25 Games to Help You Play in English

Babies and children learn by playing. They explore, discover, test, and imagine their way into understanding the world around them. Did you know that playing games is just as effective for language learning as an adult?

Playing games with others is a ridiculously effective way to learn English. It challenges your mind from angles and perspectives you cannot mimic in rote study methods. Moreover, it adds competition or pressure to create an urgency that pushes you toward English in a different context.

So, we gathered a list of games many Americans play to give you a cultural lesson and English practice simultaneously!

Group Games

1. Simon Says

What a classic! Simon Says is a listening challenge that involves lots of movement and quick listening. A leader stands at the front of the room and calls out a string of movement instructions, each preceded by “Simon Says.”

Everyone is to do what “Simon Says” but not obey simple commands. For example, a leader may call out the following:

  • Simon says, touch your nose. *obey*
  • Simon says, stand on your right foot. *obey*
  • Simon says, point at something purple. *obey*
  • Simon says, spell the word ‘delicious.’ *obey*
  • Simon says, shake someone else’s hand. *obey*
  • Give that person a high five. *disobey*

Anyone who obeys the non-Simon command must sit down. The game continues with faster or more difficult commands until one person remains. The winner becomes Simon for the next round.

2. Charades

Charades is a fun party game that groups can play at any English level. Divide the group into two teams and set a one-minute timer. One person will walk to the front, draw a word or phrase, and act it out until their team guesses the term correctly.

A person can do as many words as their team is able to guess in a minute. Each successful guess is a point. The rounds alternate between teams until all the words are gone, and the team with the most points wins!

Though you could buy a deck of Charades cards, other options exist. You can ask your friends to write words or phrases on little pieces of paper and collect them in a bowl or hat, use a free charades APP, or print a list of words online.

Here is a list of words for different English levels:

Beginner

  1. dog
  2. cat
  3. soup
  4. restaurant
  5. baby
  6. park
  7. laugh
  8. yellow
  9. angry
  10. house
  11. sit down
  12. wedding
  13. piano
  14. sink
  15. drink
  16. open
  17. turn on
  18. gift
  19. sorry
  20. winner

Intermediate

  1. blow your nose
  2. sing a song
  3. dig a hole
  4. watch a movie
  5. eat popcorn
  6. play the guitar
  7. walk the dog
  8. turn on the radio
  9. take out the trash
  10. rake the leaves
  11. weed the garden
  12. read a book
  13. clean out the car
  14. turn on a lamp
  15. spicy food
  16. crossing the street
  17. picking flowers
  18. smelling something bad
  19. playing soccer
  20. visiting a museum

Advanced

  1. arguing about nothing
  2. raining cats and dogs
  3. painting a picture
  4. dislike
  5. feeling sad about fish
  6. crossing a bridge
  7. fear of heights
  8. energetic workout
  9. studying English
  10. carrying the world
  11. Zeus’s lightning
  12. getting fired
  13. enjoying a campfire
  14. stargazing
  15. I don’t care
  16. depressed dog
  17. passing off the responsibility
  18. braiding my hair
  19. chasing the police
  20. buying a McDonald’s cheeseburger

Notice how the higher levels can be more difficult in concept, construction, or logic.

3. Nouns / Fishbowl

Nouns (also known as Fishbowl) is a more difficult variation of Charades. Instead of simply acting out all the terms once, players will endure three rounds. And, just as with Charades, every term or phrase their team guesses right equals one point.

The first round is played by explaining the word or phrase without using any of the words on the paper. You cannot move or spell words. The second round is exactly like Charades. 

During the final round, players are restricted to standing motionless and saying one word that is not on the paper. The only thing a player can change to give his team hints is the tone of his or her voice. This is the most difficult round in Nouns, but it is a bit easier because everyone has heard the terms twice already.

4. Telephone

Telephone can work with four or five people, but it is more entertaining with larger groups. Everyone should stand in a line or circle. The first person will whisper a sentence to the person next to them. That person will then whisper what he heard to the next person, and so on.

