Six Games for Foreign Language Classrooms

When I go to a party and the hosts bust out a board game, I breathe a sigh of relief.

I enjoy talking with my good friends, but hate small talk with strangers. By giving some direction and competition, party games let me socialize without hearing about someone’s CrossFit routine.


By Seaman Charles Oki [Public domain], Image Source

Games are also great for foreign language classrooms. If you’re a teacher, picking the right games:

  • Brings students out of their shell
  • Gets students communicating while trying to accomplish a goal rather than concentrating solely on their language
  • Forces students to communicate spontaneously and with non-scripted language, while still providing them some boundaries

Here are six games you can try in your classroom.

By the way, all of these games can be played competitively or not competitively. In Two Facts and a Fib, for example, you can hand out candy or extra credit points for a right answer, so that would be a great game to compete in. In Scruples, however, playing for points might be too demanding in a large class. I have no interest in micromanaging your classroom, so use your discretion on whether you keep score.

1. Two Facts and a Fib

The game: You read three sentences aloud. Two of the sentences are true. One is false. The students determine which sentence is the fib.

So for example, you can read the following three sentences in the language being studied:

  1. Bears can run faster than horses.
  2. Bears have a bad sense of smell.
  3. Bears are omnivorous.

And the students would have to identify the fib–in this case, #2.

Notes: Put the text of the questions on a slide behind you. You can make the questions as linguistically easy or difficult as you want, but if you want to use challenging language, put up pictures on the slide to serve as hints. Also, this is a good exercise for test review, since you can pick and choose the vocab and grammar you want to use.

2. Scruples

The game: You read an ethical scenario to the class, which can be answered with “Yes,” “No,” or “It depends.” Then you ask someone for her answer, as well an explanation.

For example, you might read aloud, “Your best friend forgot to study for a test. Do you let him copy?” Then a student might answer, “Yes, because I want to help my friend,” or “It depends. If this is the first time, I’d let him.” (Obviously, you can make up these questions yourself. But if you’re a stickler, there’s a board game with more in-depth rules that you can buy.)

Notes: I played Scruples during my Arabic course, and it is a surprisingly difficult game to play in a foreign language. Chances are, you’ll have to explain how to say “it depends,” as well as a lot of other things.

3. Who am I?

The game: You read aloud a series of first-person sentences that serve as clues to a famous person’s identity. The students guess who the person is.

For example, you might read aloud, “I was the 16th president of the United States. I was president during the Civil War. I am known for my beard and tall top hat.” Then the students guess until someone answers, “Abraham Lincoln.”

Notes: I got this idea from the Coffee Break Spanish podcast. The host, Mark Pentleton, plays this game from time to time and I love trying to guess. Another variant: What am I? The same deal, but with inanimate objects.

4. Outburst

The game: There are two teams. When it’s one team’s turn, they draw a card from a pile without peeking at the answers. The card consists of a topic and ten answers. The team has one minute to shout out answers, all at the same time. Someone from the other team holds the card and marks off correct responses. The score for the round is how many answers you get.

For example, the topic might be Animales de México (Animals of Mexico). Someone starts the timer, and then the team starts shouting out: lobo (wolf), jaguar (jaguar), águila (eagle), etc.

Notes: This is another game that’s available for sale, with more specific rules, but since you’ll probably be doing this in a language other than English, you’ll probably have to create your own cards anyway.

5. Quiz Bowl

The game: Ask a question, in your classroom’s language of course. Then have the students buzz in (or raise their hand or slap their desk) to answer.

For example, you’d ask in French, “Which Paris art museum holds the Mona Lisa?” And the students would try to answer, “Musée du Louvre.”

Notes: I recommend following Jeopardy’s cue and making the question medium-length or long, but the answers short. That’s part of what makes quiz shows kind of fun–they’re snappy and don’t require you to produce too much info yourself. Also, I’d recommend trying not to stump them, since the fun is in getting the right answer in the language, not being a trivia master.

6. French (or whatever language you’re teaching) Consequences

The game: Let’s say you’re teaching French to American students. Write down the sentence in French at the top of the sentence. Give it to the first student to read. Have him translate the sentence into English and then fold the top of the paper to hide the French. Then he passes the paper to the next student. She then translates the English sentence into French, folds the paper, and hands it to the next student. After the last student adds his two cents, you read the list of sentences aloud.

For example, as the paper progresses down the row of students, the sentence “Courir avec mon petit ami est génial” might become “Running with my boyfriend is great,” then “Courir avec mon petit ami est grande,” then “Running with my little buddy is big,” and so on.

Notes: Credit for the idea goes to this article. There might be a little dead time between students, so try different things to keep people engaged. You might, for instance, have a few different sheets going around the room at the same time.

Wrapping Up

What do you think? Have you tried any of these? Any others that you like?

  • Oliver Rose

    As a language teacher, a longtime favorite in classes has been ‘Backs to the Board’. Have 2 teams, and one student from each team sits with their back to the board. The teach writes a word on the board and the teams have to describe the word to their guy until one of them guesses it.
    No prep, always popular, gets them communicating!

    • Ron G.

      Missed this comment. Sounds like a great idea for a game. Thanks for sharing!