Esl preschool games

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Fun ESL Games and Activities for Kids & Teens

May 27, 2021
Kindergarten Students of English Teacher in Wanli, China, Erin Coyle

Let’s face it, learning English as a second language might not always make young learners’ and teens’ list of favorite activities. However, incorporating ESL games like these into your lesson plans can be a great way to help young students review their knowledge in an interactive, fun, and memorable fashion.

Get even more ESL game ideas for kids in the Bridge Micro-credential course Games and Activities for the Online Classroom: Young Learners.

How do I make my class interactive?

Making your ESL lessons interactive is important for all levels of learners, but perhaps especially so for younger students and teens. This is because children have shorter attention spans and because teens may lack the natural motivation that older students have for language learning.

Keeping your class interactive ensures that students are engaged in the lesson. Here a few ways to achieve this:

  • Encourage students to speak up by reducing teacher talk time and giving them plenty of opportunities to talk.
  • Find out what your students are interested in and use it in your class. For example, if you’re teaching teens a lesson, try using one of their favorite pop songs to demonstrate the language point.
  • Use a variety of media, such as podcasts, videos, news articles, and music, to keep things interesting and lively.
  • Offer small rewards or other incentives to motivate students. These can be simple, such as “If everyone participates at least once today, you can choose three short English videos on YouTube to watch next class.”
  • Involve students in the lesson planning. For example, give them two options for activities for the next class and let them vote on which one they want to do. This will make them more invested in the lesson!
  • Incorporate fun ESL games and activities like the ones we’ll show you in this article!

Check out these 11 fun TEFL speaking activities to get your students talking.

What can ESL games do?

Incorporating ESL activities and games into your classroom is a great way to help students learn. Here are a few reasons why using games to teach English is a good idea.

  • ELL activities and games engage students. Because they’re having fun, students will pay attention and participate more. They probably won’t even realize they’re learning!
  • Learning through games helps students retain information. Associating English words or sentence structures with certain activities can help kids and teens recall them better.
  • English games for kids and teens create a lively environment where students are energetic and don’t feel as much pressure as they might during other activities. Focusing on having fun means learners might feel more comfortable speaking in English and making mistakes.
  • Playing ESL games with young learners and teens helps you connect with them. By promoting a fun classroom environment, you will cultivate an authentic relationship with your students and motivate them to learn.

Stefano, English teacher from Jamaica, in China

Where can I find ESL games for children and teens?

If you’re looking for ESL activities and games to incorporate into your classroom, consider the following resources:

  • Join Facebook groups for ESL teachers, like the Bridge Teaching English Online Group. Other teachers are usually happy to offer advice or share ideas with one another. For example, if you have an upcoming lesson topic and don’t know which activities would be a good fit for it, try asking in a Facebook group!
  • Use websites that offer free ESL lesson plans. Sites like and are great options to get you started and have plenty of English games for kindergarteners through adult students.
  • Take a TEFL/TESOL course that includes activity and game ideas. For example, Bridge offers short, Micro-credential courses in Games and Activities for the Online Classroom.
  • Ask your students what games they like to play in their free time. Then, adapt these games for your EFL classroom! Just about any game — Bingo, Taboo, Tic-Tac-Toe, etc. — can be altered to incorporate English language learning concepts.

Find out more about creating materials for the ESL classroom.

ESL/EFL Games for Teaching English to Young Children  

Young children can be enthusiastic and active learners. Here are some ESL games for kids that are fun and engaging yet not too complex for young learners.

The What’s Missing Game

In this memory game, the teacher puts about 10-15 target vocabulary words on the board. This can be done by taping flashcards to the board or simply by writing the words or drawing pictures.

The students line up in front of the board and are given about a minute to try to memorize all the vocabulary words they see. Then, the students must turn around so they can’t see the board (no peeking!) and the teacher removes one of the words. Students turn back around and must guess “what’s missing.” The first student to say the correct word gets a point! (If you use flashcards, you can hand the student the card as an easy way to keep score.)

  • To add variety, have a student come to the board and take the teacher’s place. You can also use this game to practice grammar, such as by putting verbs on the board and having students say the missing verb in the past tense to get a point.

See the What’s Missing game in action in this video from the Teaching English to Young Learners Specialized TEFL/TESOL Course:


This is a great ESL kids game to have your students practice vocabulary and spelling skills.

  1. Have one student think of a word in their head.
  2. Have this student count how many letters are in the word and then draw underscore marks on the board for each letter in the word.
  3. The other students then take turns guessing letters from the alphabet that they think may be in the chosen word.
  4. If they guess a correct letter, it is written above the corresponding underscore marks and that student then gets a chance to guess what the word is.
  5. If they guess an incorrect letter, it is noted on the board, and one part of the stick figure hangman is drawn.

The goal of the game is to guess the word before a full stick figure is drawn, “hanging” the man.

  • To put a little twist on the game, draw a person with a parachute. Draw the same number of strings attaching the person to the parachute as the number of letters in the chosen word. The other students then take turns guessing letters from the alphabet that they think may be in the chosen word. If they guess a correct letter, it’s written above the corresponding underscore, and that student then gets a chance to guess what the word is. If they guess an incorrect letter, it is noted on the board and one of the parachute strings is erased. The goal of the game is to guess the word before the person loses all of their parachute strings.

