6 Fun ESL Games for Your Shyest Students


To learn English, you have to speak in English.

But not every student is comfortable blurting out unfamiliar phrases, taking risks or making mistakes.

You want everyone to be involved, so how can you reach out the shyer, quieter students?

Getting shy students to talk can happen with ESL games.

Within the first 10 minutes of class, you know which student is going to be the class clown, which student is going to answer every question, and which student is going to try to become invisible. That last student, the one who only wants to disappear into the wall, can be a hard nut to crack. ESL games are a great way to get everyone involved, even the shyest of the shy.

6 Fun ESL Games for Your Shyest Students

Learn a foreign language with videos

1. Find a Person Who….

Build confidence by starting with a comprehension game. There is less speaking involved, but everyone will have to pay attention, understand what is being said, and interact with the class. Have everybody begin in a big circle. The teacher calls out:

“Find a person who is wearing glasses.”

Everyone runs to grab the hand of a person wearing glasses. Assuming each student has two hands, only two people can be partnered with each glasses wearer.

Whoever is left without a hand to hold stands in the middle. The youngest one of the middle group must now call at the next turn. Possibilities are endless! Find a person who:

  • Is wearing red.
  • Has words on his/her shirt.
  • Can curl his/her tongue.
  • Can touch the floor without bending knees.

The teacher can have a prepared list of finds or can ask the students to make up their own.

The shy person either must be quick to follow the English instructions or find themselves in the middle, where must take a turn at calling out the next “Find a Person.”  Either way, all students are engaged.

2. Dictionary

Don’t worry about the more vocal students taking over. Every student gets to be the leader and judge in this game. If you’ve played the game Balderdash, you’ll recognize Dictionary.


Divide your class up into groups of five or six. If your class has fewer than ten students, you might be able to play with everyone at once.

Give each group a packet of sticky notes and the biggest dictionary that you can find. You can also create your own advanced vocabulary list for the class to use.

For each group, select a leader and a judge. You can pick the most shy students to steer the group. The leader finds a word in the dictionary (or vocab list) that he or she does not believe anyone else knows. The leader writes the correct definition of the word on the sticky note. Then, he or she spells the word out loud, and everyone except the judge will write the word down.

The other players make up definitions of their own and write them on sticky notes as well. They can be funny and come up with a silly definition. They can try to guess the correct definition. They can try to fool the judge with something that sounds convincing.

The leader collects all the definitions and hands them over to the judge. The judge reads each definition out loud. If your judge has a flair for the dramatic, all the better.

After reading all the definitions, the judge decides which definition he or she thinks is correct.

The leader identifies which answer is really correct. If the judge picks the leader’s answer, then the leader gets a piece of candy or other token. If the judge picks another player’s answer, then the player gets the candy.

Here’s a rundown of how this might play out:

The leader picks the word “sundry.” She tells all the players the word and spells it for them.

The leader writes the correct definition on her note, “miscellaneous.”

Another player thinks about literal meaning and writes, “wet clothes left outside.

Another player guesses and writes, “popcorn.”

Another player decides to be silly and writes, “lying to your teacher.”

The leader mixes up the definitions and hands them over to the judge. The judge reads each definition out loud, and if all goes well, everyone gets a good laugh out of this. The judge in this case decides he likes the “wet clothes left outside” definition. The leader awards the player who wrote this definition with the candy and explains that the correct definition is miscellaneous.

The roles switch up and the judge becomes leader in the next round.

Play as many rounds as you can so that every student has a chance to be the judge and the leader.

The nice thing about Dictionary is that you can adapt to most English learning levels. And students who are shy about speaking out loud in class may be more comfortable in these smaller groups.

3. What Sweet Treat Am I?

Don’t want to produce waste with your games? Now you can make use of all the candy wrappers you have left over from Dictionary.

Get as many different kinds of candy as you have students in class. Make sure it’s candy that they’re familiar with. Tape the wrapper to each student’s back and put the students all in a circle.

The first player stands up and turns around so everyone can see the wrapper. The player can ask the group yes or no questions to get clues, for example:

  • Is it red?
  • Does it taste like strawberries?
  • Does it have chocolate?
  • Is it crunchy?

It’s up to you as the teacher to decide how many questions the player can ask before having to guess name of the sweet treat.

This game works very well with upper beginning and intermediate students, and students of all ages generally like candy. Because all students participate, your shy students cannot hide. The game, however, is simple and fun so they may relax and enjoy it.

You can combine this ESL activity with a lesson on polite ways to ask someone to repeat a question.

