Games for Beginner Students


Playing games has always been a staple element of my teaching style. Not just ‘let’s fill 20 minutes with pointless activity’ type games, but games that allow students to use the language they’ve learned for a genuine purpose, and let them communicate with each other in English rather than expecting all interaction to go through the teacher. I don’t think games only belong in the young learner classroom – the learning process should be fun no matter how old your students, and I maintain that there is still a place for fun, even in the adult classroom!

None of these games are particularly groundbreaking or original. But they have been tried, tested, and work – and games that work, that I could actually use, were my highest priority when I first started teaching beginner and very low-level students.

Flashcard Games

When we introduce new vocabulary to low-level students, we often use flashcards. Why not make your resources work a little harder for you?

One of my favourite simple flashcard games to play with beginner students (which isn’t too childish!) is to play ’20 questions’ type guessing games.

Check the students remember and can produce all the vocabulary by quickly running through the flashcards – a simple showing them each in turn and asking ‘What’s this?’ should suffice.

Then turn the flashcards over so that the pictures are no longer visible, and repeat the question ‘What’s this?’. Encourage the students to guess – if you want to you can model ‘Is it…?’, ‘Yes, it is’ and ‘No, it isn’t’ and write the structure on the board as a reminder.

The student who correctly guesses the flashcard then takes over as ‘teacher’.

Higher level students can progress to asking simple yes/no questions before guessing the flashcard, for example ‘Is it green?’.


Also known as ‘Pairs’, ‘Memory’ and I suspect many other names as well! This is one of the old staples when it comes to card games, but it’s popular for a reason! For this you’ll need a set of cards with pictures, and a corresponding set with the matching vocabulary words on.

Give each pair (or small group) a set of cards, then again nominate one group to help demonstrate.

Shuffle the cards together, then spread them out face-down.

Each student takes it in turns to turn over two cards. If they match, the student keeps the cards. If they are different, both cards get put back and the turn passes to the next player.

Play until all the cards are won – the winner is the player with the most!

Happy Families

Happy families is a popular game for English-speaking children, but the ‘true’ version employs only a limited selection of vocabulary, much of which isn’t exactly appropriate for beginner students – Miss. Ashes the Undertaker’s Daughter anybody? Thankfully has a couple of ones aimed at English learners which use a much wider range of vocabulary. I really like this version, which has vocabulary from a variety of different topics including transport, fruit and vegetables, animals, jobs and clothes, and this version which would be great for practising furniture vocabulary and rooms in the house.

Tip: lots of cutting out involved here, so I’d advise laminating and keeping the cards so they can be used again! 

This game can be quite complicated to explain, so I’d advise taking it slowly and demonstrating rather than simply explaining. Make sure to teach the language you want the students to produce, such as ‘Have you got (a t-shirt?’ ‘Yes, I have/No, I haven’t’).

Show the students some of the cards and elicit what family group they fall into. If you have a large class then nominate one group to be the ‘demo’ group – gather the other students round to watch. Then shuffle and deal the cards.

Go first to model what you want the students to do – choose a player and ask them: ‘Kate, have you got a t-shirt?’. If she does have the card, she must pass it to you, and you can ask for another card. If she doesn’t have the card, the turn passes to the next player. When a player has all four cards in a set, they place them on the table in front of them. The winner is the player with the most complete sets. I recommend turning all the cards face up and playing a round so that students can see how to play. Then you can reshuffle and play for real!

Remember, when playing a game with beginner students:

  • Show, don’t tell. If you can demonstrate rather than explain, do so!
  • Model the language you want students to produce.
  • If a game goes well, recycle it in another lesson with a different topic.
  • If you have a small class, don’t be afraid to play too!

What games do you play with your beginner students? 


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