(This post contains Affiliate links, but also a lot of free printables, because we love free!)
I play a lot of games with my English students. Currently they range in age from three to eight years old, and most all of these games work for this age group. I have included links to my favourite free printable games, as well as some links to Amazon (affiliate link). I would encourage you to invest in a few open-ended games and game pieces, which you can then use for a wide variety of additional games. Here we go!
I highly recommend building up a good collection of memory games. I use my game cards for many different games which you will see as we go down the list. You can use free printable sets and make your own, or buy different sets to build your collection. I have a combination of both, and I’m always on the lookout for more.
Favourite free printables: Memozor.com has a nice variety, and some of the sets work well for language learning, though they are small sets so you might need to combine several to get a proper game. Islcollective has lots of free printable, you have to register, but then you can print for free. I especially like this past tense verb set.
Make your own: Last week one of my three year old students and I made our own memory game using pictures from magazines. I thought this worked very well, because not all of the photos were exactly alike, which helped reinforce the vocabulary words in a broader context. My little guy enjoyed working with me to find two of the same objects in the magazines. We were able to find two different pictures of shoes, bikes, butterflies, babies, dogs, skiers, and a few other objects. I used large square cards cut from heavy card stock paper to make it easy for his little hands.
Favourite to purchase: The Ravensburger Memory sets are my all-time favourite because they have such variety and use everyday objects with pictures that children find appealing. They are little square cards and I use them for many different games. I prefer these to the free printables, but sometimes you need specific vocabulary or you don’t have a budget to buy materials, so in that case the internet is wonderful! Some other useful sets are verb sets.
Roll and Move Board Games
This is where your memory game cards, or any other vocabulary cards can turn a normal board games into an English learning game. Before the student can roll the dice, they must first draw a card and say the word or form a sentence with the word, depending on the level of the student(s). You can also decide what should happen if the student can’t remember the word, this will depend on the age and English level. For my littlest learners, I just remind them what the word is, and have them repeat it back to me, but for my older ones they have to miss a
turn! Here are two free printable game boards from ESL Games Plus. You can also read my post, What did your Pirate eat for dinner last night or make your own board game for more ideas on creating your own new twist on simple roll-and-move games.
I also own some of the Ravensburger game boards which are heavier and more durable than the free printables. As I said above, I love the Ravensburger games. I found mine at the second hand shop. 😉
Update: I just found this amazing website with sooooo many completely free printable board games! Some of them are for children that can already read, but some are with pictures, which is perfect for your little learners. The website is called Lanternfish, here’s the link to the game boards.
This is a true classic, but I never play with the traditional number cards. This is a game
where I do use a lot of free printables, mostly because there are so many of them online and my kids love this game. DLTK’s Crafts for Kids is a favourite place for printing bingo cards, because I can design them and choose vocabulary and themes, and it’s completely free. Here’s the link to their Bingo card creator page. They have so many choices, such as seasons, holidays, body parts, clothes, and so many more fun themes to help you with your English learning.
Another classic, and when coupled with some good vocabulary cards you have a winner. Again, you can just use any vocabulary cards that you have, or create a set based on your current topic. Sometimes I mix it up and have the students verbally describe the word on the card (but they can’t say the actual word). This worked well when we were learning occupations. For example, if the child draws the teacher, then they have to say something like “This person helps children learn, they work in a school.” While this is easy for adults, the children find it very challenging.
Jump for it
I won’t spend a lot of time on this one because I already dedicated a post to this game. Basically, the children earn jumps by being the first to say a vocabulary word, and the firs one to the finish line is the winner. It’s great for when you need to get out some energy. All you need are vocabulary cards and an open space.
Mother may I
Another classic game that I never even thought of as an English learning game until I became a teacher. This is also a good game for getting little bodies moving. Children line up shoulder to shoulder and take turns asking “Mother may I take “number” + “action” forward?” Such as “Mother may I take three steps forward?” or “Mother may I take two hops forward?” I encourage the children to be creative and make up silly ones like “Mother may I take four rabbit hops forward?” or “two elephant steps forward?”. The first student to reach the teacher is the winner and becomes the mother (or the father). The mother may say “yes” or “no” when asked. Sometimes this can escalate into a problem if you have a student that won’t let any of his or her classmates move forward, so the game does take a little bit of supervision, but in general it is a popular game with my children.
I’m Going on a Trip
This is a game we used to play on road trips when I was a child, but it’s also good for English learners and lends itself well to learning new vocabulary. I like to play where each child has a backpack or suitcase so it actually feels like they are going on a trip. The vocabulary cards are face up on the table or on the floor in the middle of a circle. The first person chooses a vocabulary card and says “I’m going on a trip, and in my bag I’m taking ______.” Then they put the card into their bag. The next person must then remember what the previous person took, plus add a new item into their own bag, so the second person says “I’m going on a trip, and in my bag I’m taking ______ and ______.” The game continues on in this manner until someone cannot remember all of the items. Like many of the other games, the teacher or parent can adjust the game to match the age of the group and the English level.
I have also written a post on this game, so I’ll just summarise. It’s a card game, and the students take turns asking other players if they are holding a card that they need to make a match. The first person out is a winner, and also the person with the most matches at the end is a winner. Children like games with more than one winner 😉 The game works with “Old Maid” playing cards as well, just take out the Old Maid. I own the below set and love it because it uses occupations. You can also use these sets of cards for other games that require vocabulary cards.
I have a different version of this game, (probably because I live in Switzerland) but my youngest students love it, and even my older ones are willing to play along for at least two rounds. Children take turns adding items to their shopping list, and the first one with a full list is the winner. It’s wonderful for everyday vocabulary words that make up the foundation of language. If you don’t want to buy the game, a fun alternative is to collect empty cartons, cans and boxes from your kitchen for a few weeks, wash them and tape them shut, then create your own game based on the items you have collected. This would take a bit of time, but would probably have even better results than the purchased game, because all of the brands and labels would look familiar to the children. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s on my “to try” list. ;-).
Have you ever played Simon says? This is Simon says, but we always play it as “Monkey says” because small children connect better with “monkey” than they do with “Simon” (who is Simon? what is a Simon?) 😉
The person that is “it” gives a command, and the other students must carry out the command, as long as it includes the words “Monkey says ________” but if the caller leaves out the “Monkey says” and skips right to the command then they DO NOT follow the command. It sounds easy, but when it gets going it’s hard to keep up. “Monkey says touch your head. Monkey says sit down. Touch your head.” If anyone touches their head, they become the monkey and must give the commands.