Try these last-minute ESL lesson plans that can be adapted for any class.

ESL Teacher Using Songs


This is another fun game for practicing vocabulary. Brainstorm with your students to come up with a list of categories (maybe from new vocabulary you have recently taught), and write each category on a flashcard. Examples could be colors, jobs, or verbs. Choose two students to stand up. Call out a category and a letter of the alphabet (for example, “colors” and “b”). The first student to come up with something from within that category that begins with the letter is the winner and remains standing. Chose another student to go against the winner, and repeat with a new category and letter.


For this classic game adapted for young learners, you can either create bingo cards and a call sheet or print them out from a website such as this one: For your call sheet, you can use the usual numbers and letters or get more creative with vocabulary you have recently taught. For very young students, use pictures instead of words.

Cut out the call sheet and put the squares into a hat. Give each student a bingo card as well as something to mark their card with. Allow each student a turn to be the “caller.” Have the caller pick one square at a time from the hat and call out what is on the square. The other students listen for what is called and mark the called word or image on their card. The first student to mark their entire bingo card calls out “Bingo!” and is the winner.

What is task-based learning? Find out about this popular teaching method!

Alphabet Relay

To play this ESL game for children, divide your students into two groups. Have each group write the letters of the alphabet on pieces of paper you give them to make flashcards. Shuffle each group of flashcards and place them in two piles on one side of the room. Have each group line up on the opposite side of the room. On the word “Go,” the first student in each line has to run across the room, find the letter A, and bring it back to their group. The next student finds the letter B, and so on. The first group to get to Z wins!

Anna, Teaching Kids English in Vietnam


Pick five small objects and hide them under a piece of cloth. Show the objects to your students for a minute or two and then cover up the objects again. See how many of the objects your students can remember. Add more objects to make the game more challenging.


Students form a circle and one student starts by whispering a sentence into the ear of the student next to him. Have students incorporate at least one new vocabulary word or the newly-learned grammar structure in their sentence. The second student then whispers the same sentence in the next student’s ear, and so on. At the end of the circle, have the last student say the sentence out loud and see how close (or hilariously far) it is from the original sentence!

Need ideas for the virtual classroom too? Here are 11 low-prep ESL games for teaching online.

Ball Toss

Keep an inflatable ball in your classroom (or use something else, like a balled-up piece of paper, in a pinch!). Choose a question/instruction based on the lesson/level you just taught, e.g., “Name a fruit!” The student must answer and then toss the ball to another student to answer. Change the question mid-game. The random nature of the ball toss keeps students on their toes.

EFL/ESL Games for Teaching English to Teenagers

Teenagers and students with more experience with English are typically better able to use it in a more productive and communicative fashion. These ESL games can be a great way to get your teenage or intermediate learners involved in the classroom and prompt them to use their knowledge of English.

Teaching online? Take a look at this 5-point checklist for planning online ESL games for teens.

Teen ESL conversation activity

English Only!

Turn it into a competition to speak only English during the whole period. Keep a tally on the whiteboard for each time a student speaks in their native tongue. This keeps them focusing on English, and fellow students even turn into “English police.” To turn it into a reward/consequences game that everyone can enjoy, have the student with the most tallies bring a treat for the whole class next time. Cookies for everyone!

Read about the most popular and effective ESL teaching methods.

Balloon Sentence Race

This high-energy game (from the Bridge Specialized TEFL/TESOL Certification Course in Teaching Teenagers) incorporates balloon popping and cell phones, so it’s perfect for teens or young adults. It can also be adapted to a variety of language levels and target grammar.

Students play the game in the following way:

  • When the teacher says “go,” the students race to the board to grab a balloon and bring it back to the table.
  • Each student pops his or her balloon to access the paper strips inside, which have words on them.
  • Students must race to arrange the words on the pieces of paper into a correctly-formed question (for example, “What’s the longest word in the English language?”).
  • Once they’ve formed the question correctly, students must use their cell phones to look up the answer.
  • The first student to tell the teacher the correct answer to the question wins!

Find out how to create ESL grammar lesson plans.

Around the World

Have one student stand next to a seated student. The standing student must make it around the world (around the class) by correctly answering the question before each of the seated students does. An example of a question might be “What is the correct past tense ending of [insert an infinitive verb]?” Change the verb with each turn. If the standing student can answer correctly enough times to make it around the class, they have won! If a standing student is defeated by the seated student, they switch places and it is the new student’s turn to try to make it around the world.

Hot Potato

Pass a ball or other object around the room and when the music stops, the student with the ball has to answer a question, make a question, or draw a prompt out of a bag — you decide, though it is best to stick to one format for the duration of the game!

TEFL Teacher with class in Asia

Roll the Dice, Make a Question

Write the numbers one through six on the board and a different question word (who, what, why, where, when, how) next to each one. When a student rolls the dice, he or she needs to make a question with the corresponding question word. Then, the student will call on a classmate to answer it.

