10 Interactive ESL Online Games for Language and Critical Thinking Improvement

In today’s digital age, online games have become a popular and effective tool for teaching various skills, including English as a second language. Interactive ESL online games, such as digital escape rooms, scavenger hunts, critical thinking games, and media literacy games, are not only fun and engaging but also provide students with unique opportunities to improve their language skills.

In this article, we will explore the benefits of using interactive games for language learning, and discuss how these games can help students achieve their language goals.

1. Enhanced Engagement and Motivation

Interactive games provide a dynamic and interactive environment that makes language learning more enjoyable and memorable. This can lead to increased engagement and motivation for students to continue learning.

2. Real-Life Practice

Many games simulate real-life situations. This allows students to practice their language skills in relevant and practical ways.

3. Improved Critical Thinking Skills

Games that teach critical skills, such as spotting fake news and hoaxes, and media literacy, help students improve their critical thinking and media literacy skills. These skills are essential for success in today’s digital world and will help students in their personal and academic lives.

4. Customizable and Convenient

Interactive games offer customization options, allowing students to tailor the game to their language level and learning goals. With the ability to play these games on a variety of devices, students can access language learning opportunities from anywhere and at any time.

5. Measurable Progress

Interactive ESL online games provide students with immediate feedback, allowing them to see their progress and identify areas that need improvement. This helps students stay motivated and track their progress.

Here’s a list of 10 interactive ESL online games you should check out:

Bad News Game

The Bad News Game is all about spotting fake news and hoaxes. You’ll be presented with news articles and videos and have to figure out what’s real and what’s not. It’s a fun way to improve your critical thinking skills and learn to be a media-literate person. Get ready to be challenged and have a blast doing it!

Fake News Game

This game is similar to the Bad News Game. It will challenge you to think critically and evaluate information sources, helping you become a savvier news consumer. So, get ready to flex your brain muscles and have some fun!


Interland is a free, online multiplayer adventure game created by Google that teaches digital safety, security and citizenship skills to children. Players explore four fantastical lands, completing challenges and quests while learning how to protect their online privacy, spot fake news, and be good digital citizens.

Digital Escape Rooms

The digital escape rooms at Madison Library are a fun and exciting challenge. These online puzzles will test your problem-solving skills and critical thinking as you try to escape a virtual room within a limited time frame. Immerse yourself in a world of digital elements and clues, to make the most of your escape room experience. With a variety of themes to choose from, there’s always a new challenge waiting for you and your friends.

Buy Now

Escape Team

Escape Team is an online interactive game that challenges players to solve puzzles and complete tasks within a limited time frame in order to escape virtual rooms. Players must work together to find clues, decode messages, and complete challenges in order to escape each room before time runs out.

Reality Check

Reality Check teaches you to find truth online by locating the source of a story, comparing it to other sources, and using fact-checking tools and reverse image searches. Each mission presents a story from your social network feed, true, false, or in-between. Find out by clicking on magnifying glasses on the page, then decide how reliable it is and how to respond.


Spent is an online game where you play as a low-income worker trying to survive a month with limited money. You must balance daily expenses and make tough decisions that affect your finances. It’s a thought-provoking game that gives players a glimpse into the challenges faced by those living in poverty.

Trivia Crack

Trivia Crack is a fun online game to test your knowledge of different subjects. Play against others by answering trivia questions and spinning a wheel for categories like history, science, art, sports, and more.

Elevate App

Elevate is a fun online brain-training app with daily challenges to improve your memory, attention, and processing speed. Personalized to your progress, it’s perfect for students, busy professionals, or anyone looking for a mental workout.

The Meaning of Beep: Cyberbullying

This game teaches players about the effects of cyberbullying and how to stop it. Players will have fun while they learn to identify and handle cyberbullying in different digital scenarios. The game is designed to encourage positive online behavior and help players become responsible digital citizens.

Interactive ESL online games are a valuable tool for language learning. With their ability to engage and motivate students, provide real-life practice, improve critical thinking skills, and offer measurable progress, these games can help students achieve their language goals and unlock their full potential. Try incorporating interactive ESL online games into your language learning routine today and experience the benefits for yourself.

Similar resources:

47 Interactive and Online ELT Resources for Teachers

Best English Games to Play in Your ESL Classroom

Engaging Online Teaching: ESL Activities and Games

Online ESL Video Lesson Plans

Digital and Online Teaching Resources for Teachers Who Teach English from Home

Best English Games to Play in Your ESL Classroom

Here is an extensive list of my favorite English games to play with my students.

Board games

  • Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition

Yes, you read that right. Cards Against Humanity. But! This is a family edition, so it’s clean. You can download if for free and print, but, make sure you feel comfortable using it, there are some cards that may still be perceived as inappropriate for school.

