Games to teach english to adults

Written by amber d. walker
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Games to teach english to adults
Learning a new language can be frustrating for adults. (student image by dinostock from

Teaching English as a second or other language to adults can be a joy. Adults tend to be well behaved and motivated much more than children do. However, adults can become frustrated easily when learning a new language. Used to feeling competent and in control of their lives, many adults feel stupid and helpless when trying to master a second language. Teachers can make the process easier by engaging adults in ESL games, which not only make the process more fun but also bolster their confidence and self-esteem.


A version of Alibi appears in Peggy Url's ESL teaching book "Discussions That Work," but variants have been used in ESL classes around the world for years. Alibi is a good game for practicing past tenses and interrogatives, and it can be adapted for other themes as well. In Alibi, the teacher presents the class with a crime: a bank robbery, kidnapping or even a murder, depending on your students. The teacher gives basic details about the crime and then splits the class into suspects and police interrogation teams. The suspects have five minutes to speak together (out of earshot of the rest of the class) and come up with the perfect alibi. The others use the time to write their questions. Then each police team questions a suspect for a set amount of time. After time is up, the suspects rotate so that all police question all suspects. The idea is to ask as many detailed questions as possible. If the police find at least five instances where the suspects disagree, they're convicted.

Running Dictation

Dictation can be a useful listening exercise, but a boring one. Running dictation, however, makes it more interesting. The teacher comes up with two lists of sentences. Each list can be the same or different, but they should be the same level of difficulty. The lists are then taped up away from the students, at opposite ends of the classroom or out in the hall. The students are split into two teams. Each team needs a scribe; the others are message runners. The object is for the runners to go look at the lists and then come back and tell the scribe exactly what the sentences say, in correct order, with all the same spelling and punctuation. The first group to do this wins. You can also time this, so that the best team list within a certain amount of time is the winner. If you have a large class, you can split them into more than two teams and add more lists.

Group Spelling Race

The Group Spelling Race can help test and reinforce spelling without resorting to spelling bees and quizzes. Split the class into even teams. Just as in a quiz, the teacher gives the class a word to spell correctly. However, the goal is not to see which team can spell it correctly first. In this game, ALL the members of the team must spell the word correctly before they can gain points. This promotes collaboration; if someone doesn't known how to spell the word or makes a mistake, the teammates can help.

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