Online English Games

online english games teacher in zoom lesson

This post has three great online English games to teach vocabulary in a virtual classroom. In addition, use these three games to prepare students for a project, or role-play. But first, let’s hear from an ESL teacher struggling with teaching via Zoom.

I am currently teaching two classes online to students from a college in Japan. I have limited experience with virtual classrooms, so I am still trying to adjust from teaching face-to-face. My classes are only 1 hour, and so I was looking for quick warm-ups and activities for vocabulary review in particular. In my face-to-face classes, I always tried to incorporate some games and activities to keep things interesting. I am trying my best to make the classes as interactive as possible, but it is a challenge with 20 students in a Zoom class.

Preparing to teach your virtual class

20 is a manageable number for a zoom class. One can use whole-class games without losing contact with individuals and listen to feedback from a higher percentage of students after breakout room activities.

Zoom has a good facility for making breakout rooms, so you can make four groups of five, or five groups of four, at the push of a button, and those students complete a task together.

Therefore, to start, I suggest that you master using the breakout room feature. If possible, set up a zoom and invite two or three colleagues, family, or friends. Practise putting them into breakout rooms. Next, click to join and leave the various rooms and then bring everyone back together. Do this a few times so that you are familiar with the software. It can be a drag learning new software, but once you know how to use it, the job is done, and it’ll pay off. For a start, it’ll save you looking like a complete amateur as well as avoiding embarrassing long pauses in the lesson flow while you fumble with the controls and accidentally close the entire zoom meeting. LOL!

Three easy online games for your first lesson

Online vocabulary game one

‘Hand Sign Stories’ is an excellent game for teaching new vocabulary and integrating grammatical structures. It’s a whole-class activity and is suitable as a warm-up or in the lesson core. This game engages all students physically and mentally from the get-go. This game takes ten to fifteen minutes, depending on how long a text you use. My great book ESL Online Games has a complete description of Hand Sign Stories, with tips and examples. But in brief, start by inventing hand signs or actions that represent certain words or phrases. Then, read a text or dialogue, and whenever one of the chosen words comes up, students make the relevant sign.

Online game two

Next, try Chants, which I invented thanks to Ronald Smith, a concert-pianist who was once my teacher. One of the many practise techniques he gave me was to put scales and tricky technical passages through different rhythms. Working through these combinations took perseverance, but afterwards, playing the notes in their intended rhythm was easy by comparison! So, I thought, why not use this for language fluency too?

Chants is a brilliant online activity for speaking fluency while drilling the vocabulary and grammar in question. You may use a portion of the text from Hand Sign Stories for Chants or something else. My book ESL Online Games has examples and a full description. In brief, students repeat a text or dialogue in various rhythms, clapping on certain syllables:

  1. Demonstrate the rhythm and have the entire class try together.
  2. Put students into groups of five to practise in breakout rooms.
  3. Bring everyone back together and listen to each group’s rendition.
  4. Hear everyone chant together and notice the improvement from the first time! 

Online English Game three


Another great whole-class activity is the ‘Adjectives Memory Game.’ I got this idea from an experiment where researchers staged a quiz show for TV. These researchers were putting the famous Milgram experiment, on obedience to authority figures, into a modern context, with a view to learning whether the inherent nature of people had changed. They recruited participants by telling them about the quiz show and explaining that they would be selected to either ask or answer questions. A punishment would be administered every time there was a wrong answer. In reality, all participants were to be questioners. There was no prize money for the test run, but the real show would involve making it through the questions to earn a million dollars.

A convincing TV set was built, with an impressive dashboard of levers, supposedly administering ever-increasing electric shocks! Every time a participant got a question wrong, they received an electric shock, and for each incorrect answer, the intensity of the shock increased. At the end of the dashboard, the shock levels were labelled as life-threatening, which did not stop most participants from administering them! Inside a booth, the person answering the questions was, in fact, an actor, screaming for mercy as the shocks increased. So, this activity is excellent for sadistic teachers, only kidding! The punishment is only to deduct points for wrong answers and see who has the most at the end.

How to play

This excellent revision game requires intense concentration. Include the new vocabulary from Hand Sign Stories and any revision words or grammar, the only caveat being that there should be no new vocabulary. Again, I provide multiple-choice examples and tips in the online games book. In short, students listen to a long list of short phrases or sentences and attempt to retain as much as possible. Next, they are given multiple choices and try to select the correct answer. The task is easy at first but becomes increasingly challenging as the list lengthens!

To prepare for a role-play, use whole sentences from the dialogue in the multiple-choices.

Students can either work individually or in breakout rooms, working collaboratively. I prefer to use groups for this game so students can help each other out. This game is no fun for weak students with limited vocabulary or with learning difficulties. Teamwork is best and takes the pressure off. Plus, students can discuss the answers, so that gives them some speaking opportunities too.

Online lesson duration

The above three activities should take anything from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the length of your story, text, and quiz. However, as a guideline, 20 minutes is long enough for most games because you don’t want to flog them to death and have them become tedious.

Further online lessons

Then in the next lesson, try a few more online English games, mixing new grammar, vocabulary, and revision topics. You’ll be able to return to Hand Sign Stories, Chants, and Adjectives Memory Game in future lessons. But don’t use all three again in the same class. Instead, mix and match. Feed new games in as you go along, soon you’ll have a repertoire, and it will be easier to prepare fun online lessons.

Online English games resources!

Get some help!

So, if you try those three games, let me know how it goes, and we’ll take it from there! The comments box is there for you to share, and all contributions are welcome. If you need any more help for the next class, ask me in the comments box. Please check out my ESL Online Games book for a massive collection of online English games – a veritable tome of great ideas!

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