  • Free print and play games

I’ve only recently found a website where you can find free board games. My favorite is Dixit which is great for imagination and creativity.

  • Dominoes

This is a very versatil game that can be used to practice vocabulary (phrasal verbs, prepositional phrases, compound nouns and adjectives, etc.) and grammar (conditionals, participle clauses, etc.) You can create your own or try these and these vocabulary dominoes or this great resource.

  • Scrabble

Every classroom should have at least a couple of boxes of this amazing game. This game is a must. That’s all I’m going to say.

  • OrganAttack

This is a medical-themed card game which was created by Nick Seluk, the author of my favorite The Awkward Yeti comic. I liked the game so much that I even backed it on Kickstarter! It looks great, the organ cards are super cute and hilarious, the game itself is fun and easy to learn. Your aim is to remove your opponent’s organ before they remove yours. It is perfect for learning and revising medical-related vocabulary.

  • ESL board games

These are simple, usually one sheet board games used to practice isolated grammar structures or vocabulary. You can also create board games with different conversation questions. You can try this one with a vide range of questions.

  • Taboo

One of the most popular English games. Revising vocabulary is always a good idea. There are plenty of different topics you can choose from.  You can try our free games on the topic of Media or Business. Other topics include Health and Food.

Online games/apps

  • Oatmeal’s free word game

In this game you unscramble words and use them to destroy your opponent. You can get the free game here.

  • Baamboozle

I use this site mostly with my younger learners as it doesn’t have many higher level grammar or vocabulary quizzes. My tip: put your students in teams (max number of teams is 4), choose a quiz and let them play the Classic mode with the power up, it’s much more fun!

  • Merriam-Webster

Merriam-Webster is a dictionary but they also have free games and quizzes that are great for learning vocabulary.

  • The Game Gal

Here you can find plenty of simple, family-friendly English games. I mostly use the Word Generator for charades, pictionary and other games. The great thing is I only need my laptop and I project the words on the whiteboard, so the students don’t need computers.

No-prep games

  • Vocabulary revision

This activity does not require absolutely any prep from the teacher, everything is done by the students. You only need to give them a couple of sheets of paper and they will cut it or you can give them already cut into small pieces. Detailed instructions can be found here.

  • Alphabet game

Students write the letters of the alphabet in a column. Give them a time limit and a topic(e.g. food, classroom items, animals, etc) and tell them to write one word for every letter in the alphabet. When they’re done, put them in groups so they can compare their words.

  • Balderdash

This activity is based on a popular board game. It is a more fun variation of a dictionary game I sometimes play with my students. They get a couple of difficult words and have to invent fake definitions. This game is the most popular among my kids.

  • Questionnaires and surveys

The best thing about these fun ESL activities is that the variations are endless. You can either find some or have your students create their own. It’s more fun and they also learn more. Just give them a topic, have them write 10 questions and after that, they circle the class and interview as many classmates as possible.  Finally, they inform the class about the results. Topics may include Environment, Hobbies, Books, Travel, Science, History, Media, Celebrities.

  • One minute talk

This is a very simple, no-prep game.  In pairs, students give each other a topic to talk about and they have to talk uninterrupted for a minute. It is more difficult than it sounds, especially with topics such as egg yolks, armpit hair o or shoe laces. If your students lack imagination, you can use these ideas: One Minute Talk Cards.

Other resources:

Role-play Scenarios for ESL: Discussing Different Topics and Situations, Even Vaccination!

12 ESL Negotiation Role-plays: Real-life situations

Conversation Starters: 30 Interesting Conversation Questions Not Only For ESL Students

No Time? 10 No-prep ESL Activities, Warm-ups and Energizers

Sometimes I don’t have time or energy to print extra resources or activities.

Some days, like today, the printer in my office runs out of ink, the printer in the common area is jammed and while two colleagues are trying to repair it, I quietly leave to copy some activities out of a resource pack, but the copy machine I wanted to use, the one for students, the one that requires coins (a lot of coins) to operate, is not working.

I have no time, my lesson is about to start. Sounds familiar?

No-prep ESL activities are my life. I need them, I love them. I can’t get enough of them.

Let me know if you have any favorite no-prep ESL activities.

1) Questions? Questions!

This is a silly little game, it’s short and funny, which makes it a perfect no-prep warm up or an energizer. Put the students in pairs and tell them to choose a topic. Then, give them some time (5 minutes) to talk about it. The catch? They have to speak ONLY in questions! Its fun to watch and they can practice question tags.

2) Alphabet games

This is an excellent activity for vocabulary revision. Write the letters of the alphabet on the board, project it on the whiteboard, or alternatively tell students to write the letter down in a column. That is all the prep you need to do. Their task will be to write a word from a certain category/topic for each letter of the alphabet (you might want to omit difficult letters such as Z or X). And this is where the fun begins because this game has so many variations. The topics can include:

  • food
  • animals
  • objects
  • professions
  • phrasal verbs
  • adjectives
  • travel vocabulary
  • body parts and health vocabulary

3) Have you ever?