No one is allowed to speak louder than a whisper or repeat what they said. So, if someone mishears the sentence, they have to pass on what they think they heard. The last person shares what they heard with everyone out loud. 

Typically, the result is wildly different from the original sentence, which brings a lot of laughter!

5. Spelling Bee

English has a uniquely jacked-up spelling system, which means we make contests out of spelling words! Choose a list of words that your group members know but may struggle to spell properly.

Divide the group into two teams and call out individuals one at a time. The fastest team with the most correctly spelled words wins.

6. Murder Mystery

For whatever reason, murder mysteries have become extremely popular in America. Some friend groups will dress up to play a murder mystery together, while others plan a birthday party around one.

Murder mysteries are plotlines with characters and clues assigned to each person. No one person has the entire plot, but each has been given a backstory, character traits, a clue, and a suspicion.

Over the course of the conversations, a piece of the plot will come to light, or a clue will be opened to move things forward. Some mysteries end within a set time, while others have a leader who knows everything and guides the plot along. 

Yet others are steered only by conversation because the entire plot is divided among the characters’ backstories and clues. You can download free murder mysteries online or write one yourself!

If a “murder” theme doesn’t suit your family culture, you can design a “missing item” mystery theme.

7. Story Writing

Writing a short story takes time for an individual, but what about for a whole group? Take a piece of paper and write two sentences to start a story on two separate lines. Then, fold the top of the paper over to hide the first sentence.

Pass that paper to the next person, who will write a new sentence to continue the story and fold the paper to hide the second sentence. Each new person should only see one sentence at a time and carry on the story based on that one sentence.

When the last person has finished the story, open the paper and read it to the group. It’s typically a ridiculous tale!

8. Word Relay

Word relays are a classic school challenge that brings out a group’s competitiveness. Divide everyone into two teams. Write one word on two sides of a markerboard, chalkboard, or large piece of paper (whatever you have available).

Have everyone stand in line with their team and call out a pattern. The pattern can be anything: words with double letters, a word that starts with the letter that ends the previous word, a word that rhymes with the first word–any pattern.

Then, set a timer and let the teams work one person adding one word to their list at a time. When the timer goes off, the team with the longest list of words that fit the pattern wins!

9. Never Have I Ever

Never Have I Ever is a fantastic game for getting to know others in a group! Everyone should hold up 5 or 10 fingers (depending on how long you want the game to last). Then, going around the room or circle, each person shares something they have never done that many others probably have done.

If someone claims they have not done something that you have, put down a finger. The last person holding up fingers is the person who has done the fewest of the named activities.

10. Find Someone Who

Find Someone Who is an excellent game for meeting others and breaking the ice in a group. Prepare a list of 10 challenges to print on paper or put on a screen at the front of the room. Each challenge is finding a person who fits a certain qualification.

The first person to find 10 different people who meet the qualifications wins. Here is a list of possible Find Someone Who challenges:

  1. Find someone whose name begins with the letter A.
  2. Find someone who was born in April.
  3. Find someone as tall as or taller than you.
  4. Find someone who likes pop music.
  5. Find someone who has the YouTube APP on their phone.
  6. Find someone who can play basketball.
  7. Find someone who likes chocolate.
  8. Find someone who knows how to cook.
  9. Find someone who can drive a car.
  10. Find someone who has visited another country.

These challenges can be any reasonably common habit, hobby, ability, skill, or characteristic in your group.

11. Alphabet Memory Game

This game is deceptively difficult! With everyone standing in a circle, each person will name a word that starts with the next letter of the English alphabet and fits the overall category. The catch is that each person must list all the words said before her.

For example, if the topic is “animal,” each person will go around the circle and name an animal that starts with their alphabet letter.