Minimal Pairs

Use minimal pairs (words that sound similar and are often mispronounced by EFL learners) to make a list on the board. Examples: 1. very 2. berry 3. kitchen 4. chicken 5. three 6. tree 7. sixty 8. sixteen 9. sit 10. six. Students must write a number five or six digits long and then say their number using only the corresponding words. For example, if the student’s number is 23354, they’d have to say “berry, kitchen, kitchen, three, chicken.” Students take turns listening and trying to guess the other student’s number.

Check out other ESL pronunciation games.

Never-Ending Story

Students form a circle (this can be as a whole class or in small groups). Write a sentence that could start a story, ideally incorporating vocabulary or grammar from the day’s lesson. Give the sentence to the first student, who continues the story by writing the second sentence before she passes it to the next student, who continues. At the end of the circle, have a student read the completed story. It is sure to get a laugh!

Keeping young students interested and engaged can be a difficult task, but if you do, everyone in the classroom (including the teacher) benefits. These games and activities for teaching English to kids and teens can help plan effective lessons for students of all ages and levels!

Looking for ESL games for teaching kids English online? Check out our course: Games and Activities for the Online Classroom (Young Learners).

teaching English to kids

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I would like to congratulate you for the wonderful materials that you have created which I am enjoying very much. I volunteered to give conversation in English to 5 years old. I might have been an English translator for 30 years but trying to capture the attention of 12 children is a different matter.  Needless to say how helpful your games book has been, our classes are now very animated and I can see how the children look forward to the next lesson. Olga Díaz, Spain

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From the Author

Dear Teachers,

Thanks for your interest in this book of fun preschool games. 

This games book is part of my collection of fun ESL games books that have helped tens of thousands of teachers already. Now you can be sure to make your preschool English lessons fun and effective.

This games book is for preschoolers, aged 3 to 6. It contains listening and speaking games but not much in the way of reading or writing activities.  If you want to teach reading and writing then I recommend my book for primary school children: 176 English Language Games for Children.

If you need me, I'll be here to help you make your lessons fun, using this games book, stories, songs and theatre. Just email me via my website Teaching English Games.

I'm always glad to hear from teachers. I'll also send you a free story with lesson plan and flashcards, to use in combination with these fun games.

Kind regards
Shelley Ann Vernon
Teaching English Games

About the Author

Successful author and ESL teacher Shelley Ann Vernon has a passion for helping teachers make their job easier and more fun. Having been a dedicated teacher herself, Shelley knows exactly what it's like to spend hours preparing for a lesson, trying to make it fun and interesting for the students. She has shared her extensive experience as a fun, effective ESL teacher. She has two highly rated books on Amazon, plus other outstanding resources for teaching children. She always responds to fan mail and questions. **Visit her website at Shelley speaks at conferences such as IATEFL Cardiff 2009, YALS Belgrade 2011, UCN, Hjorring, Denmark 2014 and Barcelona in 2015. See her upcoming events on author-central for the next opportunity to meet her.

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TEFL Lemon’s ESL Flashcard Games for Kindergarten


Teaching English at Kindergarten requires a set of very unique skills from the TEFL teacher and nearly all of them are either innate (a built in love of teaching young children) or learned the hard way on the job (usually a mixture of both!)! Certainly teaching English to Kindergarten children is one of the most rewarding jobs anywhere in the world!

Why use ESL flashcards to teach vocabulary in kindergarten?

As any good TEFL teacher teaching English to Kindergarten aged kids will tell you, using ESL flashcards in your kindergarten class is an invaluable way of teaching vocab to your little ones. Your kindergarten children will really respond well to the bright and colourful visual cues ESL flashcards will give them in your kindergarten class. This page is dedicated to showcasing some effective and easy to follow ESL flashcard games for kindergarten classes!

Making ESL flashcard games for kindergarten classes shorter and easy to follow

Because our kindergarten children are much younger and kindergarten children have much shorter attention spans, they will often find language games hard to understand and follow. It’s important that the ESL flashcard games for kindergarten you choose are easy for little children to understand and are shorter in length. Keep your ESL flashcard games for kindergarten fun, snappy and full of smiles!! Welcome to our flashcard games for kindergarten page! If you have any good ESL flashcard games for kindy yourself, then please message us your ESL games here.

Angry Crab.jpg

Angry Crab!

One of the best aspects of teaching small children for me is the chance to be a little kid myself from time to time by becoming a scary monster! Having never really grown up, this ESL flashcard game for kids is great for me and will suit fun TEFL teachers, who enjoy playing around with kids in lessons.

In the ESL flashcard game ‘Angry Crab’, you'll be a real sideways-walking angry crab with angry pincers snip-snapping away at the kids! This is also a great ESL flashcard game for kindergarten, too.

Dragon Boat Race.jpg

Dragon Boat Race

This is a brilliant ESL flashcard game for kindergarten and primary ages. Perfect if you have a China-themed lesson, too!

Pre-teach and review your ESL flashcards with the young learner class as a whole until you feel that they are comfortable with the vocabulary. When you are ready, clear lots of space in your classroom and divide your class into teams of 3-4 kids.

Have each team sitting on the floor in a line as though they were sitting in a Dragon Boat! The closer they sit together as a team, the better!



This is a timeless ESL flashcard game for kindergarten and will be a winner each time for kids aged 3-6 years. Review your ESL flashcards with the kindergarten kids and then tell the class that the floor is lava from a Volcano and very, very hot!

