Richard McCully

Games to try in your classroom

Five games / activities that work with Thai students

I teach both adults and children here in Thailand and in every class I try and play at least one game. Below are my favorite five games which you could try with your students here in Thailand or anywhere really! 

1. From small to big 

I use this game to help students with animal vocabulary but you could use it with other categories such as countries or items in the house. Most of my classes have fewer than ten students so I do this as a whole class game. 

Students have to stand or sit in a circle and take it in turns to name animals starting with the smallest one they know until the biggest. I normally elicit ant and whale as the smallest and biggest to help them out. If they start with ant they could progress something like: 





I use my hands to show the size of the animals to help them imagine which animal is slightly bigger than the previous one. I also tell students that they can’t help each other. Also they can't say small dog, medium dog and big dog, I just take the adult size of an animal. I will normally set them a target, usually 20, to see if they know enough animals in ascending size order. You can set a time limit too if you wish. 

If you have a large class you can get them to work in small groups of three or four and write down their list of animals on paper for you to check after. 

2. Word train

A really popular game suitable for students of all ages and abilities. Students have to make new words using the last letters of the previous word. 

For example in the word “apple” students could use the “e” to make the word “egg” then they could use the “g” from egg to make “green” next they would use the “n” etc… 

To score more points they can use the last two, three or four letters of a word. 

For example in the word “apple” they could use “le” to make “lend” they could then use “end” to make “ending” etc….

You can set time limits, set target points and even have multiple groups battling each other to win. 

3. Yes / No Game

This is a great game to use with kids and can be used in many ways. 

The idea is that you will ask a questions and the students have to stand on one side of the room if the answer is “yes” and the other side of the room if the answer is “no”. 

With young or low level learners it is great for concept checking. You can ask questions like “Is today Monday?” or “Are you from Mexico?” and see if students understand the language point you are teaching. 

You can use it with more advanced students by adding a debate section afterwards. For example maybe the question is “Should we tax unhealthy snacks more?” students on opposite sides have two minutes to defend their opinion.  

With children, put rules in places to stop them from running, pushing or shouting as they will likely try to do all three! 

4. Describe the word

This game is more suitable for adults and is a good way to help them with vocabulary. 

Split your class into groups of three to five students. One student from each group then comes to the front of the classroom. You need to write a word onto a piece of paper and make sure the students at the front see and understand it. They then have to describe it to their team without saying the word. 

To explain how to play I say the following to the students : 

“For example if the word is pizza you could say - 

It’s a food

It’s from Italy

It’s a circle shape

It’s got cheese and tomato” 

Each student does three words before getting a different member of the team to come to the front and try. The first team to get the correct answer wins a point. The first team to five/ten/twenty points is the winner. 

5. Make Words

Suitable for all ages and levels. Make a 3 x 3 square of nine letters and students have to use them to make as many words as possible. I usually set a three or four minute time limit. Make sure you have a mixture of vowels and consonants. If they are more advanced students give them less common letters. 

I usually do something like this for kids or low level students: 

S  T  B

R  A  E

I  M  H

From the table above students could make words such as:





You can decide if students are allowed to use each letter more than once or if plurals are permitted. 

Using games with Thai students

Thai students of all ages love games. Even adult learners with serious jobs can really get into games. I also love them too because they are a fun thing to add to a class and you can make them relevant at the same time. Let me know if you’ve used these before or what games you like in the comments section below. 

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Here are a few I play. They're easy to do and require no prep.

1.Pictionary great for reviewing vocab.
2. What have I got in my pockets. I describe objects in my pockets and students guess what they are.
3. Categories game. Countries languages etc.
4. Word snake (not to be confused with the trouser snake).
5. Taboo another winner!
6. Bingo an old classic.
7.Story dictation.
8.Mr Bean can using the board. Students write down what Mr Bean can do.
Well, hope that helped!

By Joe, Bangkok (12th November 2023)

One pillar of success in the classroom, is knowing your audience. While most here can agree that the typical ESL/EFL classroom in Thailand is not going to be described as a content-rich Liberal Arts environment, the opportunity to utilize the classroom resemble something similar to that of a Seinfeld episode: making something out of nothing.

