Active Games for Young Language Learners

One of the best things I’ve seen implemented at my children’s elementary school is called DPA. This stands for “daily physical activity”, and it takes place in the classroom or hallway at a set time each day. During the brain break, students and teachers move away from their desks and dance to a song that some of the older kids have choreographed. Not only does DPA amuse the students and give them something to look forward to, it boosts the energy of the teachers and unites the school.

Besides dancing, there are tons of games for keeping young kids active during the school day. Here are some ideas and adaptations to try with your young English learners:

Drip, Drip, Drop – This is a variation of Duck, Duck, Goose, and is played outdoors on a warm day. The teacher brings out a big bucket of water and a sponge. The students sit in a circle. The teacher gets the sponge quite wet, so that it drips a bit. One student is chosen to stand up and walk on the outside of the circle. She says “Drip, Drip, Drip…” as she drips a bit of water on each classmate’s head. Instead of tapping one person’s head and shouting “Goose!” she shouts “Drop!” and squeezes the sponge out on her victim. The victim with the wet hair chases the sponge holder around the circle, trying to reach the empty spot in the circle first. Try some other variations, such as Skip, Skip, Hop (the student who is “it” skips around while tapping each head. Then the two students chase each other around the circle by hopping.) You could also try Walk, Walk, RunTap, Tap, Tickle; or Talk, Talk, Sing.

Vocabulary Tag – Remember cereal tag? This was a favorite variation of freeze tag when I was a kid. To prevent being tagged by the person who is “it” you have to freeze and shout out a type of cereal when the tagger gets close. To adapt this for English class, choose from a variety of categories such as verbs, nouns, adjectives, or theme-based words such as types of food or weather. A student who fails to shout an appropriate vocabulary word from the chosen category before freezing becomes “it” when tagged.

Phonics Hockey – You’ll need chalk, hockey sticks, and a plastic puck for this fun activity. If you don’t have hockey sticks, use beanbags. Check out the full instructions here, and change the game up to suit your own learners. In addition to using letters or blends as the target, you could write sight words, names, or any other vocabulary you are working on. Check out Sprout English’s Phonics Cafe for inspiration on types of words or sounds you can write  as shooting targets for this game. You’ll find worksheets on silent e words, three-letter words, “th” words, and more.

What Time Is It, Sachiko? – The classic “What time is it Mr. Wolf” game is a useful movement game for reviewing time and numbers. It can also be a great way to learn or review names! Forget Mr. Wolf. Try playing with the students’ real names. All of the kids except one stand at one side of the gym or field. A single student stands in the middle of the field or gym. The group addresses the single student in unison: “What time is it, Sachiko?” Sachiko gives a time, such as 11 o’clock, and her classmates take 11 steps towards her. (More advanced students can take half or quarter steps for complex times). Students repeat their classmate’s name  a few times as they ask the time. Eventually Sachiko says, “Time to chase/catch you!” and tries to tag her classmates who try to run past her. If Mario gets caught, he has to join Sachiko in the middle. Then students have to ask, “What time is it, Sachiko and Mario?” For a variation, try turning this into a spelling game. The students ask the wolf or bear, “What’s for dinner, Mrs. Wolf?” The wolf chooses a type of food, such as carrots. Students take steps towards Mrs. Wolf as they spell out the word: c-a-r-r-o-t-s (7 steps). Eventually the wolf answers, “Y-o-u!” and chases the students. Use Sprout English’s Search feature to find lots of worksheets and lessons on “Time”.

Sleeping Bunnies – This is one of my favorite birthday party songs/games for young kids, and I know many teachers use it with their preschool and kindergarten kids. The Sleeping Bunnies song is easy to learn, and you can use it to review many different animals as well as verbs. Let your students take turns choosing an animal each time you repeat the song. They should lie down when they’re “sleeping” and jump up and act out the actions as they sing.

Hullabaloo – This is a game you have to buy, but it’s worth every penny. Use it as a reward for good behavior, or play it with small groups when you have different stations set up. Teachers and assistants who help out with special needs children will love using this game with kids who have trouble sitting or paying attention for a long time. Kids have so much fun bopping about that they don’t realize they are practicing listening skills and learning vocabulary, including shapes, colors, body parts, and verbs (crawl, move over, sit down, stop, spin, freeze). This game also gives teachers a chance to show off their funky monkey dance. (Video demo)

Looking for sports-themed worksheets?
Check out Sprout English’s Word Bank / Sports & Leisure.


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Tara Benwell

Tara Benwell is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry. She is the media director and head writer for ESL-Library, and a contributor to its sister site Sprout English. Tara is the author of an iPad storybook series for kids called Happy Campers Books. Her debut novel, The Proper Order of Things is available on Amazon and in the iBookstore.

6 Responses to “Active Games for Young Language Learners”

  1. Tanya Trusler

    Great post, Tara! Kids are bound to have fun while learning with these movement activities. I hope teachers will comment on how one of more of these activities worked with their students!

  2. Gabriela

    Awesome post! Thanks for all the great ideas, they will come in handy for sure!


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