Bend down and touch the floor and pretend to burn your fingers to show your kids and have your kindergarten kids rolling with laughter, really clown it up and get your kindergarten class ready for this ESL flashcard game for kindergarten.

Tell your students that they need to get from one side of the room to the other, but must not touch the floor. They need to step on the flashcards like stepping stones and say the word on the card. Give your kids lots of encouragement as they go in this kindergarten flashcard game

The Monster.jpg

Teacher is a Monster

Through your Teaching Assistant or helper, tell the class that you are thinking about a flashcard and they must guess what the flashcard is. For every guess, award a point or a sticker to the guesser.

When the class guess which card you are thinking about correctly, you become a monsterand chase them back to their seats! A solid ESL flashcard game for kindergarten ages



This ESL flashcard activity for kindergarten is pretty unusual but should yield some good results and your kindy students are going to like doing this a

Make a photocopy of all of your ESL flashcards you are currently teaching your kindergarten kids and cut them in half in a jaggedy pattern. Your kindergarten kids must match one half of their ESL flashcard with another half another child has. This ESL kindergarten flashcard game not only teaches vocab, but also shape awareness and working together.



A good ESL flashcard game for kindergarten children where kids need to memorise and recall words from 10-15 flashcards.

The teacher then nominates a word and starts cycling through the flashcards every few seconds. The kids then yell‘STOP!’ when they see the flashcard the teacher has nominated. Keep going until all the flashcards have been covered. Job done and a quick, no-fuss way to review ESL flashcards with children.


Memory of an Elephant

This is an ESL flashcard game for kindergarten children which I have personally played many times in kindergarten English classes. It works very well and your kindergarten children should be able to produce the language at the end of the flashcard activity.

Kindergarten children choral drill six flashcards pinned on the board and, even though you hide cards one by one, your kindergarten kids will still know what the missing flashcard is in this cool flashcard game for kindergarten.

Circle of kids600.jpg

The Circle

This ESL flashcard game for kindergarten is one such activity where the kids are reviewing the words you’ve taught them, but in a slow and calm manner.

Kindergarten kids sometimes can’t follow the rules of games, simply because they are too young, but this flashcard game is easy to follow for the kindergarten kids and they’ll review the words you taught them from the flashcards very well. Your kindergarten kids will enjoying playing ‘The Circle’

289 - Top 7 ESL Flashcards Games for kids
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Language Board Games. Grab this set of 10 FREE, one-page language game boards! Just PRINT AND PLAY! Each game covers one of the following topics: fruits, vegetables, foods, school, pets, daily routines, landforms/places, buildings, hobbies, and body parts.
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Language Board Games FREE!
Language Board Games. Grab this set of 10 FREE, one-page language game boards! Just PRINT AND PLAY! Each game covers one of the following topics: fruits, vegetables, foods, school, pets, daily routines, landforms/places, buildings, hobbies, and body parts. Focus on: foreign language practice (Spanish, Mandarin, French, German), English language practice, speech and language skills, sentence formation, turn taking, and more!

Games esl preschool

5 Endlessly Fun ESL Games for Kindergarteners

Wish you had games to keep your youngsters engaged?

That is, games which won’t require translating into their native language?

Playing fun cooperative games that were created for this age group will keep your kindergarteners involved, laughing and learning.

Even if they don’t understand every single word you say, the five games below are simple enough that young kids will quickly pick up on how to play, while also absorbing the target language.

Most come with several variations, as these games can easily be modified to fit the needs of your students. They will also likely spark ideas for new games—so you will actually be walking away with way more than five activities!

Ready to get started? First let’s take a quick peek at why we’ve chosen to emphasize cooperative games.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

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Why Are Cooperative ESL Games Perfect for Kindergarteners?

Kindergarten is where kids learn to socialize through play, so naturally playing games is an excellent way for young kids to pick up English as well.

But as we know, not all games are made equal. Adults usually like to compete (and win!), whereas cooperative games work especially well with young kindergarteners—in which students work together to see what they can achieve.

Here is why cooperative games work well at this age:

  • They keep students active; young kids cannot sit still for too long.
  • They let everyone be involved; no one is left out.
  • They allow shyer kids to feel safe, since everyone is working together.
  • They are repetitive, and that familiarity also helps kids feel safe and knowledgeable.
  • They can be unsophisticated. It won’t bother your students if the game is obviously made up—it is still fun!

The five cooperative games below are “made up” games, based on a song or story that you might use for teaching kindergarten. They include rhythm, repetition, actions and cooperation. And hopefully they will also give you ideas how to make up your own games too!

One way to bring endless fun into the ESL classroom is by incorporating authentic materials into your lesson plans. Below are five fun ways to teach English to kids, but another excellent option is FluentU.

FluentU makes authentic content accessible for any level or age—even Kindergarteners!

If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.

You'll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids' singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.


On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.

Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.


For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:


Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."


It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it's guaranteed to get your students excited about learning English!

Sign up for a free trial and bring FluentU to your classroom today.

1. Don’t Put That in Your Mouth!

Type: A singing game based on “Open Shut Them”

The song “Open Shut Them” is enjoyed by all young children, but it is particularly appealing to children from an Asian background who are taught very early to have a strong aversion to putting their fingers in their mouths. (The first time you teach them you may see shocked looks on their faces when it seems like you are going to do that.) It provides a good opportunity to practice the pronunciation difference between “r” and “l.”

