The Voice, Jeopardy and More: ESL Style

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

“Shouldn’t they be learning English?”

My friend asked this during a visit to my school here in Uberaba, Brazil, where she chatted with my students about all manner of subjects, from horror movies to books to their shared love of animals. She was concerned that her conversations were taking them away from their REAL learning. I assured her that speaking and listening with a native speaker, whose speed, rhythm and slang was completely different from my own, WAS learning.

As teachers, we all know (or quickly discover) that constant grammar drilling can bore even the most studious of learners. Younger students present the added challenge of having shorter attention spans and/or constantly tapping away on smart phones. So, anything we can do to shake things up works in both our favors. The opportunity to communicate with someone from an English-speaking country is always an advantage. Another attention-grabber is playing a game. Here are my top online and interactive games for getting students excited about English:


Level: beginner to advanced

Everyone loves music. Maybe not the same kind, but if you’ve ever traveled to a non-English speaking country and heard Metallica or Katy Perry, you know what I mean. Music is one of the rare examples of a true global medium that’s enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their native language. I still remember being driven around Vietnam by a guy who had a never-ending collection of 8-tracks with everything from Journey to Steve Miller Band. He knew all the words but didn’t speak a lick of English.

The website uses missing lyrics to train students' language skills in a fun way

This brilliant website has a plethora of songs in English, from pop to metal to 80s hits. The objective is to enter missing words in the lyrics while listening to the song. Students can choose from four levels, which indicate how many words are missing from the lyrics. This tool is spectacular at helping students learn vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure. Singing the wrong words to a song is something even native-speakers can mistake, which helps my students be less self-conscious as they watch me struggle alongside them. After all, nothing defuses the stress of learning like laughter. Yes, they DO pick up a few no-nos, such as ‘cause, gonna and ain’t (as well as some more not suitable for print.) but overall, this is an excellent device that appeals to students of all ages and levels.

The site also has a smaller number of songs to train on in other languages such as Spanish, French and Portuguese – super-helpful to someone like me who’s studying Portuguese!


Level: beginner to high intermediate

Comprehensive and interactive ESL website that offers intermediate-level games to students studying English

This is the most comprehensive, interactive, ESL website I have come across and is fabulous to use with an interactive eBoard or just in a view-only capacity. The link above takes you to a staggering number of intermediate-level games, which includes everything from conditional sentence drag races to medieval battles waged over articles. My students favor the Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune formats, which test everything from world capitals to irregular verbs to the dreaded phrasal verbs. When I have mixed-level classes, I team up the shyer students with those more advanced to create a competitive team spirit that helps less knowledgeable students participate.

The website offers various kinds of activities for ESL teachers to use as a teaching method

In addition to all this, the site has dozens of more activities organized by school grade, ability, and age, as well as printable flash cards, board games and worksheets on everything from phonics to sentence creation. What’s not to love?


Just Words:

Word Twist:

Level: Low Intermediate – Advanced

Online word games are a dime a dozen these days, but they aren’t all created equal. My two favorite are Just Words and Word Twist.

Foster healthy competition and improve students' vocabulary and spelling with the Word Twist game

Let’s start with Word Twist, which is an online version of the old-fashioned game, Boggle. Students have a choice of two boards, a 4×4 board, which gives you two minutes to find words with a minimum of three letters, or a 5×5 board, which gives you three minutes to find words with a minimum of four letters. After you choose a board, you click “start play,” then “click to start” and the countdown begins. To choose a word, you must click (or tap, if using an eBoard) on the first letter of the word, then drag to the last letter and tap again. Words are worth different points depending on how commonly used they are. You can find words in any direction and also have the option to “rotate” the game board and mix up the letters. The timer creates some healthy competitiveness, and while beginner students may feel slightly intimidated at first, I find they quickly start participating – either solo or in partnership with another student. Word Twist helps beginners improve their vocabulary and spelling in two ways; by recognizing words they already know and by consulting the list at the end and learning new, strange words. It also works for advanced students by pushing their boundaries to find above-average or longer words.

Students can play Scrabble to broaden their range of vocabulary

Just Words is a take on Scrabble, published by Students can take on the brainy-looking computer character, other students in class, or if they register, other online players. Just like in Scrabble, you are given a set number of lettered tiles each turn. Words can only be laid on the board forwards in a vertical or horizontal position, not diagonal or backwards. Points are awarded by letter value. Laying a word on blue or red dots can result in double-letter or double-word points. With no timer set to the game, it can easily take up an entire class period. This game is better suited for intermediate to advanced students, who have a broader range of vocabulary. Beginners tend to stick with short two-four letter words, but they can also benefit if they use the word find feature to help them look at words that start with a specific letter, or if they are placed in teams with more advanced students. Collaboration is key in learning English and playing any type of game.

Listening Worth Hearing

Level: Beginner to Intermediate/Low-Advanced

VOA is a great news website that offers abundant learning resources for beginner English learners

While students prefer music to news, the excellent Voices of America is a U.S-government operated website that offers authentic news reports read at a slower pace for English learners. Real stories also make conversation practice more interesting, as students have more to say about the Syrian refugee crisis, for example, as opposed to “Discuss a recent dream.” Topics range from current events to long-format, human interest stories about the U.S., such as America’s famous Route 66. Each story has audio, accompanying text and many have subtitled videos that highlight a part of the audio. When in doubt about vocabulary, students can click on any word, and a small definition pops up. There is also an entire section devoted to grammar explanations, as well as a fun “English in a Minute” video segment, which discusses expressions in English, such as “water under the bridge” and “wake-up call.” If only they had this in Portuguese for me!

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