Playing ESL games in small groups can be a fantastic way to increase student talking time and reduce teacher talking time.
ESL group games are also a great way to increase student engagement by creating a fun and exciting learning environment.
In this post we detail 5 of our favorite ESL games for small groups. All these group games can be played in small groups of 3/4.
So, if you have a large class of students, you can divide them into 5 or 6 small groups. If you have a small class size, you can divide the class into 2/3 teams.
All these games are designed for kids, but could perhaps be adapted for older beginner students.
Best ESL Games For Small Groups
1: Walking Dictation
Top of our list of ESL group games is the classic classroom activity ‘Walking Dictation’.
For this game, put students in small groups of 3/4 and give each group a whiteboard or a piece of paper to write on.
Then ask one student from each group to come to the front of the class.
These students will be told the ‘secret answer’. This can be a word, a sentence, or any target language you want to review.
Then, when the teacher says ‘Go!’ these students must go back to their groups and tell the other group members the secret answer. The first group to write down the answer accurately is the winner.
This group game can be played to review any lesson / target language. If you use this game to review beginner vocabulary, why not use our free ESL flashcards to show students the secret answer.
2: Sleeping Penguins Game
In this ESL activity students must work together in groups to write down the correct sentence.
To prepare for this game, simply type the sentences you want to review into our Sleeping Penguins PowerPoint Game Template. Alternatively, you can simply write the words / sentences on the board.
Each group will also need one whiteboard or a large piece of paper to write their answers.
How To Play:
To play, put students into groups of 4 and number each student 1-4.
Then, ask all the students (penguins) to ‘go to sleep’ (put their heads down and close their eyes).
Next, tell the number 1 students in each group to wake up. Show these students the first word from the sentence. They should try to remember this word.
Next, tell number 1 students to go back to sleep and tell number 2 students to wake up. Show the number 2 students the 2nd word in the sentence and then tell them to go back to sleep.
Do the same with the other 2 students. Once all 4 students have seen their part of the sentence, tell all students to wake up.
Then, the students should tell their word to the other members of their group and together they should try to work out the whole sentence.
The first group to write down the sentence accurately is the winner.
Again this group game can be used to review any target language and kids really enjoy it.
3: The Liar Game
This next ESL group activity is a fun card game that can be played in small groups of 3/4.
To play this game, you will need some small flashcards that students can hold. You can download many of these ‘student cards’ on over 30 ESL topics from our Flashcards Page.
How To Play:
Put students in groups of 4 and give each student one set of 8 cards. In this example we will use 8 ‘Jobs and Occupations’ mini flashcards, but you can play this game with any topic.
Tell students to put their cards in the middle of the group and mix them all up. Then each student should take 8 random cards.
At the front of the class on the board write the numbers 1 – 8. Next to each number place one of the flashcards. This is the order that students must put down their cards during the game.
Now the game can begin. Students will take turns putting down one card at a time in the middle in the order (1-8) that is displayed at the front of the class.
As they place each card students should say that flashcard out loud. In this example we are using jobs flashcards so students should say something like, ‘He is a (teacher.)’
If, however, a student doesn’t have the card which should be put down next, then that student must lie. For example, if the next card should be the ‘doctor’ flashcard, but the student doesn’t have the doctor flashcard, then he/she must place down a different card while lying and saying ‘He is a doctor.’
If the other students catch him/her in the lie, then he/she must pick up all the cards the in the middle. If nobody notices the lie, the game continues.
If at any point a student accuses another student of lying, but that student did not lie, then the student who called ‘Liar!’ must pick up the cards.
The first student to put down all of their cards is the winner.
This game seems a little complicated at the start, but it is really easy once you get it and kids really love this group game. Especially when they get to lie.
4: The Categories Game
This simple ESL group activity is great to review vocabulary with students.
How To Play:
Give each group a whiteboard or piece of paper to write their answers on.
Next, decide the category that you would like to focus on. For example, a category could be fruits, occupations, countries, verbs, adjectives, etc.
Then when the teacher says “Go!” students must work together in their group to come up with as many words in that category as possible.
After a few minutes tell everyone to stop. Check each group’s answers and award them one point for each answer. Then change the category and start again.
TIP: If this activity is too easy for your students, then choose a letter that the word must begin with. For example, ‘countries beginning with the letter A.’
5: Top Five Quiz
Last but not least on our list of ESL games for groups is the ‘Top Five Quiz’ activity.
In this kind of quiz, each question has many possible answers. For example, ‘Name a color.’. And if students write an answer which is in the ‘Top Five’ answers then they get points.
How To Play:
To prepare for this quiz, type your own quiz questions and answers into our Top Five Quiz PowerPoint Template. Or you can download this ready made quiz with 10 questions for beginners.
Next, put students in groups of 3/4 and give each group something to write on.
After each question, students should discuss in their group what they think will be the top answer (the most common answer). Then they should write down one answer.
If their answer is in the ‘Top Five’ then they get points. Top answer =10 points; 2nd answer = 7 points, 3rd answer = 5 points; 4th answer = 3 points; 5th answer = 2 points.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found some good ideas for ESL group games and activities for your next class.