The Best English Grammar Games for ESL for Secondary Students

secondary students

These grammar games for secondary students are selected from my games books by Heike Knapp in Prague. After a introduction on the difficulty of teaching teenagers, she recounts her experience using four games to teach her secondary students English grammar.

Teens can be difficult to teach

Secondary students can be difficult to teach, especially when they find the topic useless and boring, and English grammar often falls into this category in their teenage minds!

Some academic references

Authors like Puchta, H. and Schratz, M. (1999) were both confronted in their professional careers with the problem of poorly motivated teenagers. They ascribed this to the fact that teenagers see their learning objectives as far off, and their lack of social skills to interact prevents them from learning efficiently (page 1). Before talking about enhancing language competences, the authors ask how one could enhance teenagers´ ability to communicate (page 3). The authors feel that the ability to share feelings, empathize with others, and be tolerant are useful long term goals in language education. Harmer (2007) hints at the fact that teenagers have a great need for peer-approval, therefore the teacher´s task is, apart from providing interesting and provoking learning material, to strengthen students´ self-esteem.

Teaching grammar is important

As well as these wider issues, teaching grammar is important, not only in the national syllabus of each country but also as a tool to build correct and meaningful sentences, so that students learn to express themselves and discuss their own opinions. But mastering the grammar of a foreign language usually takes time and effort.

Grammar games for ESL

Here are some grammar games for ESL which provide a framework that students need to become familiar with a structure and make them make use of it in a meaningful context. All games described are from this source in download,  and also available here in paperback from online and other bookstores).

Get in Order

A great grammar game for ESL students to work on comparisons is: ‘Comparatives get in order’. It can be played as a warm-up e.g. at the beginning of a new term with a pre-intermediate group or as a follow-up activity after having introduced comparatives. The students should stand in a line. A larger group of 20-26 students should be divided into two groups. The aim of the game is to stand in the order of certain features students have. For example, the teacher asks students to discuss among themselves who lives nearest to school, who has the most hobbies, speaks the most languages… This gets them talking, asking each other about themselves. To get permission to swap places within the line, they have to say a sentence like: I live further from school than Eva. At this moment the students can swap places. The first round ends when each student has said a sentence with comparison and the class has queued up in the right order from nearest to furthest living to school.


Students are usually very attentive and focused while playing this game because they like to find out information about their mates and to compare with each other.


Avoid asking questions about the socio-economical situation of students or things they would not like to publicize (age, weight). This activity can also be introduced by a speed drill game from the above source which gives students more confidence using the phrases containing the comparative)..

Guess the Question

Another grammar game more for revision than as a follow-up activity. Students are particularly keen on learning whole phrases as this has a practical meaning for them. Write a gapped sentence with the first letter of each word on the board e.g. W_____ I__ Y__ N_____. (What is your name?) The class is divided into two groups. Team A guesses the first word, if they are right, they can go on, of wrong, B takes over and so forth. The team which guessed the last word gets a point. I use this game to revise and drill difficult grammar (e.g. third conditional) and I often give students the preparation of the sentences to guess for homework. This game is a favourite among students, as preparation for the oral part of the final leaving exam.

Time Bomb

a stop watch

A fun game to revise any kind of grammar is Time Bomb. You need either a wind-up toy, a stop-watch, an old toy with a music box could serve, but preferably something that ticks.

How to play

Ask a student a question which he has to answer immediately. If they hesitate and the bomb stops ticking the student loses a life.

This game can be adapted to different language levels.

For beginners simply ask: Do you like bananas? Yes, I do. No, I don´t. For more advanced students you can use questions in the past present continuous and so on.


The aim of Alibi is to practise asking questions, to gain fluency in asking questions in the past tense.

Teacher´s role: to monitor, to gently correct questions and help with vocabulary.

teen plays detective with magnifying glass

How to play

I pretended that one of the students is accused of having committed a crime. I described his outer appearance so every student recognized who I meant. The student who was described followed my instruction to go out of the classroom with a friend who was to help him create an alibi.

Outside the classroom, I explained to them that they were accused of having looted a shop last night and that each of them was going to be cross-examined by two different groups of policemen and that they should be very careful not to contradict each other in their statements otherwise they would be found guilty by the committee. So their task now was to think about a very plausible and detailed alibi.

When I came back into the classroom, I divided the other students into two groups so that each group would question either the accused or his friend and alibi. I explained to both groups that they should cross-examine each of the suspects and find out by asking if there were any differences in their accounts. If there was a difference between the first and second accounts, the second examined was likely to have committed the crime.

I gave the students approximately 10 minutes to work out questions and I helped them with vocabulary and made some grammar corrections.

When the two suspects came back into the classroom they were cross-examined by each group until the committee found a contradiction in the statements.


I guided this activity in a situation when the students obviously were totally disgusted by having to come to school at 7.00 am in the morning. When they saw that we weren’t going to open our textbooks in our lesson, they started to become very active and involved. They were also motivated by the thrill to convict the criminal.

Yet, I had to help a lot with the language and some of the questions I had to write on the board again. The students could not remember the question words (when, why, how often, with who…) and found it difficult to use did + infinitive in the questions, although we had done past simple questions in the workbook before.

The activity provided good language practise, because the students of the committee team kept repeating the same questions about how many beers the suspect had in the pub and which girls they met. I had to intervene here sometimes and ask them to ask about different information.

But even so, the activity was excellent to motivate students to get involved in the lesson (at last), to make them use the language as much as possible, and to practise and repeat past tense questions as often as possible even though it was sometimes done with great difficulty.


Play some drill games using past tense questions first just before this game, to refresh students’ memories. This will make the actual game go more smoothly.

Give students a worksheet or some jumbled questions to put in order just after the game to consolidate the work.

When you use this game a second time it will be easier for students.

Great resources for teaching grammar to ESL students

2 thoughts on “The Best English Grammar Games for ESL for Secondary Students”

    1. Dear Stewart, you posted a test, yes it works, you can leave comments. But if you leave spam, I just delete them and they are never approved. Kind regards, Shelley

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