This song is so simple that it is great for your very first session, maybe the first time you try to teach them with only English.

Teaching the song

Start by teaching students the song “Open Shut Them.”

  • If you are unsure of the tune, you could learn it from YouTube, but in this situation don’t just use a video to teach it. If you want your students to watch the video, it would be better them to watch it after playing the game.
  • If you are not confident about singing in front of the children, just teach it first as a poem.

Here are the actions that you should do as you sing. Remember to make eye contact while teaching, and make sure all eyes are looking at yours. Students should all copy your actions while singing/saying the words.

  • “Open” — Hold up your hands in front, palms outward.
  • “Shut them” — Bend your fingers down and shut your hands.
  • “Open, shut them” — Same actions as above.
  • “Give a little clap” — Dramatically clap your hands (With Asian students practice saying “clap” a few times to make sure they are using “l” and not “r”.)
  • “Open, shut them. Open, shut them.” — Same actions as above. (They love repetition!)
  • “Lay them in your lap” — Put your hands in your lap. (Again, make sure children are saying “lap” and not “rap.” Also make sure it is clear what “lap” is.)
  • “Creep them, creep them …” — Creep your hands and fingers up your arms and body. (Pronunciation: “Creep,” not “cleep.”)
  • “Right up to your chin” — Point to chin. (Make a point of demonstrating what “chin” is the first time. Let children point to and hold their chins and say “chin.”)
  • “Open wide your little mouth” — Open your mouth wide. (Again, pause here to let them all open and point to their mouths, and to practice saying “mouth” (not “mouse”).
  • “But do not put them in!” — Dramatically pull your hands away from your mouth, down behind your back.

Go through the song several times, each time getting a little bit faster, and maybe progress from saying it to singing it. You could give some more confident children the opportunity to lead from the front, or to sing it as a solo/duet.

From the song to the game

Now play a game to practice the vocabulary they have just learned. Here is just one possibility:

Review: Draw a big face on the board with an open mouth (and obvious chin). Point to the parts and review the words. Leave the drawing up once you’ve finished reviewing, as you will use it in the game.

Practice: Then practice “creeping” with their fingers (you could creep your fingers up the board), and then creeping/crawling with their bodies across the floor on their hands and knees. (Note: Some doctors believe that crawling is a valuable physical brain training activity for young children.)

How to Play:

  • Have some children (one or two) wait off to the side. Others (all or a team, depending on class size) sit facing the board. Put a line on the floor in front of the board (masking tape works well).
  • Everyone sings the song while doing the actions.
  • When you get to the “Creep them, creep them” line, the children facing the board “creep” or crawl along the floor towards the “chin” on the board, without crossing the line on the floor. Their aim will be to touch the “mouth.”
  • On the “Open wide your little mouth” line, crawlers can now stand up and get ready to run.
  • When they reach the “Do not put them in!” line, children try to touch the mouth and then run back to their spots. However, they want to get back without getting tagged by the few students who had been off to the side—who now can try to tag the “crawlers.”

Scoring: If you want to be more competitive (and the kids generally don’t really care) there could be points for anyone who gets as far as the “mouth.” The catchers near the board could also try to run and take the chairs of the creepers.

Of course you can easily make adjustments to the game based on:

  • The number of your students
  • The size of the room, and the furniture
  • The age and ability of the students

2. Come Back! Come Back!

Type: A dramatic singing game, based on “Five Little Ducks”

Again, we will use a great little song that can easily be taught without resorting to translation. This song works really well with finger puppets—especially for teaching with them. They could be little ducks, or they could just be faces, or five thimbles/bottle caps/anything you can sit onto your fingertips. The children could also make and use puppets, but they could just as easily pretend with their fingers too.

Teaching the song

Start by teaching the song “Five Little Ducks.”

Don’t use a video to teach the song. Learn it first if you are not familiar with it (using the video above) and then teach it face to face. Note: Some versions use the line “Mother Duck said, Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!” but we are going to use the line “Come back! Come back!” this version is more useful in this context.)

Put your puppets on your five fingers of your one hand, and use your other hand (perhaps with a sock puppet) to be the Mother Duck.

Here are the actions of the song. Once again, have students copy you as you go.

  • “Five Little Ducks went out one day” — Hold up your hand with the five puppets.
  • “Over the hill and far away” — Put your hand high, and then down behind your back.
  • “Mother Duck said, Come back! Come back!” — Focus on your Mother Duck hand/puppet. At the same time, behind your back, flick one of the finger puppets from your other hand in preparation for the next line.
  • “But only four little ducks came back.” — Bring your “ducks” hand to the front, showing only four puppets remaining.

Continue the song in the same way, removing one duck each verse until the line “None of those little ducks came back.” Finally, Mother Duck calls again and on “All the five little ducks came back,” you will want to put the five finger puppets back on your hand.

Add some drama to the song

Now let the children themselves be the little ducks, with you (or one of the children) being the Mother Duck. A group of five (or more if you want to increase their counting-backwards-in-English skills) go across the room and behind some furniture as everyone sings the song. When Mother Duck calls the first time, all but one return.

