Monkey Abroad

Videos and stories of the life abroad – food, culture, travel & work

ESL Teacher

ESL Teacher: Full-Time Game Show Host


Imagine that you’re the only teacher in a classroom of 45 rowdy Thai high school students. They’re texting on their phones, screaming in a foreign language, kicking each other, and climbing on desks. How the hell are you supposed to teach these kids anything? The solution lies in your ability to make learning fun.

Be a Game Show Host

To be a successful ESL teacher, try to take on the role of a game show host. View the classroom as a crowd of willing participants waiting for their turn to compete in a learning game. Thai students love to compete, so use that to your advantage. Pit them against each other in an English-speaking game and they’ll try their best to win every time.

I’ve only been a full-time ESL teacher in Thailand for two months now, but I’ve learned some damn good tricks to keep large classrooms engaged. The best way to get students focused on learning is to create games. If you hone the ability create learning games and teach your students how to play them, the possibilities are endless.

Be Entertaining, but Don’t Steal the Show

It’s so rewarding when students are viciously competing with each other to win a game that you created, but don’t make yourself the focus. It’s great to be enthusiastic and use tons of gestures when orchestrating a classroom game. Just remember: your job is to teach first, entertain second.

I love being the center of attention (what can I say, I’m a ham bone). But as soon as my ESL lesson becomes teacher-focused, I lose my students’ attention. Stay enthusiastic, but keep the spotlight on the students and they’ll stay engaged.

ESL Teacher

My student drawing a clown during a fast-paced game of Pictionary.

Benefits of ESL Team Games

Most of the successful games I’ve created for the classroom involve splitting the class into 2 to 5 teams. Once the teams are established, explain the rules of the game. Use as few words as possible for this. It’s better to use more gestures, expressions and demonstrations when explaining the rules.

Establish a point system that the class can follow so they’re aware of who’s winning at all times. I typically use a tally point system wherein each team’s points are listed on the blackboard for the entire class to see.

Begin the game at a slow pace to allow your weaker students time to grasp the concept. Once most of the students understand the game, it’s time for full speed gaming action.

The best aspect of team-based games is student-to-student discipline. If a student is texting, chatting, or doing homework for another class, I’ll always call on them to compete next. They’ll likely make a mistake and lose out on an opportunity to earn their team a point. Subsequently, that student’s team pounces on them and takes care of the discipline, making my job easier.

Up the Ante

After a dozen rounds of the same game, students get bored. That’s when it’s time to up the ante. It keeps the students engaged and it’s a great way to stretch any game out if you need to fill a few extra minutes of class.

Instead of each question/action being worth one point, now it’s worth five points. Once the fun of 5 points wears off, bump it up to 10 points. Then 100. Then 1,000. My students eat that shit up!

Attitude is Everything

It’s frustrating when my students don’t understand what I’m teaching. The easy way to address this problem is to ask yourself: Why don’t these students understand me? But the constructive way to address this problem is to ask yourself: How can I improve my teaching to help these students understand me?

Perhaps the most important aspect of teaching English is the teacher’s attitude. If a student doesn’t understand you, don’t get frustrated. Look at the situation as an opportunity to reevaluate your teaching methods and try a new approach. Every student learns differently and it’s your job to find a solution.

When problems in the classroom arise, keep your cool and remember who’s in charge. Never view a problem as the student’s fault. Look at every situation like it’s something you need to improve upon, and your students will benefit.

Kick Ass ESL Game – Tic Tac Toe

You can use tic-tac-toe to teach pretty much any aspect of the English language. One game I created involved filling in a tic-tac-toe grid with various responses to simple English questions. In order to put an X or an O on the board, a team had to ask the corresponding question for that square.

ESL Game

A kick ass Tic-Tac-Toe ESL game

If team X wants to mark the top right corner, they have to ask me “Where are you from?” Team O will ask, “What sport do you play?” for the middle square.

This is just one example of a game you could use with any facet of the English language. Instead of question/answer, you could do adjectives/adverbs, future tense/past tense, etc. The possibilities are endless. And that goes for a ton of other ESL games. Just plug in the English lesson you want to teach and the game begins.


Remember what it was like when you sat in class while a boring teacher yapped on and on? Don’t be that teacher. Make learning fun for the students and teaching will be fun for you. Get creative, try new games, activities, ideas. With the right attitude, it’s actually a lot like being a kid again.

ESL Teacher

These students are ready to play!

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. You have learned so much so quickly! We need more teachers like you in the U. S. for sure. I can’t believe you have 45 students in your class. I used to freak out when the principal put 34 in my math class of 10 th graders. Keep up the good work! You are appreciated a lot but probably not compensated nearly enough.

  2. These kids look so happy beeg! The U.S. definitely needs more teachers (and more eager students) for sure!

    • This is my smartest class. They’re the elite 10th graders so they get an air conditioned classroom with a white board. It’s a pleasure teaching these kids because they’re so receptive.

  3. Game show host/teacher/blogger/writer….You’ve got it in the bag! Love hearing how you keep their attention and the clever games to boot. Wouldn’t Bishop Lynch be so proud?

  4. Good stuff kevin. I play a lot of games in class and sometimes I wonder if its too much but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one!

  5. OMG! What a gem! Found your blog while googling about TEFL in Thailand and now have almost scrolled across all posts. Thanks for the heaps of infos you got here. I particularly love the impromptu camp on a Sunday, and how often some unannounced activities (I’ve read somewhere like a haircut day?) leave teachers clueless where their students are. This post in here too inspired me and my husband on what to expect/prep esp when there’s no actual lesson plan provided and you’re just thrown into the classroom. Though I taught many years in Uni, I have no experience with small kids and early teens. These activities and your suggestion of creativity are enough to fuel us up with loads of ideas before we get ‘deployed on the field’ hopefully early 2015. Sorry for such a long appreciation, just couldn’t help showing how happy we are with these info so please looking forward to more posts you share.

    Thank you for sharing such helpful tips!



    • Fritzie,

      Thank you so much for stopping by to read my blog. There’s no such thing as an appreciation that’s too long!
      Good luck in your future teaching and travel endeavors.


  6. You have other games for large classes? I have 60 students. I teach primary school kids now. Please please share me some games. It would be of great help! Thanks!

    • You must think I’m some sort of game-dealer (educational equivalent of a drug-dealer)! Check out my 27 ESL Games for Large Classes post. Otherwise, no, I’m sorry I can’t help you.

  7. Admire your hard work Kevin, such great ideas in a blog! Thank you so much. Do you still teach abroad?

Let me know what you think


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: