What is it? It's 17 fun and simple ESL guessing games for kids
By Allan Sweeney
Whether you're looking to warm up a sluggish group of youngsters or wrap up another successful lesson, guessing games are a handy tool for any teacher's back pocket. Here are 17 for yours.
I've adapted these ideas for use in low-resource classrooms and made the instructions as straightforward as possible to benefit new teachers.
That being said, I think experienced teachers will still be able to pull a few ideas from here.
I hope you find them helpful, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.
1. Don't You (Forget About Me)
Students have to guess which classmate their teacher is describing.
This game is excellent for revising descriptions as well as the verbs have and be.
Start by dividing the class into two teams. For each round, place a student at the front of the class with their back to their classmates.
Then give that student 2-4 statements that uniquely describe one of the other students in their group. For example:
She is tall. She has long blonde hair and red shoes.
Depending on the size and level of the class, you may give the student a few attempts to guess.
If the student guesses correctly, they win a point for their team.
2. Sweet Little Mystery
Students have to describe the object they are holding in a mystery bag and guess the owner.
This fun little group guessing game won't steer you wrong. And it'll allow you to practise possessive 's and adjectives with your students.
You'll need a bag to play this game. A large cloth shopping bag is ideal, but you can use your backpack or a black bin bag if you're stuck.
To begin, have each student give you one belonging.
If you have time, step through each item with the class, identify the owner, elicit adjectives that describe it, and write them on the board.
After doing that, let each student dip their hand into the bag to grab an item. Once they have an object, they have to guess what it is before they reveal it.
Try to elicit the owner and adjectives that describe it before they take their hand out of the bag.
TIP: Add your own item to the bag and demo the activity first. The students can see you attempt a guess, and you can encourage them to give a similar description during their turn.
3. Ha Ha, Charade You Are!
You're down in the pig mine for this one. You'll mime out different professions for your students to guess.
This variation of charades serves as a fantastic game or warm-up activity to practise job-related vocabulary with young learners.
Depending on when you last covered this with your students, you may want to spend a few minutes revising some vocabulary.
Two ways you could do that:
1. If you have the relevant flashcards, spend a few minutes flicking through them, elicit spellings, add them to the board etc.
2. If not, you could go around the class asking students what job they would like when they're older and add examples to the board.
After that, it's simple.
Mime different jobs to the students while they try to guess.
TIP: After a few rounds, let the student who guesses correctly become the mime, give yourself a well-deserved break and wait for Hollywood to call.
4. Guess the Word(Hangman)
Students have to guess enough letters to figure out the word on the board before losing all of their lives.
An ESL classic and a favourite with young learners and absolute beginners.
Choose a vocabulary item that your students should be familiar with, preferably a longer word.
Next, represent the word on the board as a series of horizontal dashes (e.g. _ _ _ _), one for each character.
Then move around the class clockwise, eliciting letters of the alphabet that the students think are part of the word.
Each student gets one guess per turn. If they choose correctly, they can attempt to guess the word, and if not, the students lose a life.
Six lives should be enough for this. Fill in the spaces with the correct letters as you go, and keep track of all the guessed letters on the board to avoid repeated mistakes.
Traditionally you would represent lost lives using hangman's gallows and build a stickman as lives are lost. That can seem a little dark for 6-year-olds these days, so what I like to do is:
Draw a stickman standing on a bridge with alligators or sharks underneath. Give the bridge six to ten planks and remove one for each incorrect guess.
5. Storytime: Guess What I Saw?
You will improvise a story where you will have to describe objects related to a theme that you are studying or want to revise.
You can use this idea with many topics, and it works particularly well with holiday themes, Halloween, Christmas etc.
The basic idea is that you tell a story where you saw five things, and you describe each of these in detail while the students shout out their guesses.
It works best to start with the physical description and then employ mime if that fails.
TIP: It can be challenging to improvise these, so spend some time beforehand thinking of items and tying them together into an entertaining tale. Your students will love you for it.
6. Vocabulary Mime
You channel Marcel Marceau to mime vocabulary items for the children.
This little twist on charades works well as a warmer or a game.
Every student gets a turn for this one. If your group is very large, consider splitting them into teams of two.
Choose some recent vocabulary items and mime them to one student in the class. Give that student as many guesses as they wish.
If they can't guess, give them another until they get one. And repeat any words they missed with another student.
TIP: Once students are very familiar with this task, you can modify it to have each student act out vocabulary for the next one. This works particularly well as a warmer as the physical activity will wake up a sluggish group.
7. Animal House
Each student pretends to be an animal while the other students try to guess.
This is a fantastic guessing game to get children switching tracks between the first and third person.
Depending on your students' familiarity with the language needed, you may want to do some prep.
If you want to do this...
Add the verbs is, lives, eats and goes to the board and circle them. Then elicit examples of:
Is: Adjectives that describe different animals
Lives: Different places where animals live.
Eats: Things that animals eat.
Goes: Elicit the noises that animals make (No need to add these to the board!)
After that, you should give an example of how to demonstrate the game:
Teacher: I'm small and furry, I live in the Jungle, I eat insects, and I go (monkey noise)
Once you are sure the students understand what they have to do, give them a few minutes to prepare their descriptions.
Monitor the students and correct any errors in their descriptions. Also, keep an eye out for duplicates and encourage students to pick another animal.
When they are ready, have each student come to the front of the class to perform their descriptions.
8. The Great Reveal
Bit by bit, the teacher draws images on the board and elicits guesses from the class.
As the description says, you'll draw items on the board, one line/piece at a time.
You can choose recently learned vocabulary or items you want to revise.
Here are two fun ways to play:
1. Open to the class
Draw a part of the item and elicit guesses from the class. If nobody gets it, add another piece to the image and ask again.
2. One guess per turn
In a clockwise fashion, one student gets an opportunity to guess. If they don't guess correctly, add to the image and move on to the next student.
9. I Spy
Students have to guess an object from its first letter or a description.
This old classic works wonderfully with absolute beginners and young learners.
For each round, the spy informs the other players that they are thinking of a word beginning with a particular letter.
The other players then have to guess that word.
The player who guesses the correct answer becomes the new spy. Easy!
You can use this to practice the alphabet and adjectives:
Teacher: I spy with my little eye, something beginning with D.
Student: Is it a desk?
Teacher: I spy with my little eye, something big and green.
Student: Is it the clock?
10. Where am I?
Students harness the awesome power of mime while their classmates try to guess where they are.
We used this one as an activity in our Places in the Town lesson plan for beginners. But it can be easily adapted for rooms of the house as well.
Students take turns coming to the front of the class to mime being in a place in town while their classmates shout out their guesses.
TIP: If you feel that your students need a little extra help. Do some prep beforehand. Elicit some examples, talk about what activities you do in each place and add vocabulary to the board.
11. BBC Sound Effects Volume 4
The teacher plays the sounds of known vocabulary items while the students write down their guesses.
This game works better with Bluetooth travel speakers. However, a lot of the latest smartphones have excellent built-in speakers. So you might get away with using your phone. Also, make sure you can access the internet.
Start by splitting the class into pairs.
Add a numbered list of 1-10 to the board and have each team copy it.
Explain to them that they will hear ten different sounds and must work with their partner to identify them and write them down.
Play each sound and give the students enough time in between to write their answers.
Count up the scores in the end and declare your winning team.
12. I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!
The students pretend to be famous people while their classmates try to guess who they are.
Tell the students that they will pretend to be celebrities.
Before they begin, you should give a demonstration and add your description to the board.
Make your description appropriate to the age and level of your students.
An example for Cristiano Ronaldo might look like:
I am from Portugal, and I'm a footballer. I live in England, and I play football for Manchester United.
When they understand what they have to do, give them time to prepare descriptions.
Help the students with their descriptions, encourage them to ask you questions about new vocabulary and advise students with matching celebrities to pick another one (Otherwise, you'll have 5 Cristianos).
