Category Archives: Games for Education

Balancing on one leg

This is a very silly activity involving some people falling over and others laughing at people falling over, or not trying to not to fall over.

It could also be a good way to introduce some basic maths into the class and even and understanding of the ageing process.

First though, the rules.

The Rules

  1. Students work in pairs.
  2. One student times the second student with a stop watch (all smartphones have one)
  3. The second student balances on one leg and closes their eyes.
  4. When they fall over, grab for support or open their eyes, their attempt finished and the first student records and announces the time.Swap over.

The Results

Use this chart below to work out your biological age as opposed to your chronological age.

What’s your balance-based Bio-Age?

Balance Time    Balance-Based Bio-Age

4 seconds 70 years
5 seconds 65 years
7 seconds 60 years
8 seconds 55 years
9 seconds 50 years
12 seconds 45 years
16 seconds 40 years
22 seconds 30-35 years
28 seconds 25-30 years

Source: Balancing Biological Age

In practice

I tried this with a class of twelve 18 year olds. They loved it and were keen to find out who had the longest time – the record was 1 minute 40 seconds. And laughed at me with my paltry 18 seconds, even though I protested it had knocked decades off my real age.

I also used it for a second session in the same class for two of the late comers. I made them balance on one leg with their eyes closed in front of the class. This was greeted with much amusement.


Overall I would rate this as a great success. It’s physical, it’s fun and there is even a bit of learning in it. Suitable for all ages, though for really young children I would not worry them about age aspect.

The Number Race

Learning Aim

This Number Race game was devised as a simple computer game. The authors hope it “will enhance mathematical ability…. in children aged four to eight”

How to build a better learner

The idea is to get players to want to win, and thus to count and calculate because they are motivated to do so.

Real World Variant

I have played the computer game and it works very well.

The rewards offered are nice, like getting a butterfly etc. The game play simple and nicely graduating from easy to difficult.

I feel that this sort of game could easily be taken into the real world and made into an exciting class game, promoting team work, self-regulation and competition, plus exercising mathematical thinking.

My particular grumble about the computer game was that there was no pressure to act or think quickly. Perhaps I was playing at too low a level. But it did seem unengaging in its tempo.

The Game

This is a design suggestion, I have not experienced playing this game in class.

The game requires a set of cards, each card has a number of gold pieces on them.

Also required is a scoring track which has numbers 0 – 20.

Each team should have a playing piece to use to mark their progress on the scoring track.

Playing the game

Players & Teams

There are four players, two to a team. The players pair off in opposing teams. So player A1 is opposite player B1, and A2 is opposite B2.

Cards & Card Play

The cards are shuffled and then divided into equal two piles, and placed on a table. The two participants stand opposite each other so they are equidistant from the two decks of cards. Another two players then turn the top card over and place them in front of the two active players.

The two active players slap their hand on the card they want, first hand down wins. Mutual consent has to adjudicate in close ties. (This will get noisy, but one of the lessons here is about self-regulation!!) The card thus selected becomes the score for that team. Each player counts the number of coins and moves their piece up the score track. A bonus of +1 is given for the player who gets the larger amount that turn.

The players then change. So the active players, become the card turners, and the card turners go to the back of the queue of the team waiting to play. And the first in line in the queue become the active players.

Scoring and league tables

When one team reaches or passes 20 or whatever the top score is on the score track they win and gain 2 points. If the other team are close (e.g. 15 – 19) then they score 1 point. Any lower and they score 0.

A league table is setup with a fixtures list for each team.

After each game has been decided the scores are marked on the league table.

When all fixtures have been played, we then as a class add up the scores, the teacher involving the team in its own scoring. Bonus points are awarded if the team is able to give their correct score before the teacher does!

Advanced cards

Just counting gold coins on cards is a relatively simple task.

I would suggest that more taxing tasks would be to add counterfeit coins, or non-valuable items on the card which have to be ignored or taken away when calculating the sum of the coins on the card.

So on one card their might be 8 gold coins, one silver coin and two fish. Sum = 5!


One variant could be to have all the cards with different items on.

In addition there is an additional pile of cards that has one item on it – e.g. a fish, a silver coin, a gold coin, a crown etc. The item on that card shows the only item that should be counted on the next turned over card.

It might be best to introduce these cards after the basic game has been mastered.

Self regulation, disputes and cheating

This game is particularly open to disputes about who got their hand down first. Think of those family games of Snap!

My approach to this is to explain to all the class that they should get the card turning players to adjudicate in cases of dispute. They can agree to discard the card and change the players and move on. If they are not able to resolve this then the teams are to report their “fixture” as null and void. No score will be recorded for either team.

