10 Online Language Games for Teaching Foreign Languages Virtually

Online Language games for teaching foreign languages graphic

Let’s put the interactive element back into languages online. These are 10 low-preparation games you can use over and over again with beginner to advanced speakers. Online language games soak up time, are interactive and focus on common communication abilities critical for your students out in the real world.

These online language games are aimed at groups of 2-4. With a larger class you can break the students up into small discussion rooms, as available in Zoom.

1. Guess the Object

One person thinks of an object, be it every day or unusual, and everyone else must ask questions in order to guess what it is. This is an ideal language learning game to test new vocabulary and form questions correctly. Also known as 25 Questions the main idea is to allow students to use adjectives to decipher the physical object.

How to play: Get a student to think of a random object. Ask the rest of the students to ask yes and no questions about that object. i.e does it fit in your hand? Is it normally expensive?

Rules: students can only pass on two cards per turn. Can’t say ‘rhymes with’, ‘starts or ends with,’ ‘sounds like’ or mime.

What You Need: nothing.

Level: beginner +

Photo by Rumman Amin on Unsplash

2. Articulate

Articulate is a fast-speaking description game. Students must describe the word or phrases to get others to guess it as quickly as possible. The more words guessed within the time, the more points gained. The winner is the team with the most points.

How to play: If there are 1-3 players, each person is alone and everyone guesses on every turn. 4+ players and split into teams, only allowing team members to guess the words.

Traditionally the game is split into 6 categories: world, person, object, nature, action or random. If you want to follow these subjects, this website generates game words via selected categories. Select the category at the beginning of each timed turn. You can also find a word generator in the target language. As of writing the official Articulate boardgame has released their cards for free online here because of the pandemic.

Allow students to use an online language dictionary to look up words in the target language.

Each person gets 3 minutes to get the others to guess as many words in the chosen category as possible.

Rules: Students can only pass on two cards per turn. Can’t say ‘rhymes with’, ‘starts or ends with,’ ‘sounds like’ or mime.

What You Need: a 3 minute online timer (I suggest sharing part of your screen so everyone can see the timer).

Level: high beginner +

3. Taboo

Similar to Articulate, in Taboo students must describe words. However, in Taboo there are also forbidden words. If the student uses these words, they will forfeit their go.

How to play: If there are 1-3 players, each person is alone and everyone guesses on every turn. 4+ players and split into teams, only allowing team members to guess the words. Send the students to the play taboo website. On each student’s turn they describe the word avoiding the taboo list for 60 seconds each. Play several rounds and the winner is the one with the highest guessed words.

Allow students to use an online language dictionary to look up words in the target language.

Rules: Students can describe the words using anything but the taboo list and miming.

What You Need: nothing or a timer if you want to give longer turns.

Level: intermediate +

4. Code Names

In Codenames teams must get their own players to guess the words that correspond to their colour. Word association will get students to organically search for the necessary vocabulary in the target language. This is good for beginners because they only need to look up isolated words.

How to play: You need 4+ players, 2 at least for each team. The spymasters on each side will know which words correspond to their team’s colour. They must give one-word clues that can correspond to one or multiple words on the board (in their team’s colour). Each team must guess correctly their words, avoiding the other team’s words, as fast as possible.

Set up a board to play with your class here. There are also further instructions available.

Rules: hints can’t contain any part of the words on the board. For example for ‘ghostbuster’, the hint can’t be ‘ghost’.

What You Need: Everyone must have access to their own browser to watch the board.

Level: beginner +

5. Categorically Speaking

Categorically speaking gets students to write as many words associated with certain categories as they can. Most students will need to use a dictionary, but it is fantastic way to get them to rapidly expand their vocabulary. Thinking in categories is also an easier way to memorise new words.

How to play: Each student must draw a 4×4 grid on a paper that has space to write up to 6 words in each box. Select 4 categories, either from topics studied or with this category generator. Then write the categories in the left margin (one in each box).

Choose 4 letters using this generator. Write them in the top margin (one in each box).

Set a time of 3.30 minutes and have the students fill the boxes with words that correspond to the categories and letters.

Rules: students get points for words other people haven’t written down. Everyone must agree the word corresponds to the category.

What You Need: students each need paper with a 4×4 grid drawn on it. An online timer. A letter generator. A category generator.

Level: high beginner + (basic categories), intermediate (variety of categories)

Photo by Teo Zac on Unsplash

6. Pictionary on a Virtual Whiteboard

Pictionary is easy as a warm up and gets students thinking in the target language.

How to play: Use a random word generator and select ‘pictionary’ and the difficulty according to your group of students. On each student’s turn they will get a random word and have to draw for the rest of the class. Set a timer for 2 mins. They can keep drawing as many things as the class guesses within the time.

Variation: sometimes for intermediate or advanced classes, I ask one student to instruct another student what to draw. This gets them to practise giving directions, using demonstratives and prepositions.

Rules: no spoken clues and no written words or letters are allowed.

What You Will Need: Access to a virtual whiteboard. Everyone should be able to share their screens so the class can see what they are drawing.

Level: beginner +

7. 30 Second Talks

Students will have to be inventive in speaking for the allotted time on a subject without stopping! This game is excellent for getting shy students to talk because you give them the topic and a short period to speak, which is much less daunting than general conversation.

How to play: Either use a random subject generator or write down your own subjects/ questions (choose at least 20). Input the subjects into the picker wheel. Press the spinner at the start of the student’s turn to choose the topic. Set a timer and have that student talk non-stop for the allotted time. Set the timer for between 30 seconds – 2 minutes depending on the level and number of students.

Play as many rounds as you want and keep a tally of the scores.

Rules: if they pause for 2+ seconds they forfeit their turn. Move on to the next person.

What You Need: A list of subjects or questions installed in the picker wheel. A timer.

Level: high beginner +

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

8. Where Am I or Who Am I

Students use yes and no questions to guess the person. People can either self-select a person or be assigned one by the rest of the class. Either way is fun and productive.

How to play: If the student selects their own person, the rest of the class have to ask them yes/ no questions until they guess correctly. If the student is assigned a person they have to ask the rest of the class the questions.

Rules: the person can be alive, dead, historical, or even imaginary (cartoon). They must choose someone/ something the rest of the class will have heard of, so not their uncle for instance.

Level: beginner +

9. Hangman

Hangman is best for absolute beginners who are grasping letters. It can also be good to test vocabulary and as a warm up as you wait for students.

How to play: Choose words for the students to guess the letters or have each student choose their own words. Use this online platform for hangman and have the student share their screen.

Rules: No hints.

Level: beginner +

10. First to Write 5 Things Beginning with “A”

Students work alone or in teams to beat the others in writing suitable words. Substitute the “things” for any particular topic you have been studying. For example 5 animals beginning with L. Or 5 adjectives beginning with H.

How to play: choose a number of categories before the game. Examples can be things associated with the beach, fruits, clothes, worldwide festivals etc. Split the students into teams or alone and have them write down 5 things associated with that category. The quickest team to get 5 wins.

Rules: everyone must agree the words fit in the category or the game keeps going until you get a winner.

Level: intermediate (beginner if basic categories)

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