From the song to the game

Again, there are many possible variations, depending on your class, the room and your comfort level. Here is one possibility:

Set up: Firstly, place five items around the room. These might be small toys/pictures/flashcards/tokens/etc. One item should be special in some way. For example, it could be marked with a star, a ribbon, or be a different color. It doesn’t really matter if the children see where you put them, but don’t show them which is the special one.

Practice: It is good if you can practice the words for these five items first.

How to play:

  • Choose five children to be the five little ducks.
  • As everybody sings, “Five Little Ducks went out one day over the hill and far away,” the five “ducks” go off in search of the items.
  • When the class sings, “Mother Duck said, ‘Come back! Come back!'” those children should quickly return with their finds—except for the student with the “special” item.
  • Once the class sings, “Only four little ducks came back,” you could ask the children for the words associated with each item, including the special one.
  • To be competitive, points could be assigned for finding the objects, with extra points for the special item.
  • Now “hide” three of the items and the special one again, and the same four children could search again, or you could choose four new students.

When you play the game more than once, some of the children could do the hiding each round as well.

There are many other ways to vary the game. The children will have fun regardless, because they enjoy singing, running, looking for treasure and repetition.

3. Run as Fast as You Can!

Type: A storytelling game based on “The Gingerbread Man”

Reading the story

Start by telling the story of the Gingerbread Man.

You could read the story aloud from a book or from a website, or you could even show a video. If you can, it is always best to tell the story with the children watching you and making eye contact. If you are telling the story without a book/video and the children are unfamiliar with the names of the various animals, have pictures of those ready.

As you tell the story, get the children to join in with you on the chorus, “Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me—I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Teach it to them slowly the first time, a word or two at a time with actions that make the meanings clear. For example, on the word “catch,” the children could all stand up and make running motions with their arms at this point.)

From the story to the game

Set up: Have the children sitting on chairs in a circle. One child (or more, if you like) should be in the center of the circle holding something such as a foam bat, (soft) rolled-up paper or small towel.

Designate the various characters to the children sitting in the circle: old man, cat, dog, pig, goat, cow, horse, fox. You can have several children for each character. It might help to give students a small picture card telling which animal/character they are. (Note: Versions of the story vary, and if you have Muslim children you might want to omit the pig and dog. You might also choose to add some other animals.)

  • Start telling the story. Whenever you mention a particular character, all of the children who are that character should stand up, turn around and sit down again. (It is fun to pause and create a little suspense before you say each character name.)
  • The child in the center tries to tag the back any of the students as they turn around.
  • The children who are tagged could be asked to sit out for the rest of the game so you can finish with a “winner,” but really it is just fun to try not to be tagged—whether or not it is possible to be “out.”
  • Then everyone chimes in with the chorus again.
  • After the chorus, you will finish the Gingerbread Man’s statement, listing each of the characters so far: “I’ve run away from an old man, and a cat, etc.,” pausing slightly after each one to allow children to stand up and turn around.

It is all about practicing vocabulary (the character names) and spoken rhythm (the chorus), listening carefully for specific words, and having fun while socializing. It doesn’t need to be competitive.

You could tell the story in such a way that you repeat each name several times. For example, “He saw a dog, and the dog looked at him, and the dog said… and the Gingerbread Man said to the dog…,” pausing momentarily before each one to build suspense and excitement.

If your children have a tendency to get rough when tagging, or if there are social concerns about children touching each other, the game could be changed so that the specific children have to simply change places with each other, while the child in the center tries to steal their spot.

This type of game can also be played with any other stories that have a number of characters!

4. Find It! Catch It! Throw It! Jump on It!

Type: Card game

This card game is very flexible to whatever content you’d like to practice. For example, to learn letters/sounds/printed words, you could use flashcards with the target letters or words. If you are practicing English vocabulary, then picture cards are clearly better. For numbers you could have the actual number written on the card, or representations of numbers (i.e. dots, or a series of small pictures such as three dogs). Or you can even use regular playing cards to teach numbers with this game.

Preparing the cards

For the main game, you would need enough cards for each student (or pair, or group) to have identical sets of cards. Below we will also look at some variations that require just a single deck of cards.

You can use ready-made cards, or make your own. If you make your own:

  • Either make your cards really hardy (printed on cardboard and carefully laminated) or really cheap (lots of copies printed on cheap or recycled paper that will get used up and replaced).
  • You could print pictures from clip-art or photos on the Internet, cut and stick pictures from magazines, or ask the children to draw pictures for added learning.
  • The number of different cards you have will depend on what learning you want to support with a game. As you are deciding, remember that little kids love/need repetition. It gives them a chance to know and prove what they know—and that is all part of “the game.”

Playing the game

If each student (or pair, or group) has an identical set of cards, then you can begin play by asking “Who can…?”

Possible questions include:

  • Who can hold up the picture of the frog?
  • Who can hold up the 6 and the 8 at the same time?
  • Who can bring me the picture of a car?
  • Who can be the fastest to put an elephant in that box?

It can be competitive, as pairs/groups race against the others to follow the command, and there could also be points. There could even be a reward for the winner(s) at the end.