After all the fixtures have been played a check is made and the team with the most “null and void” marks is the absolute loser.

Hopefully teams will get the message and manage to get on with playing the game and resolve disputes internally.

Downloading the game

The original game is an open source free computer game that can be downloaded from this site – The Number Race The game requires a Java runtime environment.

Survival: The Shipwreck Game

Learning Aim

I use this game as an aid to encourage English conversation for both children and adults. The students can talk within their team, between teams and with the teacher.

It works best with English language proficiency levels of Intermediate (B2) and above.

It introduces new vocabulary about islands, the tropics and ships and seafaring.

In lower ability classes you can teach them future phrases like “I will search for…”  “I want to find…” or “I hope the boat does not sink“.


The situation – a shipwrecked survivor – seems to be familiar to all people. Many people know of Robinson Crusoe or the film Castaway.

Players seem to like working out survive strategies. It engages students and gets the class to think of imaginative solutions to problems.


The game is best if you divide the class into teams of 4 to 6.
Each turn a different team member is nominated to be the leader of the team. This person should lead the discussion and will take the decision for the team that turn.
Let all the teams discuss their next move. The teacher calls time and invites each leader to write down their “order” for the next turn.

At the end of the game, the teacher should invite each team to criticise the choices of the other team and speculate as to who would survive or be rescued.

Explaining the game – its mostly a shared story

I start the game by drawing a tropical island on the board and asking the class if they can name things they would typically find on such an island. I start by drawing a mountain and palm trees. After the class has exhausted their vocab I start to add things like coconut trees, banana trees, streams of fresh water, coral reefs, wild pigs and goats.

I then draw a sailing ship wrecked on the coast.

On the ship I draw “compartments” and I number them from the bow to the stern in descending order, starting at 8 or 7 down to 3. I do not explain these to the players.

I tell the class a story.

They are on the ship that has been shipwrecked and we are going to play a game called “survival”. I draw a stick figure on the shore and tell them that they have managed to get off the ship and they are alone and standing their in the pyjamas on the beach, and are wet, tired, thirsty, and hungry. Their ship is stuck on a reef and still afloat though it is taking in water through a hole in the bow of the ship.

I tell them that there are things on the ship that they might get that will help them to survive.

I divide them into teams. I ask the teams to discuss what item they want from the ship. I ask them to nominate a leader or spokesperson.


I do not use any rules for finding the item they require. What I do is to ask the player where they might expect to find the item they are searching for on the ship.

I want them to give a rationale, an explanation. Sometimes if they do not give a good enough reason – my judgement – I will let them find a lesser type of object. For example they often saw they want a gun. Unless they tell a good story about why the ship has rifles with lots of ammunition, I let them find a pistol and a few bullets.


Every time a player goes back onto the ship they risk making the ship unsteady and it might take on more water and possibly sink.
To simulate this I use a simple system called EDNA* (Ever Decreasing Number Allocation). This is a simple disaster modelling system. 
The target number is the largest uncrossed number in a ship’s compartment. The player rolls two dice.

  • If the sum of the dice is less than the target number then that compartment withstands the sea and does not flood. 
  • If the sum is equal or higher than the target number, then that compartment floods. 
  • If the sum is higher and a double, then two compartments flood.
When all compartments are flooded the ship sinks taking any unwary player down with them.
So long as the ship does not sink, the player always manage to collect the item they are searching for.

Sometimes if the players are being slow or cannot agree I warn them that the wind is picking up and the waves are tossing the ship about on the water and water is flooding into the ship. If they don’t get the hint, I make the leader roll the dice, and determine if the compartment floods. I do not allow them to collect anything. It rarely comes to this, but it does add to the excitement.


Using the image of the ship above as an example. 
The players have already gone to the ship to retrieve two items, an axe and something to make a fire with. On the last of those forays they have rolled an 8 or more, but not a double 4, 5 or 6, and one compartment in the bow has flooded. The compartment with 8 is now crossed off.
If they want to go on the boat to search for something else they will need to roll 2 – 6 to avoid flooding another compartment. On a roll of 7 to 12 one compartment will flood, if the roll is a double 4, 5  or 6, two compartments will flood.

Completed game

Below are two completed games, I played with Max (11) and Nico (8), two Italian boys who have recently started living in England and picking up English. We all took it in turns to draw on the paper.

The boys were good, and selected relevant things, like clothes, an axe, tinned food, a knife and matches. But both pushed their luck too far and went back to the nearly flooded ship and sank when the ship was overwhelmed by the sea.

