Board Games for the ESL/EFL Classroom

Hello everyone, and welcome back to another installment of the games and learning blog. In last month’s blog post, we looked at Minecraft as a standout video game for the classroom. This month, we go analogue and take a look at three great tabletop games for the ESL classroom.


Dixit is a guessing game in which players select from a series of cards all featuring dreamlike images. The game begins with each player drawing six cards. Then, one player serves as the storyteller. The storyteller examines their six cards, then chooses one of the cards and creates a sentence that describes the image on their card. It’s critical that the storyteller does not describe the card too accurately, but instead crafts a sentence that leaves room for interpretation.

After the storyteller has created their sentence, the other players choose from their own cards the card that most closely relates to the sentence provided by the storyteller. Then, each player gives their selected card to the storyteller while keeping it secret from the remaining players. The storyteller then shuffles the cards and lays them out for everyone to see.

At this stage of the game, each player uses a numbered chip to vote on which card they think belongs to the storyteller. What’s critical is if everyone guesses the storyteller’s card, each player, except the storyteller, scores two points. If no player correctly guesses the storyteller’s card, everyone but the storyteller scores two points. This requires the storyteller to carefully consider their sentence to strike a balance between too easy and too challenging. Players can also score points by having other players incorrectly vote their card as the storyteller’s card.


Gloom is a tongue-in-cheek macabre game where the goal is to kill off your family of eccentric characters by making their day as miserable as possible. The characters can be punctured by porcupines, taunted by tigers, or swindled by a salesman. As each player strives to make their family as miserable as possible, players can work to raise the spirits of the other players’ families. Each of the actions, be it misery or happiness, lowers or raises the life points of the characters. The first player to dispatch their entire family wins.

What makes Gloom a great addition to the language classroom is the storytelling aspect to the game. Though not required, players are encouraged to weave a narrative thread between each of the terrible or positive events that befall their characters. After the game, language learners could further expand on this idea by writing paragraph summations of all that happened to each of their characters.

The Resistance

The Resistance is one of a number of social deduction games, such as Werewolf, The Coup, or Witchhunt. In these games, the players all work toward a common goal; however, one or several players work to conspire against the group. The language and communication aspects of the game revolve around players trying to convince one another who is a villain and who is a hero.

In The Resistance, players battle against an oppressive corporate regime that has infiltrated the resistance fighters with spies. Each round begins with all players being secretly assigned the role of a resistance fighter or a spy. At the start of each round, a player is designated the leader who then decides which of the players to send on a mission. Then, all players vote on whether the mission team is acceptable. Once a mission team has been selected, any spy on the team can opt to sabotage the mission. Should a mission fail, the players can then debate who on the team was the spy, so they can be excluded from future missions. As the number of missions increases, the tension grows and the spies must work harder to keep their cover while the resistance fighters must try and prove their innocence.

Each of these games work great as a classroom activity with each having an average playtime of 30 minutes. Of course, as with any board game, the first play through can take longer as players learn the rules and rhythms of the game.

Until next month, play more games!


About Jeff Kuhn

Jeff Kuhn is the director of esports at Ohio University. He frequently delivers talks and keynote addresses on games and learning, game design, and the need for games literacy in educators. He is one of the founding moderators of the Electronic Village Online’s Minecraft MOOC, a community of practice for teachers learning to use Minecraft in the classroom. He has served on the TESOL CALL-IS steering committee, as the Gaming Special Interest Group chair for CALICO, and in the U.S. Department of State’s English Language Specialist program. His research interests include game-based learning, second language writing, and computer-assisted language learning.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.