My First Year of Teaching English in Japan: 52 Games for 52 Weeks, and Misc. Visuals

By Charles Wetzel

This document is a work in progress. It is about games that can be played in a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) classroom. Games are important; they are part of the concept of VARG (Visual, Action, Rhythm, Game, the four components that make a good lesson for kids). This document contains all the "games of the week" that I used for my first year teaching in Japan, along with some miscellaneous visuals. For the uninformed, a "game of the week" is a game that a teacher comes up with to play for an entire calendar week. Since most students only have class with that teacher once or twice a week, as far as the students are concerned, there is a new game every class or every other class. This keeps things fresh for the students without putting undue strain on the teacher.

I like to design and illustrate my own games. I enjoy drawing them (even though my drawing is so-so), and I have noticed that my bosses tend to treat me better when they see a decent hand-made or well-thought-out game as opposed to quick-and-dirty whiteboard games like many teachers use. Furthermore, these games are hits at lesson demos.

I have decided to catalog the 52 games I use this year, and also keep the posters and other materials in a box somewhere in my apartment. That way, if I teach another year, everything will be ready to go. Many of these games are ones I have already used in Taiwan at Amigo School, and that has saved me a great deal of effort this year.


1. Teacher Charles' Saint Patrick's Day Game
This is a board game that is best played in March. If the students are intermediate or advanced, perhaps the teacher can even explain about Saint Patrick's Day and use the pictures on the game as visuals. Here are the rules:
  1. There are multiple teams of students (at least two). Each team gets a different-colored magnet, and who gets to pick the magnet and go first is determined by Rock, Paper, Scissors.
  2. Movement is determined by the roll of a die. However, if a die is not available, or to add more skill to the game, STs can instead throw a sticky ball at a bull's eye that has been drawn next to the game board (with numbers inside the bull's eye ranging from 2 to 6 and 1 for not hitting the bull's eye).
  3. There are two paths to the FINISH pot of gold. STs can pick which one to traverse, but must do so before traversing it (they cannot change their minds later).
  4. Rainbows are like ladders in Snakes and Ladders. They warp the player up if the player lands on one.
  5. The red arrow with the 2 next to it means to proceed forward two spaces.
  6. Landing on a leprechaun with a back arrow means the player must roll the dice and move backward that many spaces. Alternatively, the bull's eye can be re-numbered and a sticky ball thrown to determine how far back the player moves.
  7. Pots of gold mean prizes. The prizes can be classroom money (token economy money), stickers, candy, or other things.
  8. The first player/team to reach the FINISH pot of gold wins.

A Standard Taiwanese Sticky Ball, for Reference (please note that in Japan, appearance may vary, but function is the same)
2. Easter Egg Hunt
This game is fun for all ages. It is best for a parties or other events where much learning is not required, as there is really very little way to make this educational. Here are the rules:
  1. Hide "eggs" all around the classroom. These may be construction paper eggs, plastic eggs, or even hard-boiled eggs.
  2. Students find the eggs. A time limit should be imposed, as well.
  3. Optionally, there can be prizes for the STs who gather the most eggs. Or if plastic eggs are used, prizes (stickers, coins, etc.) can be hidden inside the eggs.
  4. Optionally, at the end of the game, STs can hide the eggs for the next class.

3. Egg/Spoon Relay Race
The Egg/Spoon Relay Race is a fun active game. To make it educational as well, a teacher can stand near the basket and only allow the STs to put an egg in the basket and run back if they answer a question or practice a sentence pattern or that sort of thing. Here are the rules:

  1. Students take eggs from one side and carry them to the other with a spoon.
  2. If they drop the egg, they must go back.
  3. After one lap, students hand off the spoon.
  4. The first team to put three eggs into the basket wins.
This game can be played with regular spoons and any of the following objects (this list is not all-inclusive):
  • Regular hard-boiled eggs (messy if dropped, only do this outdoors)
  • If in Taiwan, tea eggs can be procured quickly from the nearest convenience store, but the same warning applies as above.
  • Ping pong balls (recommended for indoor play)
  • Plastic Easter Eggs (great if they can be found, but good luck with that in an East Asian country).
4. The House and Tree Game
This is a very simple board game. It can simply be drawn on the whiteboard instead of making a fancy poster like mine, but I prefer to be a bit artistic. Here are the rules:
  1. Each team of students has a magnet of a different color as a game piece. They both start in the grass just left of the leftmost white square.
  2. Students roll a die to determine movement.
  3. If the die lands on 1, move the piece left one space (backwards). This is obviously not desirable.
  4. If the die lands on 2 or 3, do not move that team's piece at all.
  5. If the die lands on 4 or 5, move the piece forward one space.
  6. If the die lands on 6, move the piece forward two spaces.
  7. The first team to reach the tree wins.
5. Snakes and Ladders
This is a simple game, and a good one for practicing numbers between 1 and 36 (or whatever range the teacher chooses) because the students can say the number on which they land. Here are the rules:
  1. Students start at 1. Their game pieces are magnets. This game is a poster that is hung on the board.
  2. Each team rolls a die to determine movement and moves that many spaces.
  3. If a ladder is encountered, go up the ladder.
  4. If a snake is encountered, go down the snake.
  5. The first team to land on/pass the 36th space wins.
6. Jenga
Jenga is a great game for students 10 and over. Unfortunately, younger/wild students tend to knock the tower over early in the game through carelessness or on purpose, which is an extreme annoyance since it can take a few minutes to rebuild the tower. Therefore, it is only recommended that teachers use this game with more mature students. Even adults enjoy this game. It can be made educational by asking a quiz question or requiring an answer to a flash card for a student to take a turn. Here are the rules:
  1. Stack the 54 blocks as in the picture [criss-cross].
  2. Take turns taking out blocks and putting them on top. The stacker goes first. Use only one hand.
  3. If the tower falls, that player loses.