Person 1: A – Ape

Person 2: A – Ape; B – Bird

Person 3: A – Ape; B – Bird; C – Cat

Person 4: A – Ape; B – Bird; C – Cat; D – Dog

Person 5: A – Ape; B – Bird; C – Cat; D – Dog; E – Elephant

The game continues until the letter Z. The category can be as tricky as you want it to be. Some categories like “colors” or “emotions” would be incredibly difficult!

12. Jeopardy

Jeopardy is based on the long-lived TV game show. It takes some set-up with PowerPoint templates online, but it is a lot of fun! A simple Jeopardy PowerPoint or app will have 25 questions divided into 5 topics and 5 difficulty levels. The harder the question, the higher the points.

The group can be divided into individuals or teams. You will toss out an easy question for a quick answer to start. The first person to slap their table or ding a bell gets to answer it and then chooses the next question. 

Whoever first responds to a question gets to answer it. But, if he is wrong, the other contestants slap the table for a chance to answer next. The one who answers correctly gets the points and the right to choose the next question.

To be clear, contestants only see the point value of the questions on the main Jeopardy screen; they cannot see the question until it is selected. Once all the questions have been answered, whoever has the most points wins the prize.

13. Codenames

Codenames is a four-player board game designed to make you choose your words wisely. For setup, place 25 cards in a five-by-five grid on the table. Each card has a single word on it, and the person sitting directly in front of you is your teammate.

On one side of the table, the players have a map of red, blue, and white squares representing the cards on the table in front of them. The blue team player wants to help the teammate in front of him guess the blue words correctly, while the red team player wants his teammate to guess the red words correctly.

The players on the other side of the table cannot see the map, so they don’t know which words are red or blue. On each team’s turn, the mapholder has three chances to help his teammate guess his team’s words. He can only say one word for each chance.

The problem is that one word could be associated with the opposite team’s words. So, whatever word a mapholder chooses must be as specific to his team’s words as possible. 

When the other player guesses which of the cards on the table his teammate is referring to, the mapholders will put either a red or blue card on top of it to indicate which team’s card that was.

Codenames is a superb game for practicing English because it exercises your word association and ability to view the words on the table from your teammate’s perspective. It is well worth the purchase!

Two-Person Games

14. 20 Questions

Think of something (anything), then ask the other person to guess it. But that person only gets to ask 20 questions, and you may only answer with “yes” or “no.”

20 Questions is a fun challenge that exercises your ability to ask increasingly more specific questions in English, ranging from “Is it alive?” to “Is it a goat?”

15. 2 Truths and a Lie

2 Truths and a Lie is a game best played with someone who “kinda sorta knows you.” They probably shouldn’t be your best friend or spouse (difficult to trick) or a complete stranger (knows nothing about you).

Classmates, teachers, tutors, coworkers, and friends are all solid options for this game. Start by thinking of three statements that are or could be true of yourself. List them for someone else and have them guess the lie.

Common childhood experiences are typical options to share:

  • I broke my arm when I was 9.
  • I didn’t see the ocean until I was 21.
  • I played 2 years of basketball on my middle school team.

16. Scrabble

Scrabble is a challenging yet relaxing board game that you can use to practice English. Each player (up to four) has a tray and seven wooden pieces marked with one letter each. On the board in the center of the table are lines marking where tiles may be placed and score bonuses for placing a letter there.

The goal is to spell words out of your seven letters, connect them to existing words on the board, and cover as many bonuses as possible. The gameplay continues until the letter pieces run out, and no one can play a word. The player with the most points wins!

Scrabble is such an interesting challenge for spelling, making words out of the letters you have, and finding new words that use the letters you have.

17. Banana Grams

Banana Grams is similar to Scrabble but has no board, and individuals build their own crossword. You still only have seven letters at a time, but you can draw more to replace the letters you used to add a word to your crossword.

All the words in front of you must connect by at least one letter. The game continues until no one can place letters anymore, but that’s usually after the refill pile is gone. So, the faster you place words, the more letters you will get, leading to more points in the end. Speed spelling!