4. Balloon Truth or Dare

This is the classic truth or dare game with a slight twist which makes it ideal for language learning. Students will have the choice to pick whether to answer a personal question, a truth, or to do something silly, a dare.

The key here is to pick student-friendly options. Write down on small strips of paper dares that most students probably would be willing to do and questions most would be willing to answer. You can adapt the statements using vocabulary and grammar at the level you’re teaching.

Possible Dares:

  • Dance a popular dance.
  • Sing a class song solo.
  • Pretend like you’re riding a horse.
  • Snore or snort.
  • Make a sound like a chicken.

You can really have fun and dare the students to act out one of the animals or their favorite scene from Hercules.

Possible Truths:

  • What did you look like when you were 10 years old?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
  • When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  • Who is your favorite musician?
  • What is the best thing about your life right now?

Again, both the truths and the dares can be adapted to the age and English learning level of the students.

Take the strips of paper with the truths and dares and put them inside flat balloons.

Blow the balloons up and scatter them around the room. You may want to have the truths in red balloons and the dares in blue balloons. Or, you can have truths and dares all mixed up.

Once class starts, each student picks a balloon and pops it to reveal the truth or dare.

You may want to start the game with your more outgoing students. Don’t let your shy students be last – that only increases their anxiety while waiting for their turn. Call them out to play around the middle of the class list.

5. Mayor (a.k.a. Don’t Vote for Me)

This game lets advanced English students who are shy do something they may be more comfortable with: self-deprecate.

You’re going to have mock election for mayor in your classroom. But, explain that it’s a job nobody wants. Each student must convince the class that they should NOT be mayor and why.

You may need to go first just to show the possibilities, “I would hate to be mayor. Do not vote for me. I do not like to be around smelly, old citizens. Children are noisy. Who cares about education?” And, on and on.

The winner is the one who comes up with the best reason not to be mayor. Which candidate would make the most horrible mayor? You may want to hold a vote to select your “not mayor.”

This game requires both higher English ability and an appreciation of irony.  But if your class has both, this game may get shy students to take risks and even be a bit silly. Rather than have everyone go to the front of the classroom to speak, the intensity for shy students may be lowered by having everyone stand up at their desk instead.

This game is fun to play in conjunction with advanced vocabulary on words beyond the basic “good” and “bad.” Here’s a FluentU video that can help: The Case Against “Good” and “Bad”.


6. How’s Yours?

Here’s a game that can be played with beginning English learners. This game works best with about 8-10 students, so if you have a large class you will want to divide them up.

One student volunteers to be “it” first. Again, your more outgoing students can start the game off because everybody is going to end up playing eventually.

“It” is sent out into the hall or somewhere out of earshot.

You start out as the game leader. Pick a body part, type of clothing, common person or common object. Possibilities might include:  shoes, mouth, car, mother, teacher or ring.

“It” comes back into the room and tries to figure out what the object is.  All the other players have to keep their hands in their lap to keep from pointing. To do this, “It” goes around and asks each student, “How’s yours?” The student replies in two or three words.

Let’s say the object is “teeth.” The students can respond: Dirty, Minty, Smelly, Big, Crooked, Full of Holes, Perfect, etc.

Once “It” has gotten an answer from each student, “It” must guess what the object is.

Now, “It” becomes the game leader and a new student is “It.” Pick the shy students early on so they can play more confidently after they have had their turn.

This game works well with the FluentU English video “Whose is it?”


The one thing that will help your shy students is feeling confident. Here are some more out of class ideas that will make a difference from their English confidence levels:

Oh, and One More Thing…

If you liked these games, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.

It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. 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 “brought,” 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 English!



3 years ago, Ekaterina Koromyslova, Assistant Professor of Operations Management at South Dakota University, started using games in her classes. Despite she never had this game-based learning experience as a student, she was willing to try new teaching methods in order to make her classes more efficient and enjoyable. After her first trial playing games… bingo! She achieved both goals at the same time with this one tool.

Ekaterina believes that playing games is a natural way to learn, as we observe children playing with toys, their role playing, and the transition of their skills from game to life.

But let’s be honest: change is hard for some, especially for those who are traditionals. However, a key for success is to embrace change and stay flexible. New things are popping up all the time and in all areas. Game-based learning in Education is a great example of it!

Ekaterina Koromyslova, Operations Management Professor at South Dakota University

“Based on my experience, the game playing is an universal and effective way to engage all students, what is hardly achievable with any other teaching approach. Also, playing games in class is a perfect way to reach all of different types of learners”, says Professor Koromyslova.

Additionally, she highlighted the fact that simulation is the easiest way to try different things without bad consequences. So, if students have the opportunity for these “trials” in class, they will have more chances to be successful at their workplace.

Once you try games you just go for more!

Looking for different teaching methods to provide better learning experience to her students Ekaterina have used both, physical and computer-based games in her classes. In fact, convinced of the power of playing, she even developed a Process Analysis game by herself.

However, in 2016 Ekaterina knew about GameLab, and tried one of our Operations games in class for the first time. The experience was so good that this year she not only repeat the experience but also played with another of our games.

“This is my second semester playing the PricinGame, and first time playing the Soda Pop Game. Students were motivated, participated well, and were able to apply their knowledge of the concepts. Also, competitive spirit and a bit of humor made the playing even more enjoyable. Actually, they requested an extra round of stage 4 in the PricinGame”, she said after using our two Operations games in class.

Are you ready to giving a shot to game-based learning as Ekaterina did? Be willing to change, because life wont stay the same!

12 Educational Games to Boost Productivity


Staying productive in the classroom is a challenge for both teachers and students, and it can feel nearly impossible when you have a long list of house-keeping things to get done, in addition to learning.

The best way to fix low productivity: figure out what’s causing the issue. The reasons why students don’t work effectively are numerous, and it’s important to learn about the problem before trying to solve it. For example:

  • Students get exhausted from being overloaded. Multitasking doesn’t always make students productive.
  • There are too many distractions in the classroom (noise, talking, mobile phones and tablets, etc.).
  • Students lack motivation.
  • Students are not confident in their own abilities.
  • Teachers and students have an antagonistic relationship that gets in the way of working collaboratively.
  • Students set too many educational goals or don’t set any at all.
  • Students fail to plan their study routine, have weak organizing skills, or don’t know how to prioritize.

There are a number of solutions to the problem of low productivity in the classroom, but I’d like to focus on just one. It is rather simple and enjoyable and yet undervalued—not all teachers are willing to try this method: educational games, aka gamification.

Games are engaging and get kids excited; good educational games are the perfect combination of utility and fun. Whether the games are online or offline, both can be used to boost productivity and engagement in your classroom.

Below are eight games for students of all different levels that can help make your students more productive. Note that practically all of these games have several degrees of complexity so you can tailor them to your classroom.



This simple game was created to develop reading and writing skills. Students must collect coins that create a word using the vowels displayed on the screen.


Math becomes fun and captivating when you play number games. Kids catch the floating sums with the bumble bee and drop them into the appropriate equation.


Memory development in students is one of the most important tasks of teachers. This task can be made easier thanks to online educational games like Buried Memories. Three items are buried, and the player needs to find the one displayed on the screen. You win by getting five matches.


Each square on the board has a question about addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, squares, cubes or square roots, depending on the degree of complexity. The user places an X on a square and answers the question. The game places an O on the board after you place an X, creating a fun cominbination of tic tac toe and math problems.



This is a great online tool for students learning Spanish. There are four levels: 1) Students click on the correct Spanish word; 2) Spell the correct Spanish word; 3) Click on the correct English word; and 4) Spell the correct English word.


Confusing different words with each other is a common problem. Even college students find it difficult to find choose the right word sometimes. The Word Confusion game lets students choose a correct word to complete sentences and shows if they did it right or wrong. It’s simple, fun, and effective.


Students have a number of puzzles in front of them. The task is to figure out where each puzzle goes and place it in order from lowest to highest amount. To solve this task successfully, students need to know fractions.


There’s a math problem, or to be more precise, a dinner bill. Students must calculate the correct tip to leave the penguin waiter. Hard and Super Brain complexity levels also allow students calculate a percentage tip left and original bill.



Sudoku is a game that develops logic, which is why people of all ages enjoy playing it. You need to find appropriate digits from 1 to 9 to fill the blank spaces on the playing board such that every number appears once in each horizontal line, vertical line, and square.


Quiz Hub is a resource that presents students with quizzes on different subjects, including Math, History, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography and a few others. Students can learn with question-and-answer style games, fill in the blank and more.


Students learn how to be strategic planners with Food Force, where the task is to stop world hunger. Students can use their own ideas on how to solve the problem, alone or as a team.


With this chemistry-based game students need to create molecules using atoms floating on the game screen. There are six types of atoms and they all have different amounts of combining power (from 1 to 6), making a challenging science topic easier to understand.

The productivity challenge of the classroom is not as tough as it might seem at first gaze. Educational games can become an integral part of your daily routine. If you don’t want to spend time on educational games in the classroom, you can ask your students to play them at home. They’ll love combining gaming with studying.

11 classic games and why to use them in class


“I really want to be bored witless,” said no student, ever.
“I hope my students’ eyes glaze over in class,” said no teacher, ever.