There are two important notes on this game. First of all, "Jenga" comes from the Swahili word "kujenga," meaning "to build." Second of all, the rules can be modified slightly. There is a certain amount of leeway as to whether two hands can be used or whether a single fallen block counts as a "Game Over."

The main drawback to this game, besides its unsuitability to young children and its setup time, is that it must be bought. However, many cram schools and conversation schools already have the game.

7. The Tank Game
This is the Tank Game. It is very simple. Here are the rules:
  1. Just draw six total tanks (three on each side of the board) with whiteboard marker. Number them 1, 2, and 3.
  2. Divide students into two teams.
  3. An individual student calls out a number and throws the sticky ball. The teacher draws a line from the muzzle of the gun of the tank for which the student called out the number and draws the line all the way to where the sticky ball hit.
  4. If the sticky ball impacted with a tank, erase the tank and draw an explosion.
  5. The first team to obliterate all three enemy tanks wins.
  6. If starved for time, draw a bomb on the board and destroy a bunch of tanks.
8. Domo-kun versus Nezumi-chan
This game is good for practicing spellings of vocabulary words (preferably past words, as current words would be too obvious), and is very economical to make. Cardboard works well, since Domo-kun is naturally brown. Magnets are affixed to the backs of the pieces (I used regular tape). I drew the mouth with red and black marker and correctional fluid. There are six pieces in all:
  1. Nezumi-chan (the mouse)
  2. Domo-kun's left leg
  3. Domo-kun's right leg
  4. Domo-kun's left arm
  5. Domo-kun's right arm
  1. This game is played exactly the same way as Hangman. The only difference is that a magnetic piece is stuck to the board rather than a man being drawn hanging from a gallows. In case the reader does not know how to play Hangman, here are the steps. Start by choosing a word (secret from the students, but preferably one they have already learned for review purposes).
  2. Draw spaces on the board equaling the number of letters in the word. For example, "fountain" would be _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
  3. Students take turns guessing letters.
  4. If the letter is correct and is indeed a letter in that word, the teacher should write the letter in the appropriate space. For example, if the word is "fountain" and a student guesses 'a,' write _ _ _ _ _ a _ _ _.
  5. If the letter is incorrect, write it up in the left-hand corner and add a piece of the Domo-kun magnetic figure. I like to start with Nezumi-chan, then add the legs, then the arms, and finally the body (so it is a mystery until the end of the game what creature is chasing Nezumi-chan).
  6. If a student either guesses the word correctly before filling in the spaces, or fills in all the blanks and gets the word that way, that student wins.
  7. If the students guess six letters and still do not have the word, everybody loses. The Domo-kun and Nezumi-chan image on the left should be fully displayed.
9. Battleship
Here is a game that is easy to make out of construction paper and cardboard. It is great for students over 10 years of age; in fact, my teenage students thought it was quite fun, and my boss liked it so much, she had me play it with her several times on breaks! However, do not try this game with students under 10! Students under 10 are usually exceedingly poor Battleship players, and playing even a single game can suck up an entire lesson block, as kids under 10 are very sluggish to choose spots to fire on, and choose them at random without regard to strategy, resulting in long, pointless games that are fun for neither the teacher nor the students. Therefore, it is probably a wise idea to prepare an alternate game for the young kids on Battleship week.


  1. Players must not be able to see the ships of the other players. The picture is perhaps a bit misleading since both boards are in clear view of each other. In a real game, players should either be separated by a divider, or be far away from each other.
  2. Players place their ships anywhere on their 5x5 grids (they can only place ships on the grids with the arrow pointing towards the player). Ships may not be moved during play. Ships may not overlap.
  3. Players decide who will go first with Rock, Paper, Scissors.
  4. Players guess where the enemy ships are by calling out a letter-number combo like "A1" or "B5."
  5. The other player must report "Hit!" or "Miss!" (or "Yes!" or "No!" with younger or lower-level STs).
  6. If a player scores a hit, he or she must put a red chip on the appropriate square on the left board.
  7. If a player misses, he or she must put a white chip on the appropriate square.
  8. The first player to achieve six hits wins.

Coincidentally, this game falls on the same week as Armed Forces Day. This is purely coincidental, and that was not my intent, but it is interesting to note nonetheless. National Maritime Day also falls around this time, so with both of these holidays in mind, Battleship is a very appropriate game to play. :-)

10. The Super Mario Bros. Game
This game simulates a level of the original Super Mario Bros., a game which Japanese children are still familiar with 26 years later thanks to re-releases such as New Super Mario Bros. On an interesting note, the goomba pictured (the brown, mushroom-like monster) is known as a kuribo- in Japanese. "Kuri" is the Japanese word for chestnut and "bo-" or "bou" means "boy." Chestnut boy.

The rules that I have formulated are very complicated and I advise against trying to follow them to the letter. A teacher wanting to use this game should come up with a similar board to mine and come up with his/her own rules or use mine as a rough guide rather than following my rules religiously. Here are my rules:

  1. Each team of students has a magnet. I recommend a red magnet for Mario, green for Luigi, white for Toadstool/Kinopio, and yellow for Princess Peach/Wario. All teams start left of the game board.
  2. Teams answer an English question like "What is this?" or "What is your favorite Nintendo character?" and get a turn. They must specify "I want to go ____." They can say left, right, up, or down.
  3. If a goomba is encountered, put the goomba into the circle to the left of the game board and give a student two chances to throw the sticky ball into the circle. If the student succeeds in hitting the circle or the goomba, award 100 points to that team and allow the team's game piece to go where the goomba once stood. If the thrower misses the circle and the goomba, the goomba remains in place and the team regresses to where they originally were.
  4. Teams can use a turn to go up — this is useful for bopping coin blocks or the mushroom block. Coin blocks are 200 points and the mushroom block is 400 points.
  5. The first team to get to the flag wins. Hum the Super Mario Bros. stage clear song and draw fireworks on the board. Award 500 points.
  6. Pipes can either yield 300 points, or can warp the game piece to the other pipe (use the latter if time is running out in the lesson).
  7. Whichever team has the most points when the first game piece reaches the flag/castle wins. This is usually the game piece that reached the castle first, but not always. The higher point total is more important than reaching the flag/castle first.

