10 ESL games for LARGE classrooms

There are 400 million people learning English in China alone. According to estimates, there are ‘only’ around 250 million English teachers working around the World. This overdemand sadly causes classrooms to grow in size. It’s not uncommon for a Chinese or Vietnamese classroom to house 40 or 50 students. And if managing a group of 15 second-graders is already a challenge, just imagine having 3 times that on your plate. If you’re one of the heroes, braving such insanely overcrowded lessons, this article is created for you. Hopefully, the 10 exercises below will make your job a little bit easier.

Guess the Rule

Level: A2 and above

The procedure:


1. Tell one student (or a group) to leave the classroom. No eavesdropping!!

2. The rest of the class comes up with a Rule. At first it might be hard for them so it’s best if you suggest the initial few rules.

Here are a few examples:

People with glasses say YES, people without say only NO.

Elbows on the desk say YES, elbows off the desk say only NO (which means they can alternate).

Boys say YES, girls say NO. 

If you smile you say YES, if you frown you say NO.

3. After everyone is 100% clear on the Rule, invite the students back in. They must walk around the classroom asking only closed questions. The rest must answer according to the Rule, no matter the question. 

It’s funny how teenagers will always ask about love crushes.

4. If the Rule is discovered, the individual or a group gets a point, if not, they fail and next group leaves the classroom.

Shark Hangman

Level: A1 and higher


My young students are obsessed with this exercise. It’s execution couldn’t be simpler, which makes it my favourite go-to filler. 



1. At the bottom of the board draw a line of waves.

2. Sticking out from the waves draw the meanest Shark you can possibly create. We’re talking sharp teeth, crossed eyebrows, huge tail and a badass fin. 

3. Above the Shark draw an unlucky Guy who’s about to fall into Shark’s mouth. 

4. Make the scene super dramatic by saying something like: Oh no! He’s going to get eaten!

5. Then, save the Guy by drawing him a parachute with 5 or 6 distinct ropes that support him. 

6. Write the whole alphabet somewhere on the side. 

7. Now, lastly, choose a word and convert its letters into underscores: _ _ _ _ _ (house).

It sounds like a lot of work but, honestly, it only takes 1 minute to do. 

The procedure:


1. Ask students for a letter, e.g. P

2. Make a mark next to P on the alphabet to show it’s been used. 

3. Then, with a lot of suspense and tension building, either add it to your word or remove one of the parachute ropes supporting the Guy. 

4. Repeat.

Students can’t resist and get super involved in saving the poor stickman, it’s mad. You’ll never see the whole class more engaged than during this high stakes game. 

5. If the students haven’t managed to rescue the Guy and the Shark eats him I often start running towards them pretending to be the Shark trying to eat them. Students run away laughing and we all are having a total blast.

Tongue Twister Duel

Level: A2 and higher


For this activity use the PDF attached below.

The procedure:


1. Divide your class into two teams with 4 – 5 members each. 

2. Display the first tongue twister on a big screen. 

3. Explain that each group member will be representing their team. Moreover, make sure your students understand that each next TT is harder to pronounce than its predecessor. 

4. After 5 minutes of practice invite the first contestants to the front. 

5. Each of them will attempt the tongue twister, the one with the best pronunciation wins a point for their team. 

In order to decide on the best performance, assign each corner of the room to each contestant and ask your student to go to the corner of the dualist they believe was the best. 

6. Display Tongue Twister nr 2, and so it goes.


Level: A1 and higher


For this activity you may use the PDF attached below.



1. Give each student a piece of paper (or, alternately, they can use their notebooks).

2. Instruct them to draw a 4 x 4 grid. Unless you’re working with total beginners, in which case 3 x 3 is enough.



The procedure:


1. Provide students with a topic they can associate many words with, i.e. animals, school objects, vehicles, sports. 

2. Instruct them to fill all the tiers with a different word in each.

3. Read aloud words from the topic, one by one. 

4. Every time a student will hear the word they’ve written down they can cross it.

5. The first one to cross a row of 4 (vertically, horizontally or diagonally) gets 5 points.

6. After the first Bingo each row of 4 gets only 1 point. The first one to get all 16 words gets 5 points. 

Finish the game or play again with a different topic.

Race Categories

Level: A1 and higher


This is a great and a fun exercise to review vocabulary, especially if it can be divided into categories, such as rooms in a house, seasons, etc. 

In this case I’m going to use Animal Habitats as an example: 


The procedure:


1. Divide your class into teams (4 is a good number).

2. Divide the blackboard into 4 equal sections, each for a different animal habitat, for example JUNGLE, OCEAN, SAVANNAH, DESERT, etc.

3. Now, divide each HABITAT into smaller sections, as many as you have groups. Make sure to use a different chalk color for each group, otherwise it’ll look very messy. 

Note: If your board is too small you can do one habitat at a time. 

4. While you’re busy writing on the board, have the students rearrange the desks so that they are pushed as far from the board as possible, leaving a large space between the desks and the board. If possible, instruct them to arrange the desks into islands around which each group can sit.


5. Pick a number of animals you’d want your students to write for each habitat (5 is too easy, 10 is too difficult so I suggest anything in between). 

6. Create a line (use tape, shoes, chalk, etc.) on the floor near the desks. All students must be behind the line at all times. This means that if someone wants to come to the board they will have to cross the large space between the line and the board. 

