We have all been in the situation as an ESL teacher where your perfectly planned material seems to run out quicker than expected. So what do we do when we have extra time in the ESL classroom? Whether it is 10 minutes or 60, these impromptu games are sure to get your students talking and make time fly.

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Reverse Taboo:

Choose one student to sit at the head of the class with their back to the board. Write something (word, name, phrase, sentence, etc.) on the board. The rest of the students then take turns giving clues until the student at the front guesses the correct word. To make it more difficult, limit each clue to one word.

Story Race:

Have each student write 5 verbs and 5 nouns on small pieces of paper (make sure there are no repeats!). Arrange the pieces of paper into two stacks, one of verbs and the other nouns. Split the class into teams and distribute the pieces of paper between the teams so each has an even number. Each team then gets a turn telling a coherent story using as many words as possible from their stacks of verbs and nouns. At the end of the allotted time count their words. Verbs = 2pts and Nouns = 1pt.

Spelling Competition:

For this activity you can recycle the stack of verbs and nouns or make a new set of words. Individually or in teams, bring one student to the front of the room. Give them a word to spell. If they can’t spell the word in the allotted time, the next person (or team) gets a chance to spell the same word. You can determine the points based on word difficulty.

What If:

This is a silly game better suited for higher levels. Each student writes a “What if” question on a small piece of paper. Next, they pass the paper to the right. The students answer the question, writing the answer on the back side of the paper. Again, they pass the papers to the right. The first student will begin by reading the “What if” question on the paper. The person to the right will then read the answer on the back of their paper. The results are often senseless but can be a good way to introduce humor into the group!

Guided Questions:

Write 5 to 10 words on the board. Each student must write down 5 questions using those words or surrounding those topics. Collect all the questions and make a pile. The students take turns pulling a question from the pile and asking the classmate of their choice.


Write 7 to 10 categories on the board (animals, food, household items, etc.).  Split the class into teams. Write a letter of the alphabet on the board. The students then race to write down a word for each category that starts with the chosen letter. The first team to finish yells, “Stop!”


Write a “things” sentence on the board such as: things you find in under the bed, things you wouldn’t say to a stranger, things you wouldn’t do for money, etc. Each student secretly writes their answer along with their name on a small piece of paper. Collect all answers. One by one, read the answers allowed and the students have to guess who said what.

Never Have I Ever:

This teenage classic is perfect for the ESL classroom. Students sit in a circle with ten fingers up. They take turns saying something they have never done (school appropriate). The students who HAVE done it must put one finger down. The last student with fingers up wins.


Split the class into teams and bring one student to the front of the room. The other teams take turns asking him or her a question. The student at the front of the class must answer the questions creatively, as they are not allowed to say yes or no, neither can they nod or shake their head. If they make it through the allotted amount of time without using the prohibited words, their team gets 5pts.

TtMadrid has lots of blogs that can give you plenty of ideas and materials for your ESL Classes!

sarah-carroll- impromptu-games-for.the-esl-classroom

Sarah, a California native, has been teaching English in Madrid for the last three years. When she is not in the classroom, Sarah enjoys cycling, trying new restaurants with friends and traveling. Follow her adventures on Instagram @sarahcarrrolll