Here is a list of the locations the game pieces can move:

  1. Starting point: left of the game board.
  2. Under the first coin block (movement options are left, right, and up).
  3. Between the first coin block and the first pipe (there is a mandatory goomba fight to stay there). Movement options are left and right (to the pipe).
  4. On top of the pipe: movement options are left, right, and down (into the pipe).
  5. Between the pipe and the next block (another goomba attack): movement options are left or right.
  6. Under the second coin block. Movement options are left, right (over the chasm), or up.
  7. Under the third coin block: movement options are left (back over the chasm), right, or up (into the coin block).
  8. The second pipe: movement options are left, right, or down.
  9. Under the mushroom block (movement options are left, right, or up). There is a mandatory goomba attack here.
  10. The flag/castle: there are no movement options since this is the finish line.
See, the rules are extremely complicated. A teacher should just make up his or her own rather than try to follow these.
11. Go Moku Narabu
Although the name is Japanese (taught to me by my students), I originally learned it in Taiwan, where it is also played. It is very simple both to make and play. Basically, I just drew a 15x12 grid on some paper, glued that paper to a piece of cardboard, did a bit of illustration, and covered the whole thing in plastic tape to turn it into an erasable board onto which board markers could be used.

Here are the rules:

  1. Players play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who goes first.
  2. Players must draw filled or unfilled circles using whiteboard markers on the grid. The circles should be on the intersections, not inside the boxes.
  3. The first player to line up five consecutive circles of his or her color wins. This can be horizontal, diagonal, or vertical.

12. Simple Bowling
This is like bowling, but simpler (fewer frames, less complicated scoring). It is good for kids because kids like bowling. It can be used with a wide variety of linguistic tasks — ask a question before each frame and have students answer it.

It is a great game when there are only ten minutes until work and one needs a game quickly, because it can be bought on the way to work at just about any toy store or 100 yen store. However, be careful of the bowling sets made of cheap, brittle plastic, which will break after a class or two, particularly with a really hyperactive student. The better sets will cost several hundred yen or more and are made of slightly softer, more flexible plastic that will not break. The poster that I made is entirely optional.

The rules:

  1. Unlike regular bowling, this has only two to five frames (so it can fit into a lesson more easily).
  2. Each bowler gets to do it twice per frame.
  3. Scoring is simple. / X are both treated as simply ten points with no extra, special effects.
  4. Like regular bowling, the player with the highest point total wins.
  5. To make it educational, ask a question or series of questions before a frame.
13. The Fishing Game
This game involves STs "catching fish" by throwing a sticky ball at them. The rules are as follows:
  1. Have ten "fish" on the board. These can either be drawn on with whiteboard markers, or for something a bit fancier, made out of laminated construction paper and held up with magnets.
  2. Each fish has a point value (I tend to have three 1-point fish, one 3-point fish, and one 5-point fish on each side of the board).
  3. Divide the students into two teams. Mark each column of fish (see the picture) with a team name.
  4. Each turn, a student should throw the sticky ball at the other team's side in a attempt to steal fish from that team.
  5. If a student screws up and hits his own team's fish, the opposing team will get points!
  6. Play the game either until all the fish on one side are gone, or until time runs out.
  7. The team with the most points wins.
  8. Some sticky balls, especially old ones or with young throwers, have trouble sticking to the board reliably. Therefore, in these cases, I give a student a second throw if he/she missed the board or if the sticky ball glanced off (rather than sticking).
How can this game be made educational? Well, ask a question in English before each sticky ball throw, or before each round.
14. The Beach Game
This is a basic board game that is good to play during the summer. Each turn of the game can be mixed with English questions or that sort of thing to make it educational. The rules are as follows:
  1. There must be at least two players. Each player picks a game piece (I use magnets).
  2. Each player rolls a die to determine movement.
  3. The purpose of the game is to go from START to FINISH. The first person to FINISH wins.
  4. Along the way, players may land on dollar signs. If the classroom has in-classroom money, stickers, or other token economy items, these can be the rewards for landing on these squares.
  5. The player may land on an arrow. If so, the player must move the number of spaces indicated by the arrow, in that direction.
  6. There is also a piece switch space. That player's piece will be switched with the other player's piece. If there are three or more pieces, however, invent a rule.
  7. These rules can be modified to suit the classroom situation, of course.

Make two of these (cones for ice cream). Put them on the board with magnets and have STs draw the scoops of ice cream on top of the "cones." Or, if there aren't enough time or resources, just draw the cones on the board with whiteboard markers.
15. The Ice Cream Game
In this game, STs can draw gross things on the board. Here are the rules:
  1. Set up two "cones" on the board. Either draw these with whiteboard marker or make cones out of brown paper and put them on the board with magnets.
  2. Ask STs questions in English. Whenever someone gets one right, he/she can go and draw a new "scoop" on his/her team's ice cream cone. These scoops should have something gross on them (cockroaches, worms, a human skull, a pair of scissors and someone's hair, etc.). Students should have a fun time thinking of new gross things to put on the ice cream.
  3. If being played competitively, the team with the most scoops of ice cream wins. However, if taking turns, both ice cream cones will be the same height and there will always be a tie. However, it can still be fun as students use their imaginations to find "gross" things to draw on the board.

