example, the students ask ‘How old are you?’ and sit down the first time, then the second time they ask ‘How old are you?’ and then ‘How are you?’, and the third time you play the game each student asks ‘How old are you?’, ‘How are you?’ and ‘What’s this?’ before play passes to the next player.
    • Alternatively, you can make the game more physically challenging. As the students pass the objects, make them do so in tricky ways, e.g. under their legs, with only their little fingers, with balls under their chins, etc.

Touch the class

  • Description: This fun, physical whole class or team game introduces classroom vocabulary and is perfect for beginners.
  • Aim: Listening and vocabulary.
  • Possible language points: Imperatives, adjectives, classroom vocabulary, colours, shapes, phonics, spelling.
  • Energy level: 5/5
  • Noise level: 4/5
  • Ages: 3 to 12
  • Organisation: Standing up whole class or team game (sitting down is also possible)
  • Time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Functional incidental language: ‘Touch a/the (table)’, ‘Touch something (blue/square/big)’, ‘You are out, ‘Sit down, please.’
  • Materials and preparation: None necessary, but you might want to make sure there are no objects in the way that could hurt the students as they are running about if they are doing the running version. You could also make sure all the classroom objects are in clear view.
  • Procedure:
    1. This is the most straightforward game in the world – you shout out the names of classroom objects, and the students run around and touch them.
    2. If you want to turn this into a competitive game, you can eliminate the last person to touch each object until only one person is left and becomes the winner.
    3. Alternatively, if you don’t want everyone running around at once, you can divide your class into teams and have one person from each team trying to touch the objects for points.
    4. When the students can do the game easily with the names of the objects, you can make it more difficult by only giving them the first letter or sound of the thing or describing it slowly, e.g., ‘It’s brown. It’s square. It’s made of wood. It has four legs. There are 25 in the classroom.’ You can also play the same game with flashcards spread around the classroom.
    5. If you want to move on to bookwork after this activity, ensure that the last object you mention is in their textbooks but not in the classroom (e.g., ‘touch a UFO’). When they look confused, show them it’s in the textbook and tell them they should rush to get out their books and touch that page. You can then easily move onto a game like a book search (see below) or straight to bookwork.

Book search

  • Description: This is a quick, fun, competitive way of using textbooks in the class, which is very useful for introducing the layout, characters, etc, in the books, for example, the first time students use them.
  • Aim: Familiarisation with textbooks. Listening and vocab.
  • Possible language points: Any language that is in the books.
  • Energy level: 3/5
  • Noise level: 2/5
  • Ages: 5 to 12
  • Organisation: Sitting down whole-class game
  • Time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Functional incidental language: ‘Open your books’, ‘Close your books’, ‘Look for/find/touch/point at a (picture of a monster)’, ‘Look at the front/back (of the book)’, ‘Put up/raise your hands (when you’ve finished)’, ‘I’ve found it’, ‘Time’s up!’
  • Materials and preparation: The students will need one textbook per one or two people. If you are not using textbooks, the game can also be played with any book or magazine that has pictures.
  • Procedure:
    1. In this game, you name or describe something in their textbooks, and they search for it as quickly as possible and put up their hands as they find it. See the ‘Touch the class’ instructions above to warm students up with a more physical, running-around game.
    2. Start by naming things that are in pictures in the book. When students have the hang of this, you can move on to describing people and things (‘He’s a boy. He’s got orange hair. His name is Jonathan.’), reading out words and sentences, and naming sections of the book (audio scripts, contents, crossword, revision, test, etc.).
    3. Especially if one student keeps on winning, students can take the teacher's role and say what they want the class to look for.
    4. Make the last thing you name the item you want to cover in the book in class or for homework and move on to bookwork.

Active thumbs

  • Description: This is an example of a simple game that can be played with the textbooks open so that students don’t get the idea that getting books out means the end of the fun. It is also a simple way to introduce pairwork.
  • Aim: Pairwork practice after bookwork.
  • Possible language points: Any language in the book dialogues and pictures. Prepositions, colours, how many, what’s this?, etc.
  • Energy level: 2/5
  • Noise level: 2/5
  • Ages: 5 to 12
  • Organisation: Sitting down pairwork or small group game
  • Time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Functional incidental language: ‘Close your books’, ‘It’s your turn’, ‘Hold up your thumbs’ / ‘Thumbs up’, ‘Ask the question’, ‘Continue in pairs’, ‘Switch’, ‘Take turns’ / ‘One turn per person, ‘That’s right’, ‘Try again.’
  • Materials and preparation: The students will need one textbook per one or two people. If you are not using textbooks, the game can also be played with any book or magazine that has pictures. In a large class, you might want to do a larger photocopy of the book page for the demonstration stage.
  • Procedure:
    1. After bookwork, ask students to close their books but keep them on the tables. Hold up a copy of the book opened to the page you have been using so that everyone can see it, swirl your hands in front of the page and slam a thumb down on a picture. Ask the students a question that you have been practising recently that you are hiding the information for, e.g. ‘What colour eyes does he have?’, ‘Is he happy?’, ‘How many apples are there?’, ‘What is the elephant holding?’ Take answers from the class, then let them open their books to check.
    2. Continue with students coming up to the front of the class, slamming their own thumb(s) on the pictures, and asking the class questions. Drill the questions and answers as a class.
    3. Arrange the class into pairs or small groups and let them continue the game with one book open per group.
  • Variations:
    • Instead of covering pictures in the book, students can cover letters or words, for example, to help memorise a dialogue or test spelling.

Exit drill/entrance drill

  • Description: This is a fun way of ending or starting the class that gives you individual time with the students and also means the students won’t be wildly running in and out of class.
  • Aim: Revision of the language of the class. Giving personal attention to the students.
  • Possible language points: Anything you have covered in this or the previous class(es), e.g. What’s your favourite? How old are you?
  • Energy level: 2/5
  • Noise level: 2/5
  • Ages: 4 to 12
  • Organisation: Standing up whole-class game
  • Time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Useful incidental language: ‘Paper, scissors, stone, go!’, ‘Paper wraps stone’, ‘Scissors cut paper’, ‘Stone crushes scissors’, ‘Go to the back of the row’, ‘Come in please’, ‘Goodbye. See you next week.’
  • Materials and preparation: None
  • Procedure:
    • Line the students up near the door. Ask the student at the front of the row a question. After they answer correctly, play Paper Scissors Stone with them. This simple game has many slight variations (it is also known as Janken and Rock, Paper, Scissors). Still, I find this works best for adding language: the people playing say ‘paper’ as they hold out their hand with their flat palm down, ‘scissors’ as they hold out two fingers, ‘stone’ as they hold out their fists, and then shout ‘Go!’ as they choose any of those three. Scissors beat paper, paper beats stone, and stone beats scissors.
    • If the student loses Paper Scissors Stone against you, they go to the back of the row and wait to try again. (If you want to be strict, you can also make them go to the back of the row if they answer the question you asked them wrongly.)  If they win, they can leave after they have said goodbye. In a large class, to save time, you can let several people or even the whole class leave every time someone wins against you, but make sure each person says goodbye to you individually. This could be people near the front of the line or who would answer the question the same as the student at the front (e.g., other people with blonde hair, birthdays in May, who have a cat, etc.).