18. Hangman

As morbid as it sounds, Hangman is a classic children’s game in America. Someone thinks of a word and puts dashes in a line to represent each letter of that word. The other person names letters until she spells out or guesses the word correctly.

However, each letter she names that is not in the word adds a line to the “gallows” and the “man” hanging on it. If it is complete before she guesses the word, she has failed.

We change “Hangman” to “Build a House” for kids playing this game.

19. Would You Rather

Would You Rather is a chill conversation game that leads to interesting conversations. It is not about points or competition–just getting to know another person while using difficult grammar in hypothetical contexts!

Each person takes turns giving the other a hypothetical choice between options. They can be desirable or undesirable options. For example:

  • Would you rather live on the beach or in the mountains?
  • Would you rather be a cat or a dog?
  • Would you rather have no kids or six kids?

As you can see, these are fantastic questions for following up with conversations and laughter.

20. Word-by-Word Story Building

This is a challenging game for two people. Basically, you agree on a topic, set a timer for five minutes, and alternate saying words or phrases. One of you writes it down or types it out as you go.

Word-by-Word Story Building is a quick challenge because the two of you may not have the same ideas in mind, so you will have to constantly think on your feet and adjust your idea of the story as you go.

Individual Games

21. Crossword Puzzle

Crossword Puzzles have been around for a long time, and you can still find them in newspapers around America today! You start with a tree of empty squares lined vertically and horizontally. Each row and column has a number.

At the bottom of the page, you can see that each number has a clue beside it. As you answer the clues with a word, terms must fill each empty square in the row or column sharing its number. 

If it does, then each row or column will agree with the letters it shares with the terms in the other rows and columns it intersects with. These take a lot of time, but they are a decent workout for your mind!

22. Word Search

Now, to challenge your eyes. A Word Search is a grid of letters that occasionally spell words. The words you are looking for are listed at the bottom of the page, and they may be spelled out vertically, horizontally, or diagonally forward or backward.

Word Searches are helpful for challenging your spelling skills in a new way. Picking out the terms from the letter grid while not second-guessing your spelling is tricky!

23. Story Challenge

A Story Challenge is when you pick 5 random words (or roll 5 picture dice) and write a short story that incorporates them. For an added challenge, you can set a ten-minute timer.

If you are trying to speed up your writing skills or your ability to form a response and express an idea quickly, Story Challenges are suitable for you! You can do them with writing or speaking.

24. Impersonator

Speaking of speaking, let’s add an individual game for speaking: Impersonator. This game takes a mirror or a camera and a person of your choice. You can choose to be someone you know in your life, a famous actor, your favorite singer–whomever you want!

What you will do is act like that person. Talk like them, make expressive faces like them, and use your intonation like them. It feels strange at first, but this is a way to act outside of your usual self in English!

25. Plan It

Think of something you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe it’s a place to visit or an activity to try. With Plan It, set a timer for five minutes and talk about all the things you will do to make that thing happen.

For example, you could plan to renovate your apartment. Walk around your apartment, talking about all the changes you “need” to make to update the space. When the timer goes off, think back to the terms you didn’t know very well and look them up.

The more you play Plan It, the more contexts you can put yourself in to use English in ways you wouldn’t normally use it. Here are some sample topics:

  • Packing for a week-long trip overseas
  • Planning for your friend’s wedding
  • Organizing a baby shower for your friend
  • Starting a business
  • Meeting the President

You can do crazy situations that will never happen or things you would like to do someday. Whatever you choose, give it your all for a solid five minutes and see what kinds of words and phrases you use!

Wrap Up

You just cannot beat games for English practice. They push you outside your comfort zone, challenge you in new contexts, and force you to use your imagination in English. Which game are you going to play first?

Amber
Amber

I am the wife of the man I adore, the mother of two brilliant kids, an English teacher to many wonderful students, and a writer of helpful content for the world. On any given day, you can find me outside working with my hands or sitting in a comfy chair with coffee and my Bible. I love learning languages, creating handmade items, and teaching my kids.

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