4 Fast Fun Fillers: Games for ELL Break Time

Breaks are important, but that does not mean you have to waste them. Choose any of the four activities below to engage students in a fun way without taking up a lot of time either in class or at home. I have mentioned the first two in blog posts of their own, but that was quite a while ago, so I will take this opportunity to refresh your memory before introducing two new resources.

1. Vocab & Grammar Quizzes
is a free site that students can use to practice a variety of subjects, including English vocabulary and English grammar, by answering multiple-choice questions. Start at a low level and work your way up. Visitors to the site support a good cause with 10 grains of rice being donated to the World Food Programme for every correct answer. Although a very basic concept, I often give myself just 5 minutes to visit Freerice and then get sucked into the “Just one more question.” mentality. There is no need to sign up unless you want to track your totals. If you have a competitive group of students, this might be an additional motivator. (See my previous blog on Freerice.)

2. Leveled Communication & Math Games
is a free app that helps users improve their communication and math skills. While users are able to play three games a day for an unlimited time, I often just find myself going through each one once, which takes no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Reading, writing, listening, speaking, and basic math are all addressed in different activities that are enjoyable to play and beautifully designed. The activities adjust to the level of the user, so while I personally find them challenging at the levels I am at, my students are also able to benefit from playing at levels that challenge them without being impossible. (See my previous blog on Elevate.)

3. Word Puzzles
Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker is free, too! While the site looks a little dated, it is easy to use and allows educators to make activities such as word searches, crosswords, and double puzzles that students can enjoy doing while still engaging with words or topics you are using in the classroom. Once you have everything the way you want it, simply download and print the PDF worksheet and key. Depending on their age and level, students may be able to create the puzzles individually, in pairs, or in groups and that could serve as a good review too.

4. Image Puzzles
Finally, Jigsaw Planet is a website that turns images into digital puzzles. I realize that puzzling might not come to mind when you think about the ESL classroom, but hear me out. Students need to take breaks from time to time. Puzzling, just like coloring, can help people relieve stress and take a little mental break. What I did with Jigsaw Planet was not very elegant from a tech perspective, but I worked with the resources I had and have included the steps below for reference.

  1. In Word, I typed up a sample paragraph to go along with a beginner writing journal assignment and took a screenshot of it using the “print screen” button on my keyboard.
  2. In PowerPoint, I pasted the screenshot on a blank slide, cropped it, and saved it as a picture.
  3. In Jigsaw Planet, I created a new puzzle by clicking “Create,” choosing my image, and completing the little form.
  4. Then, still in Jigsaw Planet, I clicked “Share” and selected “Embed.” There are many ways to share your puzzles, but I chose to embed this one in D2L, so that students could see it on the same page as the related assignment.

In this case, students were not required to do the puzzle, but if they wanted to see an example and took the 5-minute break from English to put it together, then it was there for them as an added resource. If you wanted to use images as writing or discussion prompts, puzzles could work there, too.

These four resources may be simple in design and easy to overlook, but for the small investment in time, I think they deliver great returns for students in terms of stress relief and engagement. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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5 Responses to 4 Fast Fun Fillers: Games for ELL Break Time

  1. Burch Pope says:

    Time is so valuable during the school day! It is also important for students to have breaks and a chance to move around to keep their minds fresh and ready to learn. These review games are great ways to have EL students practice skills they are learning in class without the pressure of a formal assessment or peer interactions. With activities to practice vocabulary, math skills, communication skills, these are some excellent resources. I love the puzzle idea! What a great way to get students thinking about language! Thank you for sharing these brain break ideas.

  2. Megan Allensworth says:

    Technology is so important in our world and every day life nowadays! I like how the apps and computer resources you listed could be used at school or at home and they seem fairly easy to understand and students can quickly get the hang of how they are played. “Brain Breaks” are something that teachers are doing more and more of in their classrooms and I like that you mentioned that the time used for these breaks should be used wisely and shouldn’t be a waste of time – using this time for review, especially for EL students, is so important!

  3. Ken says:

    I like this idea of taking a break whilst maintaining engagement in the topic, some great inspiration and places to start with.

  4. Pamela Minet says:

    I absolutely love the freerise app. It is really fun and serves a unique and helpful purpose in the world. I love that fact that i took a few minutes to relax and play wordgames and I sent a bunch of rice, as well. I am sure that my USC international graduate students will benefit from this and enjoy it, too. Thanks!

  5. Lenore Cardoza says:

    Thank you! Great sites for my adult ESOL classes!

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