If you are using a single set of cards for the whole class, students could also compete individually or in pairs/groups with the following ideas.

  • Find: Place/stick cards on the board and ask students to race to find a particular card. Winning students could have a turn at calling what to find next.
  • Catch: Have the children standing in a line at the back of the room as you throw/flick cards for them to catch and then identify. (You need to be confident that you can control the safety of the students so no one gets a card in their eye nor bumps their head with another while trying to retrieve cards!)
  • Throw: Students pick a card from a pile, identify it and then throw it at/into a target (the door, a bin, etc.). If using disposable cards, they could crumple it to throw it.
  • Jump: Spread cards out on the floor in an open area, and students attempt to step/jump onto a card as identified by you or them. The cards could be in a sequence like stepping stones.

Again it can be as competitive as you choose, with points and/or rewards for winners (or everyone) and winning students could also have turns at calling which card is the next target. Build suspense as you pause when calling which card they should be looking for.

5. Make It and Say It

Type: Games with playdough

Playing with playdough is an activity loved by children of all ages, and probably not used enough in the classroom considering the benefits that it offers the children in their learning.

Making the playdough

Firstly, you can make some homemade dough using these instructions. There are cooked and uncooked recipes, but I much prefer the texture of the cooked playdough, and it lasts much longer. (If you keep it in a zip-lock bag in the fridge it can last for weeks!) The ingredients are cheap and available in the supermarket, so you can easily make several different colored batches.

You could also let the children make the dough, which in that case it would be better to use the uncooked variety. This activity is in itself a valuable language learning activity, as you carefully demonstrate and give each instruction in English.

Playing with the playdough

Just playing with the dough is an activity that children will enjoy and benefit from, but you can spice it up by adding some competition with a challenge, or by cooperating together in a game. Here are some ideas to start:

  • Make the best: Using vocabulary words you want to practice (nouns and maybe numbers, but probably not verbs) challenge individual children/pairs/groups to make it the fastest/biggest/smallest/best/etc.
  • Throw the ring: Line up the best several playdough models and challenge students to throw a ring over them. Place them at different distances for different points.
  • Order by size: After everyone has made the same model/shape, have everyone work together to line them up in order of size. To be competitive, you could then choose three random numbers (for example: 3, 7, 12) and reward the models that are the third, seventh and twelfth in the line.
  • Match the model: Make a model, and show it to the children very briefly, all the time talking about it, saying the name, describing it. Then, ask students to make a matching model. You could reward the “best” three if you like.

Pass the Dough

Here is a final game using playdough:

  • Seat the children in a circle.
  • Pass a lump of dough around the circle while playing music. (As they become better at it, you could introduce more than one lump of dough.)
  • When the music stops the student holding the dough has to quickly make a particular shape. This could be decided and announced before passing the dough, or it could be called out after the music stops.
  • Everyone counts (slowly) to 10 (or a number of your choice) while the person holding the dough quickly makes the shape and holds it up for everyone to see.
  • There could be a reward (for completing it satisfactorily in time) and/or a sanction for failing, or you can just start the music again and continue the fun.


In all of these games, the children are active, involved, socializing, feeling safe, being creative, learning new words and having fun. Start using these games with your kindergarteners today and watch their excitement grow!

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PHONICS KINDERGARTEN GAME - ESL teaching tips - ESL games - Mike's Home ESL

ESL Preschool Games for Kindergarten


How to use these Kindergarten Games

First choose an English topic from the curriculum page, then a game from this page to practise it.  It’s usually best to start at the beginning, but you could also try left & right, greetings, feelings, or colours. Remember, just playing a game is no good, there should always be some target English behind it.

Just about all the themes work great in kindergarten. Even conceptually difficult ones like “countries” or “telling the time” work great.   90% of the others work even better in kindergarten than they do in elementary school!

Many of the games on the main “Games Page” work very well in kindergarten, and indeed many of them were first developed there.

The ideas on this page have been specially selected for use with younger beginners. But here are a few tips to help you out:

Vary, vary, vary: Every class and every child is different, change the class to meet the needs of the kids

If at first you don’t succeed: All these games work great in Kindergarten, that’s the only criteria for them being selected. But if at first you don’t succeed, change it a bit and try it next time!

Keep it short: Don’t plan a 20 minute game. If kids are wondering off, let them! Keep going with the kids that are interested and the others may come back.

Under control: If the kids start getting out of control, well they’re kids so don’t expect them to sit still! But if you want to tire them out a bit, then do lots of “stand ups”, “jumps” etc. see the Warm Up Game

Fun Colours: Use bright picture cards to teach words. Don’t use writing, the kids probably don’t know the alphabet in their native language.

Get them talking: Don’t make the mistake of starting with “ABCs”, they’ll be bored as anything and it’s not going to help them communicate.

Can’t remember : Don’t expect the kids to remember all the words, just keep going. However songs really do help, the best ever Genki English show was at a kindergarten!.

Take a break! Teaching kindergarten is fun, but it’s the most tiring teaching you’ll ever do! Take breaks!

It’s all worth it: Sometimes you may think you are getting nowhere with millions of kids screaming and running around and seemingly learning nothing. But experience shows that starting languages in kindergarten gives the kids an unbelievable advantage later on!