Learning is a serious business. But that doesn’t mean students shouldn’t have fun while doing it. In fact, playing games increases motivation by helping students relax, open up, and get out of their heads while learning. And remember: Unless you’re teaching open heart surgery, sky-diving, or how to safely direct a space mission back to Earth, you can be sure that play is an entirely appropriate addition to your classroom!

Why play?

Like you, your students have come to class carrying baggage from their day. While their class time with you is just one component of their lives, it’s very likely an important one for them professionally and personally. Despite what great Aunt Sylvie may think, play time in class is not “wasted” time. Quite the contrary, games are perfect for practicing vocabulary and targeting grammar; thus increasing camaraderie through light competition, boosting energy levels, reducing stress, promoting problem-solving, and buying more focused lesson time later in the hour. While it’s clear that children and beginners shine brighter when playing, it’s also true that adults and advanced learners enjoy competition and lighter moments in class. This is not to say that you should convert your class into a permanent playpen, rather, that the addition of moments of play give contrast in class and allows students of all learning types to thrive. The following are eleven classic games that can be adapted to suit different skill levels.

1. Casino

Divide students into groups and give each a budget of, say, 100€ of mythical money. Explain that they are going to bet their money to try to win more (establish a minimum bet). Write an incorrect sentence on the board, adapting the gravity of the error for your class’s level, and ask each group to identify the error, write it down, and make a bet. The groups who identify the error win, while those who didn’t, lose their bet. Repeat several times.

2. Pictionary, charades, and celebrity heads

Always classic, these games are super versatile, let students practice specific vocabulary and expressions, and have the added bonus of encouraging a gleeful sort of atmosphere. Create a stack of words, phrases, concepts, or historical figures that your class has recently studied and try to mix levels amongst teams. You might like to experiment with playing as a whole class (where half competes against the other half) or in smaller groups with time limits.

3. Taboo

This is a great way to get students speaking and practice your unit’s vocabulary. In Taboo, one student must communicate a concept or word to their partner without using a specific list of related words. For example, they must make their partner say “forest”, yet they are not allowed to use the words “tree,” “woods,” “Sherwood,” or “Black”. Once their partner says the word, the students switch roles.

4. Twenty objects

Put 20 objects on a table and give students a minute to memorize them. Cover the objects with a cloth and ask the students to write down as many as they can remember. You might choose to use objects related to your current module of study or that are connected in some other way.

5. Categories

Put up a simple table on the whiteboard with a different category in each column, for example: United States presidents, rivers, fruit, movie titles, boy’s names, emotions, animals, cities. (Alter the categories for difficulty according to your class’s level.) Randomly select a letter of the alphabet. Now, within a time limit groups or pairs of students must identify one example per category. The first group to correctly do so wins.

6. Bingo

This classic game is often forgotten and can easily be adapted to suit your class’s needs. Besides classic bingo, you might create play boards where students cross off pictures, antonyms, synonyms, or T1 words.

7. Tongue twisters

Tongue twisters are great for lightening the mood, as an ice-breaker, or way to begin each class. Search for more difficult phrases for advanced classes – you’ll see that it’s a rare student who doesn’t crack a smile! Start with this quirky list of tongue twisters – some easy peasy, some very twisted!

8. A twist on Twister

Put a twist on Twister by hiding colored discs with words, phrases, expressions, and target language written on them. Students must scramble to find them with a time limit. Add to the challenge by hiding scrambled messages, texts with grammatical errors, or descriptions that need to be corrected or put together.

9. “First to the front” and “Have you ever?”

This is a winner with kids and adults alike. Students start in a line at the back of the classroom and take one step forward for each question they answer correctly, sentence finished, or word guessed. The first to the front wins. You can also play a version of “Have you ever?” where students take a step forward for each thing they have done. (“Have you ever been to Africa, seen a dolphin, stayed awake all night, failed an exam, broken something valuable, etc.”)

10. I messed up

In this activity, advanced students tell stories of their mistakes with language in the “real world.” (Perhaps they used a word incorrectly and accidentally said something rude, received a completely incorrect meal when ordering, or just couldn’t for the life of them understand their native speaker in-laws.) Telling these stories creates a humorous atmosphere and encourages lightheartedness and self-reflection in learning.

11. Dictionary

Upper intermediate to advanced students will get a kick out of inventing definitions for uncommon words found at random in a dictionary. Each group reads out three definitions for a bizarre or obscure word and the rest of the class votes on which they think is correct. Points are scored for fooling your classmates with a made up definition – or for silliness and originality.