Making Board Games for EFL Classes

by Barbara Waldern

Adding board games to one’s repertoire of teaching materials for the English as a foreign or second language class can help spice up the classroom experience for both student and teacher. If planned well, they are good learning tools for they can reinforce vocabulary, syntactical structure and conversation strategies. To give you examples of their application, I will tell you how I have used board games in my teaching, and explain the kind of board game I recently invented for conversation classes.

I first used board games in academies for children following “four skills” generic lessons given in the last part of the period. The kids would expect games and the academy directors wanted to please them and allow them some fun time, so the teachers were instructed to lead the book lesson for 20 minutes and provide games for the remainder of each period. I therefore had to put together a variety of games and keep them handy.

One thing I came up with was the creation of a board game on the white board for team play in a standard “Native teacher’s” conversation class for elementary or middle school children. That sort of thing was quick and easy to do with the very limited materials at the teachers’ fingertips’ and the little time for class preparation. Teams would be represented with markers that would be moved from square to square along the track on the board. In the beginning, I just drew a snakes and ladder game. I taught the class of young children the name of the game and the expressions, “Climb up the ladder!” and “Slide down the snake!”, which I had the class call out in chorus when a marker either landed at the foot of a ladder and was supposed to shoot up to the square at the top of it, or at the head of the snake and was supposed to fall down to the square at the tail of the snake. I would initiate the board construction by quickly drawing a grid with a few snakes and ladders between the levels of the rows of squares. Each team would have a different student shake and roll the dice for each turn.

The next time I proposed a board game to the class, we did it basically the same way except that we changed the hazards and rewards to hazards such as tigers or waterfalls and rewards such as an elephant or balloon rides for so many squares forward. In doing so, vocabulary and expressions were added. I and the class would thus change the name of the game correspondingly, to names such as “Elephants and Tigers” or “Balloons and Waterfalls.”

After I began teaching at a university, I found “talking board games” in conversation activity books for intermediate conversation practice classes. One such book was Beyond the Horizons. It contains board games to stimulate conversations between students working in pairs or small groups. Each game is made according to the theme of the unit and bears questions on the squares of the track. For example, on a careers themed board, there are questions such as “Name four occupations in the travel industry” or “What is your best skill?” or “What does a (inventory control manager) do?” As another example, a board built around the them of current events asks questions like “What’s your favourite news show (or website)?” and “Who’s your favourite news anchor?” as well as “Name four countries whose names start with the letter C,” and “How often do you get the news?” This same activities book also contains board games that aid in reinforcing grammar points. The one on the present perfect comes to mind, with its range of “Have you ever done (this or that)?” questions written on all the squares that are to be asked whenever a player lands on a particular square. I have used these board games in Beyond the Horizons regularly in my second year conversation practice classes over the past six years.

However, a simple board game can easily be made. There are many templates available online free of charge, and many can be downloaded and edited. Sources include,, and You can select them by selecting topical themes with related sets of vocabulary and other teaching points such as verb groups. You can use the images and words provided or change them to suit yourself then save them to your files.

For my purposes last fall semester, I chose a board game template on the theme of travel. I edited the board to combine the theme of travel with the theme of careers because I was teaching units on travel and jobs to both my freshmen and sophomore English conversation classes. I ended up using the same game board for both classes. I enhanced and altered the imagery and words. The game started in Seoul on a career path to New York, with other major cities of the world typed into some squares in between. I typed in a few new instructions to either go ahead a number of squares or another city because of a bonus such as air mileage points or employment or go back a number of squares or to another city because of some misfortune like a dismissal or lost luggage.

Actually, I created sets of cards to accompany this particular travel and jobs board game. You can find templates for playing cards or flash cards on the same kinds of websites as mentioned above. Likewise, you can choose them according to lesson content. They come with imagery for the reverse side and words already provided or space to type them in on the face. For my purposes, I created two sets, one simpler set especially designed for the freshmen class and another more complex set designed for the sophomores. The content of the cards was in two categories. The first type bore instructions for the players movement on the board with the reasons give on the each card either some fortune or misfortune (for example, “You met someone at an airport lounge who offered you a job in Dubai,” or “You’re got up in a company scandal so you are sent back to Los Angeles)”. The second type had talking points in the form of questions employing structures studied in particular lessons of the corresponding unit, such as advice (ex., “This happened. What should you do?”) or wishes (“What would you do if…?”). I tried making some of the cards humorous to add to the dimension of enjoyment. For example, one card for the second year students read something like, “You kill the CEO and get away with it. Someone recommends you to be the replacement. Go to New York!” Students just took turns rolling the die, moving the marker, following any instructions on the board, then picking up a card and either answering a question or following an(other) instruction. The first player to make it to New York (the last square) won.

In all the six conversation classes I was teaching this semester, this game was quite a hit. The students appeared to be very engaged and enthusiastic while playing it. Many said that they found it amusing and challenging. They expressed relief at having some extension activity beyond the text book to do, and were thankful that I had taken the time to make it for them.

Rather than just filling up spare time in class or providing activities for class parties and such, board games can be used as effective learning tools. They can even work well as additional activities in conversation practice classes if designed thoughtfully.


The author

Canadian Barbara Waldern is past President and twice past Vice-President of the Busan-Gyeongnam Chapter of Korea TESOL. This is her eighth year teaching in Korea and sixth working as an Assistant Professor at the Busan University of Foreign Studies. After graduating with a Bachelor Degree in French and English and attaining certification for TESL and TESOL, she taught English to immigrants in Vancouver, British Columbia. With a Masters Degree in anthropology and post-bac diploma in social policy, she was a  researcher in culture, French language education and education policy before going to Korea. She has presented and written academic and creative works many times.