Materials required

  • Two six sided dice
  • Pen and paper, or whiteboard and markers

Time required

This game can easily take an hour to play. It could be done as a quick 15 minute session.

You can vary the game duration by telling more elaborate stories or discussing some vocab in more detail.

Modelling a catastrophic event

*EDNA was invented by Graham Hockley. I first used it in 1990. It has been incorporated into a some game rules.

EDNA is a simple but effective method to model an unpredictable catastrophic event that becomes more likely as time passes. It does not degrade a situation, it models sudden and absolute change from one state into another state. The ship is afloat; the ship is sunk. The volcano is dormant; the volcano is erupting. There is no half-way degraded state.

The probabilities are:

Succeed         Fail
<8 = 58%        >=9 = 42%
<7 = 42%        >=8 = 58% 
<6 = 27%        >=7 = 73%   

<5 = 16%        >=6 = 84%

<4 = 11%        >=5 = 89%
<3 = 03%        >=4 = 97%

What’s a game for a teacher?

I came across this:

while many teachers say they are using digital games in the classroom, a lot of the time they just mean interactive activities or worksheets.”

With this example.

"For example, a recent study from A-GAMES, a research collaboration between New York 
University and the University of Michigan, last year surveyed 488 K-12 teachers, and 
found that “more than half of teachers (57 percent) use digital games weekly or more often in teaching.” That’s a pretty high adoption rate. But according to Millstone, “the most frequently used ‘games’ aren’t really games at all.” Teachers seem to label any 
interactive activity that happens on a laptop or a tablet a ‘game.’ The categories are unclear. To which activity does each buzzword refer? What counts as blended learning? 
What’s the difference between game-based learning and gamification?"

Teachers or administrators, who’s the real problem?

Like most debates agreeing on definitions is the starting point. Though at the moment I have a few questions first.

  • What is a game?
  • Do teachers define games differently when they use them in education?
  • Do the participants distinguish between playing a game for “fun” and playing a game in classroom?

I used games in teaching to the learners talking and thinking in English, in TEFL classes. My answer to the above three questions is that you have to remember to respect the players desire to have an outcome.

As the teacher I am not concerned or interested in who won the game, or how the players were ranked at the end of the game. I just want my lesson aims to be achieved. But if you have really engaged your learners – and this applies to adults as well as children – they will want to know their scores or at least what happened at the end. There is an need for immediate outcome: success, or failure. There is a need to compare each others achievement. They are competitive.

If “the thing you call a game” doesn’t provide

  1. an outcome – success or failure
  2. comparative performance – a ranking structure that is obvious to all participants
  3. the thrill of competition

It ain’t a game.





The Last Word

Learning Aim

A game for all levels of English above pre-Intermediate (B1, B2, C1, C2)

  • Listening: understanding the rules of the game
  • Listening: to other players
  • Pronunciation: Practising saying words
  • Vocabulary: Recalling and using words in English

Game Synopsis

This is a filler game. For example it can either be used when waiting for other members of the class to arrive or as a reward, especially for younger players, at the end of a teaching session.

It is quick, competitive and engaging. Learners are intent on winning and forget they are thinking and speaking in English because they want to win.

Resources required

  • two dice, if possible have one dice that is much larger than the others, if not use differently coloured ones
  • whiteboard or blackboard to write up the target letter/s and the words used


Introduce the game, and go through the rules. Give an example of a turn. Emphasise that the game is about speed.

Order of play

  1. Use a simple method to select who is the first player (last birthday, who last went to a party, who last ate a boiled egg, etc.)
  2. A letter or combination of letters is selected, usually by the teacher. This is the letter or letters that each word has to start with. The selected letter/s can be “e” or “ch”. (Note for harder variations you can designate that the target letter/s come at the end of a word.)
  3. The start player rolls the large target dice once and that number is the target number. Place this on a book or somewhere prominent so it can be seen be all and not knocked over!
  4. The start player by taking the “rolling” dice and tries to say a word that starts or ends with the target letter/s.
  5. If they say a correct word they roll the dice, if it is the same number as the target dice they have said the “last word” and won.
  6. If not, they pass the dice (or it is grabbed by the next player) and they have their turn.
  7. Repeat stages 5 and 6 as rapidly as possible.


Two alternatives. The simple scoring methods suits younger learners.

Simple scoring

The player who says the “last word” scores a point. Note this on the whiteboard / blackboard.

Advanced scoring

The player who says the “last word” scores points for every word that has been said in answer to the current “target word”. (Note this requires that each word is written on the blackboard or whiteboard.) Be prepared for cries of “its a lucky game!”