4th of July Memory Cards, Unlaminated

4th of July Memory Cards, Laminated (and with the Statue of Liberty's color made to look better)

16. 4th of July-Themed Memory
This is a good game for the 4th of July and the week that surrounds it. It is appropriate for nearly all ages (most Japanese kids know how to play Memory, so no explanation of how to play is usually required). Since the cards are 4th of July-themed, they can double as flash cards.

This game is simple to make. Simply draw black outlines of all the pictures on a sheet of paper. Photocopy it so that there are two sheets. Then color it in. Then glue each piece of paper to some heavy construction paper and cut out the cards. Presto, a Memory game that is holiday-appropriate and costs around 30 yen!

Here are the rules, for those of you who don't know how to play Memory (yes, all five of you):

  1. Lay out the cards in a 4x4 grid with the construction paper side up.
  2. Students take turns. Students can turn over two cards (and only two). Then the STs must turn the cards back over again, unless they get a match (in which case they take the matching cards and get to try again in the same turn).
  3. The game is over when all the cards have been matched successfully. The student with the most matches wins.

The Poster for This Game (optional)
17. The Flyswatter and Balloon Game
All that is needed to play this game is a balloon (hopefully with a few backups since they sometimes pop) and a couple of flyswatters. See below for rules for Game 1 (one person plays at a time):
  1. See how many times in a row you can hit the balloon.
  2. Take turns and keep score below.
  3. Total up the points. The player with the most wins.
Then, there is the second game, Game 2. See below for rules:
  1. Students are divided by a line.
  2. One student serves.
  3. They try to hit the balloon onto each other's floor to score a point.
  4. The player with the most points wins.

The Flyswatters and Balloons (required)
18. Basketball
This is a really, really easy game. A cheap basketball set can be obtained for 100 yen at virtually any 100 yen store.


  1. Students take turns.
  2. They must stand at a designated distance away from the hoop.
  3. They throw the basketball after answering a question from the teacher (in English).
  4. If it goes in, they get a point. Otherwise, they don't.
  5. The game ends when the time runs out. The winner is the person with the most baskets.
  6. Seriously, did I really need to just type out those rules?
19. 300
300 is a simple game that can be played with just the ball from #18. However, be careful — it can be dangerous if two students are charging for the ball and run into each other.


  1. Ask a question, in English, to the students, who should be standing.
  2. If someone answers correctly, yell out a random number between 0 and 300 and throw the ball in a random direction.
  3. The students will inevitably run and try to catch the ball. If someone catches it, give him/her the number of points you just yelled.
  4. The game ends when someone gets 300 points. That person is the winner.

For example, there are two students, John and Jane. The teacher yells "50!" and throws the ball. John catches it. John gets 50 points.

20. The Dragon Quest Board Game
This game is based on the popular video game series, Dragon Quest (known as Dragon Warrior in the United States). And what appropriate timing! Right as our class was playing the game (August 2), Dragon Quest X was released! Anyways, this is a complicated game that some students will really enjoy, but don't even think about doing it with the kindies (it's too complicated). I recommend it for, at very least, elementary school students.

Before every turn, the teacher can ask questions in English and have the students answer them before taking a turn. The students also have to use the words "up," "down," "left," and "right," so it is a good game for practicing directions.

I strongly recommend modifying the rules to suit your purpose, because my rules are quite complicated (and vary somewhat from game to game). Here are my rules, roughly:

  1. Each student (or team) picks a magnet to be his or her avatar. In the game shown to the left, these magnets are blue and yellow.
  2. Students can move up, down, left, or right. They must say "I want to go (direction)." or something like that.
  3. Every time a player moves (except on the Inn, treasure chest, or the dragon), roll the die. If it is 3, 4, 5, or 6, that player is "safe." There will be no battles this turn.
  4. However, if a player rolls a 1, fight the "blue slime."
  5. If a player rolls a 2, fight a "red slime."
  6. Here is how to fight red and blue slimes. Put the slime on the board with a magnet and draw a circle around it. The player must throw a sticky ball into the ring to defeat the slime (twice in the case of the red slime). If the slime has not been defeated yet, it will deal 10 damage to the player (-10 HP). Once a blue slime has been defeated, increase the player's Max. HP by 10 ("level up"). Increase Gold by 10, as well. In the case of a red slime, increase Max. HP and Gold by 20, since red slimes are stronger.
  7. By fighting blue and red slimes, players can gain more and more Max. HP and Gold. They can do this indefinitely, and in fact this is necessary to fight the "last boss," the Dragon.
  8. Players can restore current HP to full by visiting the Inn for one turn.
  9. Players cannot step on mountains.
  10. Treasure chests yield a random amount of Gold. Roll a die (six-sided) and multiply the number by 10. For example, if a player rolls 3, give him/her 30 Gold.
  11. Now, at some point, someone will challenge the Dragon. The Dragon has 130 HP. Each sticky ball hit to the Dragon does 20 damage. If the Dragon is still alive, it will attack the player for 20 damage. If a player succeeds in killing the dragon, that player automatically wins the game.
  12. If a player "dies" (goes down to 0 HP), make that player restart the game in the upper-left-hand corner (with Max. HP, but only half Gold).
  13. In the event that no one finishes the game by killing the dragon, and class time for this game runs out, total up each player's Max. HP + Gold. The player who accomplished the most (got the most Max. HP + Gold) wins.
  14. Again, I stress that you should make up your own rules to suit the classroom situation. Mine are very complicated and probably hard to follow.