Very few ("very" being the operative word) have the opportunity to work their craft so that Thai students can explore, ruminate on and learn the conditions and virtues of the human experience. While Mr. Beam claims he is missing the learning targets, in which case, I think he is purposely sandbagging, there is plenty there to work with and what is then sustained, can be the next step in promoting student efficacy ("scaffolding", anyone?).

We all know the concept of working both inside and outside "the box". The typical EFL/ESL classroom is the box. The teacher is the colored dot trying to operate within. It seems to me, in order to create more room for learning opportunities, the smaller the dot is the more space there is to move about within those parameters. From my vantage point, this is what Mr. McCully is doing.

While the boo-birds will certainly scoff, do ideas on how to mold the classroom into something resembling an active, motivating and communicative learning environment break one's leg or rob one's pocket? Mr. McCully's ideas may not work well in a stuffy dungeon (which they are needed most) but that does not constitute them as weak, or low-level. Remember: the teacher is simply the modeling messenger, while the students (and parents) bare the burden of responsibility for putting the message(s) into practice (no amount of "face saving" can escape that universal truth). Now, just think of the possibilities if that were to happen: Thai students actually doing a bit of homework, practicing what was learned on their own. Should that ever be the case, the boo-birds would be less relevant.

Good job, Mr. McCully. and thank you. Sharing ideas is a necessity for those wanting to enhance their craft. Moreover, learning any foreign language involves both deductive and inductive thinking. Your games are a great way pathway.

By Knox, Fort Ticonderoga (24th October 2023)

Hi Jim, these are just ideas which teachers can use however they wish. I used simple examples to keep it easy but of course base it on the level you are with. For example, my class last night was pre-intermediate level based on crime so vocabulary such as detective, undercover and sentencing were used.

By credible bh, as (25th August 2019)

Hi Jim, these are just ideas which teachers can use however they wish. I used simple examples to keep it easy but of course base it on the level you are with. For example, my class last night was pre-intermediate level based on crime so vocabulary such as detective, undercover and sentencing were used.

Thanks for the tip on riddles, I haven't used them before so will gave a go in my classes next week!

By Richard, Bangkok (9th August 2018)

I am missing what's being taught here? Games are great when used to reinforce the lesson and ultimately learning objective.

Doing the hokey pokey to teach body parts is great. Doing the hokey pokey after a lesson on prepositions of place is just teaching English with no specific purpose.

The describe a word game is a simple method of teaching infererence which you seem to have missed. I teach secondary and have a bunch of riddles I use to demonstrate infererence as well as delving into context clues. Anyway, my experience is students make crap riddles and the clever kids guess them straight away, so best make your own. If you are looking for a speaking component in this I guess you could have a kid read each riddle.

Further, it's pretty low level vocabulary that you are working with here. Hopefully after a teacher's first year they're aspiring to more challenging students and outcomes.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (8th August 2018)

Game number 4 - Describe The Word.
I used to love this game. It always went down well with a group of lower-intermediate (and above) adult learners.

I used to have about 100 words on pieces of card (which I could of course use time and time again with different groups) And as well as nouns like 'lettuce' and 'telescope', I would throw in the odd famous name like 'David Beckham' or 'Tom Hanks'.

I would divide the class into two groups (boys v girls always worked great) and the members of each group would each have two minutes in front of the class to describe the words to their team members (while the other team can only watch and keep quiet)

As with all these kinds of fast-paced activities, the teacher has to take on the role of 'game show host' to keep the motivation and excitement levels up. I always loved playing that role but I've watched other teachers play the same game and it's like a wet dish-rag.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (8th August 2018)

Steve you can do if you want, it's just how I play the game with my students. Problem is they would use it for every animal and the game would go on for years!

By Richard, Bangkok (8th August 2018)

"Also they can't say small dog, medium dog and big dog, I just take the adult size of an animal.", seeing as there as so many breeds and sizes of dogs, why do you not let them use adjectives too, surely that would be a plus for the students?

By Steve C, Bangkok (8th August 2018)

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