“Let the games begin”

Sparkling themed language activities for any level student

As Andy Williams beautifully stated: it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas! For all those busy teachers out there who are in need of some fresh ideas just before the holidays: here are some useful language activities in order to sprinkle a little of so wanted Christmas sparkle on top of your lessons.


This activity is perfect for all level language students, up to 10 people. It’s perfect if you’d like to broaden vocabulary or boost fluency coming up with the right words. Divide your class into two groups. Let each group pick a colour and an animal, and this will be their unique group name. For example: the Blue Monkeys versus the Green Cats. Bring a ping-pong ball or another little ball that is less jumpy. Let the teams sit each at the opposite side of a table. Name a category, suitable for the level of the students, for example “What can you decorate the Christmas tree with?”. Let them think for a second before starting the game. A student answers this question, passing the ball to a member of the other team and he/she needs to reply quickly. A team gets a point if the other team takes too much time (you decide), gives a wrong answer or says a word that’s already been said. Play until 10 points, naming different categories such as “Christmas presents”, “Christmas song titles”, “Who/What was present during the birth of Jesus Christ?”, “Christmas decorations”, “Things to eat/drink at Christmas” and “Family members that sit around the Christmas dinner table”. Fun guaranteed!

Tic tac toe

Using the tenses. Draw a tic-tac-toe table on the blackboard. Write in each of the 9 squares a different tense, such as Present Simple, Past simple, Simple future (will, to be going to), Present Continuous, Past Continuous, Future Continuous, Present perfect, Past perfect, Future Perfect etc. Divide the students into two groups. Let a group pick a square and let them create a sentence using the tense written in the square adjusted to the theme you have selected. For example: (Present Continuous) ‘My father is decorating the Christmas Tree’. If the level of the students is higher, let them add at least one preposition or adjective. Also an option: create some cards with three words that the students have to insert in the sentence, for example a verb, an adjective and a noun. If the given answer is right, the group may draw an X or a O into the square. If they give the wrong answer, the other group may try to give the right answer to obtain an X or an O. If they fail, the other tries another square. Of course, the group that obtains first three XXX or three OOO wins. For bigger groups, divide the group into two teams of two persons, or into couples, using a blank piece of paper with the tic-tac-toe table.

Matching game

Building vocabulary at speed. This activity needs a little prep, but is definitely worth the effort. It’s perfect for elementary or intermediate level students and sounds a bit like the ‘Spot it’ game that some of you already may know. Play this game in two groups, within each group max. 4 players. Think of 50 words (depending on the level, choose the words written in English or in their own language) and matching pictures in the theme you have chosen. Then, create about 40 blank square-shaped or circle-shaped cards (thick paper, size of a medium hand). Create 20 cards selecting randomly 5 words, and 20 cards selecting randomly 5 pictures, leaving a bit space between them. The objective of the game is to match the word with the right picture. To start the game, put both piles of cards on the table, face down. Then, turn a word and a picture card. The student who sees a matching word and picture, knocks on the table and may say the answer. Sometimes there’s no match and sometimes there is more than one match. For each match, the group receives 1 point. For any wrong answer, deduct a point until 0. The group that has the most point at the end of the game, wins.

Find the black sheep

Also this game needs a little prep. It’s great for conversation, building vocabulary and using reasoning while explaining your thoughts. Create, according to the level of the students, cards with four pictures and make sure one doesn’t fit in. For example, in Christmas theme, elementary level children aged 7 I select 4 pictures:  a Christmas tree, snow, Santa Claus and a the Easter Bunny. The students have to tell me which one doesn’t belong there and why. You can help the students creating the right sentence. For upper-intermediate level adult students, in Christmas theme, I select 4 pictures: a Christmas tree, baby Jesus, Santa Claus and a turkey. The Turkey doesn’t belong there because it concerns the Thanksgiving theme instead of Christmas. This is also an opportunity to speak about culture and festivities which are celebrated in the country where the studied language is spoken.

Of course, you can use the activities above for all kinds of themes, such as the four seasons, or Easter, the summer holidays or Halloween. Have fun!

Text by: Tineke van de Kerkhof

Dutch, married to an Italian man and raising a 2,5 year-old trilingual girl in Italy. Passionate about learning and development. Also about chocolate, playing the piano and travelling. Teacher and educational consultant with a Master’s degree in Science and Education.