Cup Pong (actual game, left, and explanatory poster, right)
21. Cup Pong
This is "Cup Pong." Gee, I wonder what game this could be based on... Like most of the games on this list, this game doesn't necessarily have intrinsic educational value, but can make a lesson more fun (ask questions to the students before allowing them to throw the ping pong ball). Here are the rules of Beer Cup Pong:
  1. Each team (usually just one player) gets six cups.
  2. Lay out the cups like the photo to the left. Weigh them down with marbles or another heavy material, otherwise, they will tip over.
  3. Players take turns throwing a ping pong ball at each others' cups. I recommend giving each student two tries per turn since they may not be so good at this game. Preferably, give a demonstration beforehand on the best way to throw the ping pong ball (making it bounce off the table so it loses some momentum and won't bounce out of the cup).
  4. If the ball lands in a cup, it means +1 point for the player who threw it. And that cup is removed from play.
  5. The player (team) with the most points wins (either when the time is up, or when one of the two players has acquired all the opponent's cups).

Art Gallery Frame
22. Art Gallery
This game is also known as "Pictionary." This one can be highly useful for drilling vocab and making students produce vocab. Here are the rules:
  1. Give a student a whiteboard marker. Tell that student a word (preferably one they have been learning) to draw. Keep this word a secret from the other students.
  2. Students call out what word they think it is.
  3. The first student to get it gets a point.
  4. Then give a turn to another student, preferably the one who just guessed the word correctly (although if this happens, the passive students will never draw, so it might be a good idea to involve all the students).

The House and Tree Game Board
23. The House and Tree Game
Here's a fairly simple board game. Here are the rules:
  1. This game can be played by two teams, or three, or theoretically even more. Start each team on the first of the five squares.
  2. The object of the game is to get to the tree.
  3. Roll the die each turn.
  4. If the die lands on 2 or 3, move ahead 0 spaces. If the die lands on 4 or 5, move ahead one space. If the die lands on 6, move ahead two spaces. And if the die lands on 1, move back one space!
  5. If a die is not available, play with two coins:
    2 heads: Go forward two spaces
    1 head, 1 tail: Go forward one space
    2 tails: Go backward one space
    Note: If starved for class time, the version with the coins is usually faster since there is a 3/4 chance of moving ahead, versus 1/2 chance of moving ahead in the die-based version.
  6. The first player to reach the tree wins. Of course, if the game must end early, the player who progressed the farthest wins.
As with many of the other games, the game can be made educational by asking educationally-oriented questions to the STs before each coin flip/die roll. All in all, this is a very simple game; no whiteboard poster is actually required (all the necessary things can simply be drawn on the whiteboard with markers, but this is more elaborate and attractive).

Whiteboard markers such as this one are used in the Circling Game.
24. The Circling Game
This is an extremely simple classroom game. All that is needed is a whiteboard and two whiteboard markers. Here are the directions:
  1. Write/draw a whole bunch of vocabulary words/terms/pictures/etc. all over the whiteboard.
  2. Divide the class into two teams. Have them line up in front of the whiteboard in two lines. Give the person at the front of each line one marker.
  3. Call out a word. The first team to circle the correct word/term/image gets a point.
  4. When their turn is complete, have the students at the front of the line go to the back of the line and pass the whiteboard markers off to the next people in line.
  5. The team with the most points wins.
This game can be useful for practicing many things. It is especially good for reading since the students are required to listen to what the teacher just said and read the words on the board and match them to the thing the teacher just said. This game has a wide range of educational applications.

The Fishing Game II
25. The Fishing Game II
This is the same game as the Fishing Game, essentially. The only difference is that rather than each fish being worth points, each fish is just one fish. When a player catches a fish with the sticky ball, put it in that player's basket rather than coming up with a numeric score like in the regular Fishing Game. That's the only difference. It might be better for younger children who aren't very good at math yet.

The House and Restaurant Game
26. The House and Restaurant Game
This game is extremely similar to the House and Tree game, only the goal is to get to the restaurant instead of the house. This game works great with my Asian food flash/memory game cards:

Assuming you're playing this with food flash cards, here are the rules:

  1. Give each player a game piece (a magnet).
  2. Have them play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who goes first, second, third, and so on.
  3. Students must answer a question from one of the food flash cards. I have designed Asian food flash cards because it's my opinion that students have more use for saying something like "rice ball" or "pork cutlet" in Japan than, say, "taco."
  4. If they are wrong, they must move back one space.
  5. If they are right, they roll a die.
  6. If it lands on 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, move forward one space.
  7. If it lands on 6, that means the player moves forward two spaces.
  8. The first player to the restaurant wins.

The Rilakkuma Game
27. The Rilakkuma Game
This is a less violent clone of Hangman, sans the gallows and hanging man. It is great for practicing spelling. It is best not to tell the students in advance that they are assembling Rilakkuma; they will find it much more entertaining when they lose a game if they suddenly see a Rilakkuma materialize in front of them. Here are the directions, which are basically the same as Hangman:
  1. Choose a word, but don't tell it to the STs.
  2. Write several spaces on the board corresponding to the number of letters in the word. For example, for "PRINCESS," write "_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _."
  3. Have STs take turns guessing letters. If the guess of a letter is correct, write that letter in the appropriate space.
  4. If the letter is wrong, draw the left leg, the right leg, the left arm, the right arm, attach the body (a magnet made from cardboard) and last of all, the head (also made from cardboard), depending on whether the letter they got wrong was the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th letter that they got wrong.
  5. If the Rilakkuma has been fully assembled, it is equivalent to a Hangman: GAME OVER.
  6. If someone successfully guesses the word, that ST/team wins.

