Understanding ESL learning styles help a teacher bring more variety into the classroom, as well as reaching students more effectively. It is always a challenge to make the ESL classroom more interesting. Vocabulary lessons, conversation practice, worksheets; they don’t always hold everyone’s attention. A teacher may agonize over what they are doing wrong, but the reality is that there is simply more than one right way to teach. Often adding a few simple twists to an already cohesive lesson plan can round up those stragglers by reaching out to their own unique ESL learning style.

For years it has been proposed that the differences among people extend to the way they learn. Models vary, but there is a general agreement that there are four distinct learning styles that can be applied to ESL and EFL; Auditory, Visual, Tactile and Kinesthetic. There will always be overlap, of course, and most of the games suggested here will lend themselves to adaptation to appeal to two or more styles.


These are the type who receive and retain information from listening. They will respond well to games that involve repetition, dictation, and music. Simple poems with a strong swing such as limericks are a good way to start, and you may even introduce some Jazz Chants for more conservative adults. Younger students may prefer Karaoke and often become quite enamored of it, so be prepared for a lot of laughs as students loosen up and get comfortable!

EFL students often admit that while they may advance rapidly in a classroom, out in public they have more trouble following the native speakers. This can be addressed by using tapes and videos to listen for keywords and pick out the general meaning of a dialogue. Jigsaw Listening splits up the students to listen to separate portions of a story, then reunites the teams so they can try and reconstruct it.

Listening memory games, such as ‘My name is Mary, I come from Milwaukee..’ are terrific for the auditory learner. You can expand on this by keeping a record of the words used and subsequently asking the students to utilize them again to form new sentences. Quiz games such as Jeopardy can also be a fun and instructive way to teach language, and students can be encouraged to extend their vocabulary by fostering a mild spirit of competition.


These are the students that most traditional teaching methods were developed for. They have a high capacity for retaining information from written and illustrated text. Flashcards and videos will also prove good ESL learning tools for these students.

You can make game-boards after the fashion of popular titles such as Life – this can become a role-playing game, ‘A Day in the Life’, where students can participate in role-playing scenarios determined by the rolling of a dice and drawing of cards. Memory cards matching games can be a fun activity for pairs – have them use the word in a sentence when they find a match!

Reading Treasure hunts can work well to teach recognition of the parts of speech; just hand out colored pencils and designate a color for each type. This can also teach students to skim and pick up general meanings of words from context. Let them rewrite sentences too – try captions for pictures or comics to add a humorous note!


The remaining two types of learners are similar enough that most games can be adapted for either learning style. Tactile and kinesthetic ESL learners and comprehend faster when participating in hands-on activities, and take in information using their whole bodies. Games for these types can actually benefit the whole class; studies have shown that ESL students as a whole show a marked preference for this style of teaching, and games of this sort are a perfect way to introduce variety into the classroom!

Probably the most familiar ‘touch’ game involves a bag with different items inside. The participants have to feel the items through the cloth and guess what they are. A variation that is helpful for ESL students is to have them describe the items so that classmates can guess their identity – be prepared for some laughs!

Charades is a perfect example of a game that uses the whole body. Have cards prepared with easy titles such as popular TV shows, and get everyone involved! Ask students to come up with titles too – perhaps they can give the English translation of a favorite childhood book or movie.

Crafts are a wonderful option when it comes to hands-on learning. Coloring and labeling maps is a good exercise, and can be done individually or as a group. Introducing building toys such as Legos can help bridge the gap between the learning styles as you can use written and or verbal instructions for the Auditory and Visual ESL learners in the class.

A wide variety of language game ideas can be implemented in your ESL classroom to embrace all the types of ESL learning styles. Remember, have fun! Your students will all benefit from a diversified learning experience.