When ready, invite each student to the front of the class to give their descriptions.
When they have finished, check how many of the group guessed who they were.
13. Lost Property
Students have to identify an item and its owner.
This fantastic little game idea allows students to practise possessive 's and adjectives.
Put a table in the middle of the room where the students can place a belonging.
For each round, have a student sit at the front of the class with their back to their classmates.
Fetch a belonging from one of the other students, put it on the table, then invite the student in the hot seat to inspect the item.
Depending on their age and level, ask them two or three questions about the object.
Encourage them to use any language that they have learned with you as part of their response.
Teacher: What is it?
Student: It's a toy car.
Teacher: Whose toy car is it?
Student: It's Mark's toy car.
If they get all their questions correct, add their name to a list of winners on the board.
14. Hot Seat: You're doing what now?
The students mime activities and locations to the player in the hot seat.
This is the perfect game to get your students using and asking questions in the present continuous.
Start by dividing the class into two teams.
On each turn, one student will sit with their back to the board, facing their teammates.
Then write a sentence on the board that combines a verb and location that the other students can act out. The funnier these are, the better.
You're flying in the supermarket.
You're singing in the library.
You're playing football on the moon.
The other players must then make their teammate in the hot seat guess that statement using only mime.
Encourage the student in the hot seat to ask questions:
- Where are you?
- What are you doing?
The player in the hot seat must say the sentence that's written on the board.
In the first example, "You're flying in the supermarket" or "Are you flying in the supermarket?" would be enough to win a point.
To make it more difficult, set a time limit for each round.
15. Can you find me?
The teacher gives clues about an object's description and location while the students take turns guessing what it is.
This ESL game idea provides an excellent opportunity to practise prepositions of place and adjectives.
Pick an object in the classroom and give clues to your students about its location and description using the first person. For example:
I'm next to the whiteboard.
I'm under the clock.
I'm small and blue.
After each clue, one student will get a turn to guess what it is. Invite that student to move to the object and touch it.
Ask the student a few questions about the object they touched. Tailor these to the level of the group. For example:
What is it?
What colour is it?
Whose _____ is it?
Where is it?
If they have guessed correctly, congratulate the student. Otherwise, give another clue and move on to the next player.
16. Guess Who?
The students have to ask the teacher yes/no style questions to identify which student they are thinking of.
This is a modified version of the classic board game that you can play in the ESL classroom. It works really well on Halloween if the kids are dressed up.
Start by dividing the group into two teams.
Write the name of one of the students on a piece of paper.
Explain to the teams that they must guess the name of the student that you have written down.
On each turn, they are allowed to ask you one yes/no style question.
When playing this game, I prefer to eliminate gender-specific questions as it narrows the field too quickly.
Before you begin, you could add a few question constructions to the board:
Are they ____?
Do they have _____?
Are they wearing ____?
Limit the number of guesses each team has in a round. If a team uses all of their guesses, the opposing team gets the point.
17. 20 Questions
Players have to ask their classmates yes/no style questions to determine what they are.
I find that this game works well with the categories animals, jobs, and food.
Start by inviting a student to the front of the class with their back to the board.
Then write the name of an animal on the board behind them and rub it off when everyone has read it.
The player must then ask their classmates yes/no style questions until they are ready to guess the answer.
As the game's name implies, you should limit the number of questions a player gets to ask. At this level, 8 to 15 is generally enough since their vocabulary is limited.
When explaining this task to your students, you should add a few helpful question structures to the board.
For example, if we were doing animals:
Do I live in the _____?
Can I _____?
Do I have _____?
I hope you find this list helpful. If you do, you should check out our complete library of ESL lesson plans for more of the same. Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Which guessing games are your go-to ideas?
Are there any tips that make some of these ideas more effective with certain groups?
Let me know in the comments.
Allan is the Co-Founder & Lead Developer on the TEFL Handbook project. He spends his time building software and creating resources that support English teaching. You can learn more about his goals for the project here.