The Set of Cards That Can Be Used with This Game
28. The Asian Places Game
This game is good for teaching students words like "Shintō Shrine" and "cram school" that are relevant to their lives. Textbook series like Let's Go teach places, but there is a definite western bias. Such textbooks will teach "house" or "school" or "church" without bothering to teach words that Japanese, Taiwanese, etc. children actually might use — words like "apartment building" (far more relevant than "house" in East Asia), "temple," etc. Basically, the purpose of this game is to drill these seven words from the flash cards. Here are the rules:
  1. Scatter the cards around the room.
  2. Pick an ST (student).
  3. Start a stopwatch.
  4. See how long it takes the ST to reach the seventh card. Yell out things like "Go to the temple!" "Go to the cram school!" "Go to the apartment building!" until the ST has reached the last of the cards. Try to make sure each ST travels an equal distance for the purpose of fairness.
  5. Write the completion times on the board. Whichever ST gets the fastest time wins the game.

A sticky ball has been thrown at the board. Team 1 (the team that threw it) gets one point, and a circle is drawn around it.

Team 2 throws. The sticky ball sticks to a blank space. Team 2 also gets one point, and a circle is drawn around where their sticky ball landed.

Team 1's turn again — the sticky ball lands on a circle instead of a blank space. Team 1 loses one point. Team 1's score is now 0, and Team 2's score is still 1 (so Team 2 is winning).

29. The Circle Game
This is not to be confused with the earlier "Circling Game." This game is, like that game, very, very simple. Only a whiteboard, a sticky ball, and a marker are required. Here are the rules:
  1. Divide the class into two (or more) teams.
  2. Have a player throw the sticky ball at the board.
  3. If the sticky ball lands on an empty space, give that student a point. Then draw a circle around where the sticky ball hit.
  4. However, if the sticky ball lands on a previously-drawn circle, draw an X where the sticky ball just landed. Subtract a point from that player's team!
  5. This game starts out easy but gets harder and harder when there is less "real estate" on the board.
  6. The team with the most points at the end of the time allotted by the teacher is the winning team (so this game can be either short or long).

A Deck of Halloween Memory Cards
30. Halloween Memory
This is just memory, but in this version, the teacher calls out the names of Halloween-themed cards as the STs flip them over. In doing this, it helps STs learn Halloween-themed words like "witch" and "bat." At present, there is no picture to the left since the cards are property of, and were illustrated by, Big Apple International School of English. Here are the rules:
  1. There are 12 pairs of Halloween-themed cards.
  2. Lay them out on the table (a 6x4 or 4x6 configuration is best) and have students take turns flipping over two.
  3. If a ST gets a match, that ST gets to keep the match and go again.
  4. When all the cards have been collected, the player with the most matches wins. It's just regular Memory.
31. The Fall Game
This game is useful to drill Halloween and Thanksgiving vocabulary words. It can also be used with regular classroom English questions.

Heads = 2
Tails = 1

  1. Flip a coin to move. See "Movement."
  2. If a player encounters a jack-o-lantern, that player can only make the jump by answering Halloween questions correctly, [or] for the turkey, Thanksgiving questions.
  3. If a player lands on a blank space, just ask that player generic classroom questions (this is optional).
  4. The first player to "FINISH" wins!

The Zelda Game
32. Teacher Charles' Zelda Game
This is a somewhat complicated, time-consuming game similar to the Dragon Quest Board Game. To be honest, I don't really recommend it unless your class has a lot of time to kill.

For rules, see #20, the Dragon Quest Board Game. However, the enemies are different. Rather than blue slimes, there are octoroks. Rather than red slimes, there are Zoras. Rather than leveling up after battle, people can increase their characters' life by picking up heart containers (start each ST with three). Rather than an inn, there is a fairy. The goal of the game is to get the Master Sword. Aside from that, the rules (gameplay, movement, random encounters, etc.) are the same as the Dragon Quest Board Game (#20). Or make up your own rules. Just have fun. This game can be interspersed with English words to be educational, and also practices directions.

In this picture: language flash cards, a BINGO board, and BINGO chips
33. Language BINGO
If some of the previous games have been light on the learning, this game should be a relief. It is explicitly meant to teach seven vocabulary words: "English," "Chinese," "Japanese," "Korean," "Russian," "Portuguese," and "French." You might wonder why I had Portuguese on there, and it's because Japan has a large minority of Brazilians surpassed only by the Chinese and Koreans living here (and their languages are represented in this game, too). Why is Russian on here? Because Russia is Japan's closest neighbor (look at a map of how close Hokkaidō and Sakhalin come). The Asian languages should all be obvious choices, as should English, but I digress.

The rules are the same as standard BINGO:

  1. Every ST starts with a different BINGO board, which doesn't have any chips on it.
  2. I recommend eight chips per student for this game.
  3. The teacher calls out language words in a random order.
  4. The first ST to get three-in-a-row calls out "BINGO!"
  5. The teacher checks that those language words have indeed been called, and if so, that ST wins.

The Pok\E9mon Game
34. The Pok\E9mon Game
Many Japanese kids love Pok\E9mon. Of my students, Takahiro-kun and Atsuhiro-kun (both in elementary school) both have Pok\E9mon pencil cases. Miho-chan (sixth grade) tells me about how she plays Pok\E9mon in her free time, and Kohei-kun (now going to Osaka University) once told me that the Pok\E9mon movie was his favorite movie. So, with all this love for Pok\E9mon, it seems to make sense to make a Pok\E9mon-themed game.