Smile and Be Genki! Above all, enjoy it!

You might also want to have a look at our new series of Japan books and videos for kids aged 0-6, called

Or the Baby Sign Song!
Baby Sign Language

Or the main Genki English Teacher’s Pack.
Teacher's Set
Teacher’s Pack


Now discussing:

We’ve already looked at my favorite EFL ESL games for elementary/primary classes as well as activities for teenagers. Now it’s time for the little ones. If you’re teaching younger children, it can often be a challenge to come up with activities for them. Songs are always great. It can be difficult though to find other activities that hold their attention, are fun and help them really practice their English. You don’t need any fancy equipment or preparation. I find that the most effective EFL ESL games for preschool/kindergarten classes are those that are short, simple and get the kids moving too. In this way, they are often using their English without even realizing it. Whatever activities you are doing, remember that it’s better to do several short varied games rather than one long and complicated game. It’s also a good idea to alternate between noisier games with lots of movement and games where the children have to sit still and concentrate.

Duck Duck Goose

Children love this game. It is a brilliant way to get them to remember vocabulary and you can adapt it to whatever you are learning in class. No prep needed and it’s really easy to play. To see how I use it in my lessons, you can look at my Little Red Riding Hood Lesson plan. I normally use 4 different words. These could be animals, book characters, jobs. You need 3 “good” words and 1 which is the trigger to run. For example, if you were learning about sea animals: crab, octopus, jellyfish and then the trigger, shark.

  • Sit the children in a circle and choose one of them to start.
  • Give them the list of characters and tell them to go around the circle tapping each child gently as they say one of the three “good” animals.
  • When they want to run, they can say “shark!” as they tap someone’s head.
  • That child has to get up and chase them around the circle trying to tag them until they get back to his or her space.
  • Then they take over and go around the circle tapping heads and saying the names of the animals.

What’s missing?

It is so important to keep things simple when you are choosing EFL ESL games for preschool/kindergarten classes. This is such a simple game but very effective for getting children to remember new vocabulary. With very small children, I keep the new words to 5 or 6 maximum as I think any more can be confusing for them. So you need 5 or 6 flashcards or objects for them to remember. Depending on the size of your group, you can play this around a table or on the board.

  • Drill the new vocabulary using lots of TPR and showing the kids the flashcards.
  • Put the flashcards on the table but hide one.
  • Ask them “What’s missing?”. I like to make this a bit funny and dramatic: “Da, da, da, whaaaaaat’s missing?”
  • Whoever guesses correctly gets to take over

Giant board game

I used this as one of the ideas for class art projects but you can make this much more simple and no preparation is needed. It’s a good way of drilling vocabulary and getting children to repeat and remember short sentences. You just need a dice and the flashcards that you are using in the lesson.

  • Make a path on the floor with the flashcards and a Start and Finish point.
  • Choose two or three children to play and tell the others they can watch and help.
  • Let the kids take turns throwing the dice and jumping the number of places that they throw. Everyone can count together as they jump
  • When they land on a flashcard, they need to say the word or sentence that corresponds to it.
  • Alternatively, make it a bit more difficult and ask them a question. E.g. If you’re learning about food and they land on an ice cream: “Do you like ice cream?”
  • The winner is whoever finishes first.

What’s the time Mr. Wolf?

A classic game for children but one that can also be adapted to lots of different subjects and vocabulary. I have used this game in classes learning about food, animals, dinosaurs, time and many more. Just adapt the question the children need to ask, the character of Mr. Wolf and the trigger phrase to run accordingly. If you are playing this in a big class with not much space, I have done a really successful version of this where instead of stepping forward, the kids walked on the spot at their desks. Instead of running, they shouted “Hide!” and pretended to hide.

  • Choose one child to be Mr Wolf (or Mrs Lion or the T-Rex or whatever you want) and make them stand at one end of the room.
  • Group all the others at the other end.
  • Teach them the question. “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”, “Are you hungry Mrs Lion?”, “What do you want to eat T-Rex?” etc.
  • The other child needs to answer. “It’s 2 o’clock” or “I want to eat 3 monkeys” or “I want 4 ice creams” etc and the children move forward the corresponding number of steps
  • When they get close enough, Mr Wolf can shout “it’s dinnertime!” or “I want to eat you” etc and run after them, tagging someone else who then becomes Mr Wolf.

Can you find a …..?

A simple version of a treasure hunt to practice vocabulary. You don’t even need to hide anything, just use whatever is around you in the classroom or the playground. If there’s no space to run around, ask the children to point to whatever they need to find and let them take turns asking the question.

  • Decide what you will be looking for. It could be objects of a particular color or shape, school equipment, clothes or any other object.
  • Ask the kids, “Can you find something blue?”
  • Let them go and find objects or point to them.
  • When they find something, they have to show everyone and make a sentence. “It’s blue” or “It’s a square”.
  • Then choose one of the class to ask the question.

You probably have lots of other favorite EFL ESL games for preschool/kindergarten classes. I’d love to hear which games you use the most with this age group. To keep up to date with new posts and teaching ideas, you can follow the GoogooEnglish Facebook page. Alternatively, you can sign up for email updates by filling in the form below. Look out for my favorite EFL ESL games for teenagers which will be coming soon.


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