Example of play

  1. The teacher selects a “ch” as the target letters.
  2. The player who last visited a shoe shop takes the target dice and rolls a “4”
  3. The first player says “charlie” and rolls a 3 with the rolling dice
  4. The next says: “chips” and rolls 5.
  5. The next says: “chimpanzee” and rolls 1.
  6. The next says: “chocolate” and rolls 4. The “last word!”
  7. They score 4 points under the advanced scoring or 1 point using the simple scoring rule.

Note on speed

The teacher should drive this game to go as fast as the players can manage. Obviously use your knowledge and judgement of the players, but at times you might wish to drive the play by grabbing the dice and passing it to the next player, or if a player hesitates too long pass the dice to the next player… As the learners get familiar with this game, they will drive this themselves.

Who goes first?

Who goes first is a simple question and can often be answered with a simple dice rolling contest etc. However, if you want to keep your learners on their toes try using a different method to nominate the first player.

This is a good ideas as the learners have to listen and understand a new set of instructions at the start of each game.

Here is a set of suggestions I have used.

  1. Whose future birthday is the closest to today?
  2. Who had the last birthday?
  3. Who last ate “a boiled egg,” “a tortilla,” “fish and chips,” etc.
  4. Who last journey was by boat, bike, car, plane, coach, bus, minibus?
  5. Who last made a journey to an island?
  6. Who last swam in the sea, swimming pool, river?
  7. Who can add up three numbers and divide by 3 the quickest. (Write these on the blackboard.)
  8. All roll dice and the highest / lowest goes first. Highest draws keep rolling until one is the highest.
  9. Shuffle a deck of cards and deal one to each player, the lowest or highest goes first. Highest / lowest draws keep rolling until one is the highest.
  10. Who last went to the theatre, cinema, concert, etc.
Maybe you could write a list of ideas or make a set of cards and use them each time you want to decide “who goes first?”

Word Battleship

Learning aim

A game for pre-Intermediate and advanced-Intermediate English learners.

  • Listening to and understanding the rules of the game
  • Practising saying letters and numbers 
  • Understanding and spelling words in English

Game synopsis

Using the traditional format of Battleships, the players attempt to locate words and predict them and their location on the grid.


  • paper with 10 by 10 gridded squares
  • whiteboard and markers / blackboard and chalk
  • pens, pencils etc.


The teacher prepares a crossword like grid with 10 words that are written vertically top to bottom or horizontally left to right and that intersect. All words have to be written like a crossword so that they only form proper words. Do not run words parallel to each other or butt words endtoend!

Each player is given a blank grid so that they can mark off the missed shots and letters hit.

The teacher writes on the whiteboard 20 words, 10 of which are already on the grid prepared earlier.

Order of play

  1. In turn each player calls out one of the gird references. (e.g. “A8”)
  2. The teacher tells the player if they have:
    • missed
    • hit and what letter was at that grid reference
  3. The player can try to guess either a word or the entire grid. See “scoring” below.
  4. Next player…


After each player calls gets a hit, the player can attempt to guess the word hit. Each word correctly guessed earns a point.

Alternative scoring: A correctly guessed word scores as many points as there are still un-hit letters in the word correctly guessed!

Monster’s Inc

This is a simple educational game that engages the children in a game, gets them using their imagination and naming body parts, and also gives them some drawing fun.

I have used it to assist children in listening and speaking English.


  • pens, pencils, erasers, crayons etc.
  • paper
  • alternatively you could use a whiteboard or blackboard


  1. Each person takes it in turn to suggest a body part, a type of animal or some feature. For example: a big nose, speakers for a hands, pirate arms, angel wings or a giraffe’s body. The teacher writes this on the board.
  2. Each child draws the new “body part” on their paper, adapting it to the other parts drawn before.
  3. When all have finished, each student passes their paper to another student. This is simplest if they pass to the same person each time. It could be randomised, but this will create more fuss and potential confusion.
  4. Go back to 1 and repeat.
I would suggest that no more than 6 or 8 parts are included in each drawing as the sketch gets a little busy after a while. Keep an eye on progress.

When all have completed their drawing, gather them in and ask for the children to judge which is the best.

Ask them what they like about each one. Praise good ideas etc.

Ask them to name the bit which is the head, or the body etc.


This example was created from the following list.

  1. Speaker Head
  2. Thin Body
  3. Pirate Arms
  4. Octopus’ Tentacles
  5. Silly Hat
  6. Small Legs.
The class voted this one the best one.
I liked it because one child told me that he had included two “pirate arms” – the one with tattoos and the “internet pirate” with the mouse! Not bad for a Spanish kid of about 12.


Thanks to Ian Temple for suggesting this idea.