Here are the rules:

  1. Hide the four Pok\E9mon pictures around the room. Hide them in obvious places for little kids, and more difficult places for older kids.
  2. Give the STs a time limit, for example, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, etc. to find as many of the Pok\E9mon pictures as they can. If there are two STs, they will both hunt at the same time.
  3. Take the pictures that they found and put them in a box. The ST who caught the Pok\E9mon gets three tries to throw the "Pok\E9ball" (actually a paper bowl with Pok\E9ball decoration) over the Pok\E9mon he just "encountered."
  4. For example, let's say that Iroha-chan found a Squirtle. Take the Squirtle, place it about five feet away from Iroha-chan, and have her attempt to throw the Pok\E9ball over the Squirtle three times. If she succeeds on one of the three tries, she has "caught" the Pok\E9mon.
  5. Whichever ST "catches" the most Pok\E9mon at the end of the game wins.
35. Obstacle Bowling
This game can be interspersed with various Q&A to make it educational. It's basically the same as Simple Bowling, except with obstacles. Here are the rules:
  1. The rules are the same as Simple Bowling (#12 on this listing of games) except for the following points.
  2. There is a wall made of Duplos that can deflect the bowling ball.
  3. There is a foam ramp that allows the bowling ball to gain some height.
  4. There are some little Duplo people and a couple of stuffed Santa Clauses. Hitting any of these while bowling and knocking them over results in -1 point for hitting a Duplo person or -2 points for hitting a Santa Claus. These points are only deducted if the object is knocked over, however (so if the Duplo person or Santa Claus is merely brushed by the ball, but the position does not change, do not deduct points).
36. The Thanksgiving Game
This is a good game for Thanksgiving week. I recommend teaching the students words like "turkey," "Pilgrim," "pumpkin," and "corn" using the pictures on the game or the attached flash cards. It is also very quick, which is good for time-starved lessons. Warning: it can be extremely short (if a player rolls a 6 and then a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 in the next round, that player will win in a mere two rounds). To counter this, it might be wise to play the game multiple times.

Here are the rules:

  1. Have all the players choose colored magnets/chips/etc. to use as game pieces.
  2. Place the game pieces on "START."
  3. Player order can be determined using Scissors, Paper, Stone.
  4. Players roll a standard six-sided die and move based on the roll.
  5. If a player lands on a red arrow square, that player must move ahead or backward that number of spaces.
  6. If a player lands on the piece switch icon, switch that player's piece with the other player's piece (and if there are three or more players, come up with some other rule on how to handle it — this document only addresses this as a two-player game).
  7. If a player lands on a treasure chest, give that student the indicated amount of in-classroom tokens/money.
  8. The first player to the turkey wins. To make the students laugh, have the turkey "gobble up" the winning piece, then either vomit it back out or poop it out (use sound effects to make the students laugh).

Christmas-Themed Rock, Paper, Scissors
37. Christmas-Themed Rock, Paper, Scissors
Christmas is coming! December will start this week! Let's play Christmas-themed Rock, Paper, Scissors! Here are the rules:
  1. Rock beats scissors, but is defeated by paper!
  2. Paper beats rock, but is defeated by scissors!
  3. Scissors beats paper, but is defeated by rock!
38. Christmas POGS
This is a good game for Christmas time. The POGS are both fun for kids (especially elementary school-aged children) to flip, and also double as mini flash cards for Christmas vocabulary. They can even be laid out on the floor/table to tell a story (for example, "SANTA CLAUS, who lives near a SNOW MAN at the North Pole, gets into his SLEIGH which has REINDEER pulling it and goes down the CHIMNEY and into the FIREPLACE and puts the PRESENTS under the CHRISTMAS TREE and into the STOCKING").

The rules are quite simple:

  1. Stack the Christmas POGS in a column, brown side up.
  2. Players take turns throwing the 500-yen coin (or other round, high-density object being used as a slammer) at the stack.
  3. POGS that flip so their picture sides are up are kept by the player who flipped them.
  4. Once either all the POGS have been flipped, or once the time is up, the player with the most POGS wins. Ties are broken with scissors, paper, stone.

The game is very simple to construct. Simply cut out 20 or so cardboard (available from the hyaku yen mise for 100 yen) circles a couple of inches in diameter and draw Christmas-themed pictures on one side. Use a 500 yen coin or other heavy "slammer" object (erasers work well for this, as well). The poster is optional, but the diagram helps the students understand what they need to do.

Exhibit A: Six Cups with a Grinch Sticker on Them

Exhibit B: A Crossbow

39. Grinch Shooting
This isn't really that educational, but can be fun, because kids like the crossbow. Just attach a Grinch decal to each cup (I just drew the Grinch's face, took a picture of it, and then printed it six times, cut out the print-outs, and glued them onto the cups). And get a crossbow. Then the rules are as follows:
  1. Stack the cups in a pyramid shape.
  2. STs take turns shooting at the pyramid from a fixed distance (shorter for younger kids, longer for older kids). If the ST misses the first time, give the ST a second shot.
  3. If a cup is flipped or tipped over, it counts as a point.
  4. After each turn, re-stack the cups.
  5. Whenever the time for this activity runs out, the game is over, so it is good in that it can fit into many lengths of lessons.
  6. The ST with the most points wins.

The Peg Board Puzzle Game
40. The Peg Board Puzzle Game
This game, admittedly, has little educational value, but it can be a fun break from class, especially when teaching one-on-one, because it is a solitaire-type game (no second player required). Here are the rules:
  1. Arrange the pegs so there is only one empty hole on the board. There should be 14 pegs and one hole (anywhere is OK).
  2. Jump one peg over another. Remove the jumped peg from play.
  3. When no more jumps can be made, count the board pegs. Look at the IQ chart!
  4. What's your IQ?
    One peg = 140
    Two pegs = 120
    Three pegs = 100
    Four pegs = 80
    Five pegs (yes, I have seen games happen with five pegs remaining) = 60

Subjects Memory Cards
41. Subjects Memory
This is simply a Memory game. The educational aim is to teach subjects/personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, and they). They can be used both as flash cards for teaching that, and as a game, or both. Here are the rules:
  1. Shuffle the cards.
  2. Lay them out on the floor or on the table in a 4x4 configuration; the last row, of course, won't be completely full.
  3. Have each ST take turns flipping only two cards at a time.
  4. If the ST gets a match, that ST can try again with two more cards.
  5. When all the cards have been collected (or when time runs out), the game is over. The person with the most pairs wins.

