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Top 10 best board games for teaching English

If you are an English teacher and you are looking for an easy way to add a little more spice into your lessons, here are a few games that every EFL / ESL teacher should have.  There are loads of good reasons why board games are a great addition to any classroom, and they are especially good things to have when you’ve got high-level classes like First (FCE), Advanced (CAE), Proficiency (CPE) and IELTS.  With these ten boxes of brilliance in your suitcase and the right lesson plan (follow the links!), you can be sure that a fun and useful English lesson is only moments away.

1)  Snake Oil

Snake Oil is a party game where the players create a products to pitch to prospective buyers.  The game is a lot of fun and it is extremely rich linguistically.

Good for practicing: relative clauses, describing, pronunciation of compound nouns, linking ideas, clauses of contrast, negative inversion for emphasis, making a convincing pitch.

2)  Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

In Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, players have to work together solve a murder case based on some clues that they are given.  The kicker is that one of the players will be the murderer! In fact there are a total of 5 different roles available, and these are randomly allocated at the outset with each role playing quite differently.

Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2900207/deception-murder-hong-kong (Bojan Brankov)
Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2900207/deception-murder-hong-kong (Bojan Brankov)

Good for practicing: comparing and contrasting, vocabulary (common, everyday items.  Oh, and numerous causes of death), present speculation, making accusations, agreeing and disagreeing, making a persuasive argument, the passive for emphasising an action when the actor is unknown,giving a brief narrative.

3)  Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples is one of the classics.  From what I hear, it’s been quite popular in the US as a family game for some time, but it’s only recently popped onto my radar.  It is a fantastically versatile game and is a great way of engaging students to practice lots of different kinds of vocabulary.  From the original adjective version, all the way to idioms.

Source: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51Guzm7jx%2BL.jpg
Source: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51Guzm7jx%2BL.jpg

Good for practicing: vocabulary (general + most idioms), persuading, explaining, describing.

4)  Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time has a long tradition in education, both mainstream and EFL.  So much in fact, that I almost feel a bit cheeky writing about it, to be honest.  I only decided to write about it as it seems to have criminally fallen off the radar in recent years.

Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/1494710/once-upon-time-storytelling-card-game (Laszlo Stadler)
Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/1494710/once-upon-time-storytelling-card-game (Laszlo Stadler)

Good for practicing: narrative tenses (past progressive, past perfect simple/progressive), storytelling, vocabulary (fairy tales and folk tales).

5)  Man Bites Dog

Tabloids are fascinating.  It’s extremely interesting how most are specifically written in order to be easily understood by the average native speaker, while at the same time remaining almost completely incomprehensible to most high-level learners.

Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/385652/man-bites-dog (University Games)
Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/385652/man-bites-dog (University Games)

Good for practicing: passive forms, vocabulary (the kind of slang you see in tabloids), sentence structure and word order, narrative tenses, sensitivity to formal and informal register.

6)  FunEmployed

Funemployed sells itself as a satirical party game.  It is not wrong. It’s a lot of fun both in the classroom and over a few drinks with some less prudish friends.  Players need to be able to both think on their feet and spin a good yarn.  In short, this is a game for bullsh*tters.  With the right group, FunEmployed is absolutely splendid.

Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2311804/funemployed (IronWall/Urban Island Games
Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2311804/funemployed (IronWall/Urban Island Games

Good for practicing: clauses of purpose, linking and organising ideas, negative inversion for emphasis, cleft sentences

7)  Sheriff of Nottingham

Sheriff of Nottingham is one of the few games which works just fine straight out of the box.  If you’ve never heard of or played Sheriff of Nottingham (SoN), then you should definitely try it twice.  Why twice?  Because you’ll learn so much about the game the first play through, that it’d be a shame not to play it again.

Good for practicing: negotiating, bartering and haggling, agreeing and disagreeing, real conditionals (making suggestions), hesitating.

8)  Pandemic

In Pandemic, players cooperate to save humankind from four aggressive and fatal diseases.  They have to work together closely, use their unique abilities and carefully plan their moves if they want to be successful in finding the four cures and winning the game.

Source: http://www.zmangames.com/store/p25/Pandemic.html (ZMan Games)
Source: http://www.zmangames.com/store/p25/Pandemic.html (ZMan Games)

Good for practicing: the names of nations and places, polite suggesting, agreeing and disagreeing as part of collaborative decision making, using real conditionals for speculating about solutions to problems.

 9)  Mysterium / Tajemnicze Domostwo

Tormented spirits, psychedelic dreams and a murder most foul.  Can your budding detectives discover who committed the crime?

mysterium-vision (Erik Gillespie)

Good for practicing: present speculation, describing abstract images, comparing and contrasting, hedging (sounding less certain), agreeing and disagreeing.

10)  Wits and Wagers

A really neat twist on a trivia game, where it doesn’t matter if you are right, but whether or not you can guess which of the other teams is right.

Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/253183/wits-wagers (Dominic Crapuchettes)
Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/253183/wits-wagers (Dominic Crapuchettes)

Good for practicing: present speculation, numbers, measures, comparing and contrasting, hedging (sounding less certain), agreeing and disagreeing.

As you can see, there are some really solid academic reasons for using games in class.  They are excellent tools in ELT and teachers should make much more use of them.  If you’d like to learn more, don’t forget to hit subscribe to hear about the latest ideas and the latest games – straight to your inbox!

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