7. Only one person (representative) from each team is allowed to cross the line and write on the board. 

8. When the current representative adds one animal to one of the habitats, he or she runs back to their group and passes the chalk onto the next person. 

9. The next representative sprints to the board and adds one animal.

10. The team who added the exact number of animals to each habitat wins. 

Note: For lower levels dictate the animals before the game begins. Then their task is to segregate them into correct habitats.

Speed Charades

Level: A1 and above


You’ll need a container (a hat, bowl, box or bucket) with many words, on separate papers slips, inside. Vocabulary such as colours, animals, adjectives, jobs, verbs, school objects or sports.

The procedure:


1. Divide the class into two teams. 

2. Separate the groups by positioning them on the opposing sides of the room. 

3. Place the hat with words in the middle, between the groups. 

4. Set a timer for 3 minutes.

5. In that time, only one person from Team 1 can run and draw a word from the hat. Their team has to guess what the word is. They can use English language or miming or whatever else their imagination allows. 

6. When their team guesses, give them 1 point and someone from Team 2 will run to the hat, draw the word and have their group guess it. 

So essentially, within 3 minutes the teams will take turns – Team 1, Team 2, Team 1, Team 2. 

Note: This may not sound logical or fair, and frankly, it isn’t, but that doesn’t stop the kids from having a lot of fun with this exercise 🙂

7. After 3 minutes have passed, summarize the points, and set the timer for 2.5 minutes. Next time make it only 2 and so on.

Speed Dating (kids version)

Level: A2 and higher



1. Arrange the desks in a circle around the classroom. It’s ok if the circle ends up slightly out of shape, what’s important is that half of the students will be able to sit behind the desks.

2. Divide the class into two, position one half at the desks on the outer edge of the circle. The other half will all be standing inside the circle

3. Make sure every student from the first half has a chair in front of them (on the other side of the desk, inside the circle).

The procedure:


1. Students inside the circle all sit on the chairs inside the circle. Now you have every student facing another student as if they were meeting for a coffee in a cafe with a crazy circular decor. 

2. Tell your students that they are looking for 5 best friends. They need to conduct interviews with each other to see who fits the role. 

3. Put 1.5 minute on the clock. In that time all pairs should talk to each other, seeing if they are a good match for becoming best friends.

4. After the time has passed rotate the inner circle by one to the left or right and put another 1.5 minute on the timer. 

Note: Remember that the time of this exercise is roughly estimated as the time you’ve set on the timer multiplied by the number of students in the first group. So if you have 22 students in class, the first group will be 11 students. 11 x 1.5 minutes equals 16.5 minutes (plus the time to set up and rotate). However, if your class is 40 students than this number escalates to 30-35 minutes. 

4. At the end students can write down the names of their 5 favourite best friends candidates. This becomes super funny as many people will end up on the lists of people they haven’t chosen themselves, making it slightly awkward for them and endlessly funny for the rest.

Board Racing

Level: A1 and higher

The procedure:


1. First, ask your students for as many words as they can name. Either write them on the blackboard yourself or invite the class to come and help you. The goal is to have the entire blackboard filled with vocab.

2. Depending on the size, divide the class into 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 teams. 

3. Each team forms a line, with the first person facing the blackboard. 

Note: make sure there are at least 2 meters between the front of the lines and the blackboard.

4. Pick a word at random and say it.

5. All students at the front of their lines race to touch this word on the board. The first one to touch it gets one point for their team. 

6. The ones who have just raced go to the back of the line and the new set of firsts gets ready. 

7. Repeat until students drop from exhaustion.


Level: A1 and above

The procedure:


1. Put your students into groups of 4-6 people.

2. Give each group a sheet of A4 paper.

3. Instruct them to write a list of all the letters of the alphabet. Make sure they know that each letter is under the previous one, like this:




Variation 1: Easy

4. Suggest a general topic: food, sports, school, etc

5. Each group, or person, has to fill in words starting with the particular letter. 




Variation 2: Harder

4. Suggest a more specific topic: plans for holidays, being rich, etc. 

5. Students now must write a whole sentence starting with a particular letter.

Adventure in a jungle

Bbq on the beach with friends and family

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Crossword Puzzle

Level: A1 and above


This exercise is perfect for reviewing knowledge or as a simple warm-up. 

Prep time: 3 minutes. 

What you’ll need: a simple crossword puzzle with all the words uncovered.



1. Make a crude crossword puzzle on a piece of paper.

Something like this:








2. On the black board convert all the letters into boxes 𐀀

3. Ask your students questions i.e:

Loud noise which wakes you up every morning.

Opposite to ‘closed’.

Leaf from this tree is in the Canadian flag.

Someone who murders people.

Water ‘snake’ which can electrocute its victims.

4. When the warm-up game is over distribute A4 papers to all your students. 

The procedure:

1. Instruct the learners to design their own crossword puzzles and write questions at the bottom. After they’re finished, each student exchanges their crossword with another person.

Note:  make sure the students know ahead of time that they are creating a puzzle for someone else. 

Note: it’s best to show them how to create the password by displaying the process. First, write the password vertically and then add other words. At the end, convert all letters into boxes. I’ve done this exercise with ages ranging from 8 to 25 and there were always individuals struggling to make the initial crossword.


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