Hotter & Colder Game Memory Cards
42. Hotter & Colder Game
This game is good for teaching temperatures. Make six flashcards/memory cards with pictures on them like the somewhat crude ones to the left. I made them for "warm," "hot," "hotter," "cool," "cold," and "colder." Quiz the STs on these and drill them until the STs know them. Then play this game:
  1. Pick a student. Tell that student to close his/her eyes and count down from 10.
  2. Hide the treasure chest, made out of cardboard, somewhere in the room. Try to mislead the student by opening and closing drawers loudly or shuffling papers around loudly and not actually hiding the treasure chest in either of these locations.
  3. Have the student open his/her eyes.
  4. Give prompts like "hotter" or "colder" every time the student moves ("Hotter!" if the student gets closer, or "Colder!" if the student gets farther away).
  5. When the student gets very close, say "Very hot!" or "Very, very hot!" or "Very, very, very hot!"
  6. Once the student finds the treasure chest, repeat the above steps, only this time, the student who just found the treasure chest gets to hide it while another student closes his/her eyes.

Kurohige Kiki Ippatsu Poster That I Made Myself
43. The Pirate and Barrel Game
This game is known in Japan as kurohige kiki ippatsu. It is made out of plastic. Unfortunately, my boss threw it away before I could take a picture, so the reader only has the picture to the left to go on; here are the rules
  1. The players put the pirate into the plastic barrel, pushing down the spring-loaded ejector mechanism.
  2. Ask questions in English to the students. When they answer, let them stick swords into the barrel (plastic swords colored red, yellow, green, and blue, which are also useful for practicing colors with young children). Make sure they really jam the swords in there hard, or the mechanism may not be tripped!
  3. Eventually, some student is going to stick a sword into the danger spot, and the pirate will fly up out of the barrel. That player is the loser!

The Snowboarding Game Game Board with Marble
44. The Snowboarding Game
This game, although possessing little educational value, can still be used to reward STs who have answered a question successfully. It takes very little time, too, which is good in those lessons when there isn't much time. Here are the rules:
  1. The ST places the marble (i.e. "the snowboarder") on the START circle.
  2. The ST grips the board with two hands.
  3. The ST tilts the board and attempts to maneuver the marble past the obstacles and into one of the three cups (points for each cup are marked on the board).
  4. This can be repeated with as many STs and for as many rounds as necessary.
  5. When the time is up for this game, total the points that each ST got. The ST with the highest total is the winner.

Verbs Quiz Show
49. Verbs Quiz Show
This game is good for practicing verbs. Use it with either beginners and/or young learners (YL). Here are the rules:
  1. Quiz each ST on all seven cards.
  2. A student gets 2 points for a correct answer, 1 point for a mispronunciation that is still on the right track, and 0 points for either a completely wrong answer or not being able to answer the question.
  3. Total up the points. Any student who gets 14 points is a winner. If no one got 14 points, the student with the highest score is the winner.
Remember, when working with YLs, they often get "word fatigue" — that is, no matter how many times you drill a word in one class, they still won't remember it and will forget it even seconds later. To solve this problem, it is better to drill the same group of flash cards for one minute over 30 classes than to drill the same flash cards for 30 minutes in one class.

Poster Explaining How to Play Marbles
50. Marbles
Marbles (known in Japanese as biidama [ビー玉]) are a great game for times when the teacher doesn't have much time to prepare a game. Marble sets can be bought at a ¥100 store (plus sales tax, of course, which is set to go up). This game can be made educational by asking the STs questions and eliciting answers from them before each turn.
  1. Set up a circle of string on the floor about 3' wide and with tape on both sides. Lay out the 13 regular marbles as shown in the picture.
  2. Players take turns flicking the "shooter" (yellow marble) into the ring from outside.
  3. However, on subsequent rounds the shooter is shot from its previous location (not outside the ring), unless it went outside the ring.
  4. The player who knocks the most marbles out of the ring (and therefore keeps them) is the winner.

Wh- Question Word Memory Cards (right) with Poster (left)
52. Wh- Question Word Memory
This game is a good one for practicing wh- question words (and "how"). I have noticed when teaching at commercial English schools in both Taiwan and Japan than many STs, including ones who have been learning English for many years, often don't know all the wh- question words, yet these words are so important to speaking and understanding English. To make this game and poster, simply write out the seven question words with the Japanese (or other L1) translations and maybe draw some pictures for visuals. Then photocopy two photocopies of that sheet. Mount the original on poster board and cut out the other two sheets and mount them on cards. Use them as a Memory game. Use them as flash cards, too. Here are the rules, which are the same as standard Memory:
  1. Shuffle the cards.
  2. Lay out the 14 cards on the table, preferably in a 4x4 configuration, except for the last line, which will have only two cards).
  3. STs take turns flipping over only two per turn. If a student gets a match, that ST gets to keep the pair and try flipping another two.
  4. The ST with the most pairs wins the game.

Misc. Visuals

These are my flash cards for parts of the body. I used them for lesson demos when I first arrived in Japan, and later to teach parts of the body. Note that I chose the eight parts that correspond to the lyrics in "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," which makes it easy to do that song/dance with the STs after quizzing them on the flash cards.

I prepared this illustrated set of Humpty Dumpty lyrics for the party that we had to which the parents and students were invited. We sang it with the song on the CD at Big Apple. One of the mothers sang it in an opera voice, no joke.

Student Artwork

Left: Maya's Hand Turkey (12 years old), Center: Moe's Hand Turkey (13 years old), Right: Sarah's Hand Turkey (seven years old)