ESL Preschool Games

Updated April 17, 2017

Preschool children with English as a second language can extend vocabulary and improve fluency in English through fun classroom games. Young children have short attention spans, so games should last between 10 and 15 minutes. Advance planning and preparation of activities is also important, because lively and eager preschoolers become fidgety if the start of the game is too delayed. Incorporate a range of learning styles, such as visual, auditory and kinesthetic, by choosing games that involve looking, listening, speaking, moving and touching.

Games That Teach Topical Vocabulary

Teach vocabulary that is related to a current topic, for example, zoo animal names, by preparing a cloth bag that contains about five different toy animals. Name each animal before you place it into the bag and ask children to echo you. Pass the bag to each child, who should in turn close his eyes and feel around in the bag to find a specific animal. Encourage the child to say the chosen animal's name, even if it is not the animal you have asked for, and give lots of praise. Avoid overcorrection of mistakes by simply modelling correct pronunciation back to a child, for example: "Good try, you found an elephant!"

Prepare picture cards of pairs of items that belong to specific topics or categories. Say the names of items and spread the cards face down on a table. Ask each child to turn over two cards, and to say the names of the items. The child places matching cards next to her, and returns unmatching cards face down on the table. Play until all pairs are matched.

Games That Teach Number Names

Teach ESL preschoolers to count orally from zero to 10 and to hold up the corresponding number of fingers as they count. Use the melody of the song "Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, Where Are You?" to sing "Number one, number one, where are you?" as you keep your hands behind your back. Then hold up one finger for the children to see as you sing, "Here I am, here I am, how do you do?" Continue the song with numbers to five, by holding up an extra finger after you have sung each phrase. Encourage children to sing and to hold up the appropriate number of fingers. Once they have learnt the question and answer phrases in the song and are confident pronouncing number names to five, pose the song's question phrase to individual children, and let each child reply on her own. Let children practice singing the question and answer phrases to each other too.

Games That Teach Names Of Body Parts

Introduce vocabulary that describes parts of the body with a familiar action song, and follow up with some fun thematic games. Sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," while pointing to the body parts as you sing. Expand vocabulary by singing, for example, "Eyelids, nostrils, chin and cheeks" to introduce words that describe facial features or "Thumb, finger, palm and nail" to teach names of parts of the hand. Reinforce taught vocabulary with a puppet character, such as "Elmo," who sometimes forgets his manners. When Elmo gives an instruction that begins with the word "Please," for example, "Please touch your toes," the children should follow his instructions. When he forgets to say "Please," the children should ignore his instruction and remain still. Demonstrate the game to the children and do actions with them until they are confident with the vocabulary. Introduce a range of relevant verbs through this game in a similar way, such as "Please rub your tummy" or "Please wave your arm."

Sequencing Games

Read a picture story fairy tale, such as "Little Red Riding Hood" to the children. Choose one that has clear illustrations to ensure children's understanding. Prepare picture cards that sequence the plot, for example by printing off the Little Red Riding Hood pictures that are available from the Day Care Resource website. Show each card to the children in the correct sequence and describe what is happening with a simple sentence, for example: "Red Riding Hood walks to her granny's house." Place a line of string across the table in front of the children and place each card onto the line in sequence from left to right. Mix up the cards and place them face upwards on the table. Ask children to take turns to place a picture into the correct sequence on the line. Encourage them to say something about the picture. If they say only a single word about their picture, such as "basket," place the word into a simple sentence context as you reply, for example, "I can see flowers in the basket."

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About the Author

Mother of three and graduate of the London Metropolitan University, Julie Vickers is an early years teacher and writer who also loves to craft and create! She writes on topics such as education, health and parenting for websites such as School Explained and has contributed learning sessions on child development and behavior for the Education Information and Learning Services website.