The best language games to play in online classes

Whether you’re teaching Spanish, French, Mandarin or English, you are likely offering some sort of live lessons on Zoom or Google Hangouts during this crazy Covid-19 crisis. Here are some games that encourage target language use, build community, and can be played over the internet with little to no preparation (because we are all stressed enough as it is!).

Check out my tools for online teaching like blue light blocking glasses and laptop stand that converts to a standing desk. Having the right tools makes things a bit easier!

Guessing Games

What do they have in common?

Level: Novice+ Ages: 10+

Give students three things and have them guess what they have in common. These can be really obvious for lower levels and younger students (a tree, watermelon, a frog = they are all green) but you can really get into the nuances of language with more difficult ones. You could ask intermediate and above students to come up with the things for each other and for advanced students you could talk about how the same things wouldn’t necessarily work in both English and the target language.

Some examples:

A church, a school, a cow = all have bells

A key, a mouse, an arrow = all parts of a computer (this one might not work in the target language)

You can find a question of the day like this at Tribond.com for more ideas.

Guess the person

Level: Novice+ Ages: 7+

A Guess Who type game that requires guessing people can still work digitally if you can share your screen to have students see a grid with pictures of people. Alternatively, students could be emailed the grid. Play teacher v. students or have students play in pairs in Zoom breakout rooms.

With novice students it’s always helpful to give them sentence stems with ideas of things to guess. Here is an example for when we play with characters from Disney movies:

Guess the surprise guest

Level: Novice+ Ages: 7+

Invite a surprise guest like a friend, family member or fellow teacher to join the session. Ahead of time, prepare a paragraph description of the person in the target language and their name. Then write up to seven similar descriptions with slight differences and different names. Show these on your screen to the students who must ask the surprise guest questions to guess their name and figure out which of the descriptions describes them. It’s always motivating for students to talk to someone who isn’t their teacher!

20 Questions

Level: Intermediate+ Ages: 7+

The teacher thinks of a person, place or thing and students have 20 questions to figure out what it is using only yes or no questions. If students figure it out, they win. If not, the teacher wins. I like to require each student to ask at least one question so you don’t have certain students doing all the talking.

Number Games

More or less

Level: Novice+ Ages: 7+

It’s simple but still fun. Student A thinks of a number between 1-100 or 1-1000 and other students guess the number. With each guess, student A says higher or lower until the number is reached. Make it a team effort by having a limited number of guesses and see if the class can do a good job of listening to each other to correctly guess the number.

The random number game

Level: Novice+ Ages: 10+

Students start by drawing a ladder-like grid of 10 vertical spaces on their paper or an online whiteboard.

The teacher uses a random number generator (Google has this tool) to generate a random number between 1-100. The goal is to put all the numbers in order vertically. The catch is that you must write the number down when it is called, so you don’t know what is coming before or after.

For example, in the picture below the player has the numbers 17, 23, 66 and 91 already called. If they get any number between 1 and 16 they will put it before the 17. When they get a number between 24 and 65 they have three possible slots to put it in. However, if they get a number between 18 and 22 they will lose because there is no room for numbers between 18 and 22. If you get the same number twice just skip it and generate a new number.

As you continue to call numbers ask students to raise their hand to show if they are still in the game. The last student still in “wins”, although the ultimate goal is to get all 10 numbers in order.

It is rare to get a perfect game, but students love to keep trying!

Flip a Coin

Level: Novice+ Ages: 7+

This is as much a quick way to bring in some culture as it is a game. In English we say “heads or tails” to flip a coin, but this varies by country. Some Spanish speaking countries say “Cara o cruz” (face or cross) or “cara o escudo” (face or shield), France says “pile ou face” (named supposedly for the instrument used for engraving the coin), you get the idea. Explain this to students and tell them you will flip a coin. They give a thumbs up if they think it will be heads and a thumbs down if they think it will be tails. After each flip, if they get it right they keep playing and guess again. If they get it wrong they are out. The last one standing wins.

Here are some online coin flippers in the target language:

Spanish: Cara o cruz

French: Pile ou face

German: Kopf oder zahl

Drawing and Photo Games

Art Contest

Level: Novice + Ages: 5+

Describe a scene in lots of detail for your students to draw. Tell them where everything is located so they can recreate the scene. I’d recommend finding a photo of something online first, so when you finish they can compare this with the original photo. To make it more fun offer silly awards and have students vote for the “most original” “best use of stick figures” or “least time spent drawing”.

Alternatively, have intermediate level students choose a funny picture and describe it to you as you draw on a whiteboard. For more fun, try drawing it with your eyes closed! Or, describe the whole picture (keep it simple) and make it a race to see who can finish drawing everything you mentioned first.

Spot the difference

Level: Intermediate+ Ages: 12+

This one takes a bit of prep, but would be great for vocabulary building and circumlocution. Take a picture of a small area, like a desk or a bookshelf. Then, move or remove a few items (five is ideal) and take the photo in the exact same spot. Show students both of the pictures and they have to spot the differences. Of course, they’ll need to explain the differences using the target language. If they don’t know a word they’ll need to practice their circumlocution to describe it.

Like this idea but not the prep part? Give this as a homework assignment for students. They take the pictures and upload them to a shared Google Slides presentation before class.

Picture UNO

Level: Intermediate + Ages: 12+

I saw this one floating around Facebook and thought it would be a fun way for students to share a bit about themselves. We all know UNO and how you must match either the number or the color of the card played by the player before you. This is the same concept but with pictures.

The first student puts up a picture (you could use a Google Doc or Google Slides or a site like Padlet) and describes what is happening. Let’s say they put up a picture of their dog sitting in the car in front of a house. The next player must put up a photo that has at least one thing in common with this first picture, so either a dog, a car or a house. Maybe the player puts up a picture of himself as a child with a trophy and their dog. The third player would have to match something in this new picture.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'UNO Riature YOUR PHOTO HAS TO HAVE ONE THING IN COMMON WITH THE ONE RIGHT BEFORE YOURS.'

To make this a language game the students will need to present the picture and say what it matches. Because some students might not have access to photos of themselves you could easily use any photo from the internet.

Online Games

Popular Classroom Games

Level: Novice + Ages: 10+

You can still play classroom favorites like Kahoot!, Gimkit, and Quizlet Live, although they can be a bit frustrating if the students’ internet speed is not up to par. It’s nice to have a classroom activity that is familiar to students during all this uncertainty.

Picture Telephone

Level: Intermediate/Advanced + Ages: 12+

Another option that doesn’t call for quick fingers is this online version of the classic game of telephone (you know, the one where you have to pass a message down the line and hope the last person would say the same thing as the first person). I’ve done this in class on paper, but this website lets you do it all online by passing these “books” automatically between players.

The first player is prompted to write and writes a simple sentence like “I buy carrots at the grocery store”. The next player receives this sentence and has to draw a picture of it. The following player is only shown the previous picture, not the original sentence and they have to write a sentence for the picture. This continues until all players have written or drawn, and there is one “book” per player that is created. You can see from the photo above that even with only three players the message didn’t make it for this one, but that’s where the fun is 😉

Don’t forget to check out tools for online teaching to see my must-have lap desk and more!

What games do you play with your students online? Leave a comment and let me know what I should add to the list.

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