Tell the students to write down 10 questions starting with Have you ever. This activity is great for students that don’t know each other that well, but it works for all students, no matter what age or level. The students can be very original and curious and that can make this activity quite entertaining. When they’ve completed the questions, put them in pairs, and let them ask and answer the questions. At the end of the activity, ask them what have they learned about their classmates.

Have you ever petted a tiger?

4) What has changed?

Choose a student(or ask a volunteer) to have a good look around, then tell them to step outside. With the rest of the students, rearrange the classroom. Call the student back inside and ask them if they can spot any changes. Great for reviewing classroom vocabulary and prepositions.

5) Free speaking

I sometimes do this at the beginning of the lesson as a warm-up activity and sometimes at the end as a “reward”. Put the students in pairs or groups of three and tell them they will have to speak for a minute or two about a certain topic. The topic will be given to them by their classmates and it can be anything from free time to more difficult topics such as volcanoes, nails, moles, or kelp. It sounds easy but it’s not, the task is to speak as fluent as possible, and under pressure, each second lasts much longer. You can find more topics for free speaking here.

6) Acting out

I have a created PDF resource for this activity some time ago, but I’ve recently realized kids don’t know the same stories I do anymore. I am too old now, I can’t keep up. So you can either use my older version or the no-prep version:

  1. On slips of paper, students write famous stories, e.g. Captain America, Titanic, Romeo and Juliet, etc. This is to guarantee that they will know them.
  2. On other slips of paper, they write movie genres, e.g. sci-fi, comedy, horror.
  3. Collect the slips with stories and genres.
  4. Put the students into groups of three or four (depends on the story).
  5. Give each group a story and a genre.
  6. Tell them they have to prepare a short scene from that story, BUT, they have to make the story according to the genre. So the result might be: Cinderella as a horror movie.
  7. Give them time to plan, write and practice their scenes.
  8. Enjoy the show.
Keep on swimming!

7) Picture description

Tell the students to open their textbooks on a random page. In pairs, they take turns and describe all the pictures on that given page.

8) Word explanations

This is a quick no-prep revision I use at the end of every unit to recycle and revise vocabulary. Put students in pairs of groups of four, give them a pile of paper slips(20-40). Tell them to write one word on each slip. They have to work together to avoid duplicates. The words should be from a recent unit/topic, they can use textbooks or other resources. When they are done, they will swap the pile of paper slips with another group. This is when the game begins. They will take turns and draw a paper slip from the pile, explain the word without using the word or gestures. The student who first guesses the word gets a point and keeps the card. The student with most points/cards is the winner.

9) 5-second questions

Fast paced and competitive, no-prep required. Put the students in pairs or if you have a larger class into groups. Tell them they will have to ask each other questions to earn points. Appropriate questions, of course. Sounds easy, right? The problem is, they will only have 5 seconds to ask a question, and it has to be grammatically correct. To make it more stressful, the other student- their opponent can count down the seconds. If they ask a correct question in the time limit, they will get a point.

10) Oh, really?

You don’t say.

This is another simple and no prep activity which students love. Put the students in pairs and tell them they will have a conversation. The first student has to start with a short sentence, like this:

Student 1: I play tennis.

The other student responds: Oh, really?, and adds extra information( a word or a phrase).

So it should be like this: Oh, really? I play tennis every day.

Student 1 continues: Oh, really? I play tennis every day with Serena Williams.

Student 2 responds: Oh, really? I play tennis every day with Serena Williams in Monaco.

Student 1 responds: Oh, really? I play tennis every day with Serena Williams in Monaco while feeding dolphins.

And so on. Can they keep up?

The student who will form the longest grammatically correct (and at least a little bit coherent) answer wins.

Vocabuary game
Speaking Activities

What? When? Where? Asking Questions ESL Activity

ESL speaking activity to practice asking questions.

  1. Explain the activity.
  2. Emphasis that they can only ask questions, they can’t explain the words or give synonyms.
  3. Explain that students will get a point for every word that they guess. At the end, the pair with the highest number of points wins .
  4. Divide the students into pairs.
  5. Individually consult any unknown vocabulary and encourage students to use dictionaries and look up the words.
  6.  Give students a ten-minute time limit and have them start. After 10 minutes the students swap roles.
  7. If you want them to work a bit faster, allow only a five-minute time limit.

Download the activity here.

Other pair work activities

ESL Pair Work Activity: Teenager Issues
ESL Speaking Activity: Business English Role Plays
Ridiculous Holiday Complaints: Reading And Speaking(Role-play) ESL Lesson Plan
ESL Communication Activity: Science Role Plays

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