ESL Zoom/Online Games and Activities

Updated: Feb 17

Zoom classes...


Like them or not, it's important as educators to make sure students are having fun during online lessons. Whether you're reading this now in 2020 or in a post-pandemic future, online games might help make your online lessons enjoyable for everyone.


I used these games for Korean aged 7-year-olds at a hagwon, so I'm hoping that they can translate well over multiple ESL or other language lessons.


I Spy

This game can either be 0 prep, and use the students' or teacher's background, or use a picture related to material being learned. We were learning about bridges, so I made a multi-picture background and gave clues like materials used or color. Making it easy to review material in a more engaging way! I like to use Google Drive's photo collage to make this, but you can also use photo collage maker to create a bigger variety!


Kaboom Virtual

I love Kaboom for phonics. Kaboom is a simple no-winners game for phonics or vocabulary review. Students will (usually) draw a Popsicle stick from a cup, read the word, and keep the stick as the reward. If they can't read the stick, they have to put the stick back in and can try again the next round. Because the cup goes around the whole class, everyone stays engaged to see who gets the dreaded KABOOM! stick. If they draw KABOOM!, they have to put all their sticks in the cup. This way there are no winners, just an endless game of giggles.


But when there are no Popsicle sticks, making a virtual spinning wheel works just as well. Use your current phonics lesson (or use it for vocabulary!) and let the kids spin and answer. Unfortunately, this version would have a "winner" if you allow points to restart on Kaboom! Or make it your own type of game.


I like to include words that are a bit more complex, just so I know that they are applying the skills we have learned in phonics.


My favorite online wheel that accomplishes what I need for this virtual version is at Wheel of Names. What's great is that I can adjust the colors, sounds, and how fast the wheel spins.



Phonics Hangman

While I'd like to think I'm original with this, there's probably someone else who also plays this with their kiddos. I set up a whole sentence and the hangman platform. I then make sounds that are in the sentence. For example, if my sentence was "Ms. Sophia, I need the toilet!" (I make them say the silliest things), I could say a "z" sound for the "Ms." If they make "incorrect" guesses for that sound, I write the letter(s) and draw a part of the hangman. If they get the letter(s) correct, I will erase the drawn parts so that they always start fresh with each phoneme.


~Some sentences that I've used~

Ms. Sophia, I need the toilet! (oi, z, f, ee, th, etc.)

Mr. _____ thinks I'm silly.

I like to eat peanut butter and jelly.

I am a cutie pie.

I can't eat lunch today.


You could make this more difficult with fewer words, harder sounds, or permanent body parts for the hangman. I like to draw "permanent body parts" if they guess an incorrect sentence before the board is filled up.


I heard there's some controversy for using the term "hangman," so I started to create "snowman" instead.



For a guided learning experience, you can also have a student create a sentence and give the sounds for others (or you) to play. Have them write down their sentence first, and then create the spaces on the screen. This makes them apply their phonemic awareness as they spell out words. If they have incorrect spelling, at least they're applying their phonics skills!



Guess Who

This one might take a bit of prep work. If you're teaching, you can use faculty that the children know. If you're tutoring online, you could use celebrities or other people that your student(s) know.


To play, show a screen full with people they know. Pick a person at random and write it down away from where the kids can see your answer. Have students ask questions that give them clues to who it could or could not be. If on Zoom, let the kids annotate and cross out who they know it can't be. Let them ask questions until they figure out who! Show them your card as "proof."


If not on Zoom, this may be a bit trickier as students need to keep track of who you are not thinking about.


Each month a student gets to take pictures as one of my classroom jobs, so I used pictures from there too. Lot's of fun, and it makes students feel great when they see their work being used as a classroom tool.


Is this person a boy or a girl?

Is this person wearing black?

Does this person have long or short hair?

Is it _______?



Same as I Spy, I like to use Google's photo collage in Drive, but they only allow up to nine in a collage. To make a board with multiple photos for a game like this, I use photo collage maker. This board can use up to 30! Playing with nine, however, is easier for online with Google Drive.


Spot the Difference

Got a basket and some random small items? Play spot the difference with your camera! Point the camera toward the basket full of goodies, count to 20, cover the lens, take out an item or two, and have children see if they can spot the difference!


Zoomed In

This one is minimal prep. Choose a pdf (prefered) image, zoom in until just pixels are visible, and share your screen. Keep zooming out little by little until someone can guess the photo!



It's not much, but these games have saved boredom during difficult zoom lessons! Comment some more ideas if you have them!




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