Bingo, also known as “The Game Of Kings”, is known to Japanese kids too. This makes it an easy game to appropriate for English lessons.


The younger they are, the more exciting the prospect of Bingo becomes. I’ve been in some Elementary classes where all I have to do is mention the name of the game and the whole class reacts like it’s their greatest day on this Earth. Reading and writing is not really taught at the Elementary level so Bingo grids are best constructed using pictures.

It’s a great listening activity for any vocabulary or even for when they’re first learning the alphabet. Rather than give them a pre-defined grid it’s an extra layer of fun if students can fill out their own grid by drawing pictures. Be aware that this does take time – particularly with overly indecisive kids who just take foreeeeever (“I like strawberries, but I also like melons, ah but kiwis are good too …”).

The simple way to proceed from here is to just announce each item to the class in a seemingly random series, and have them mark the corresponding picture on their sheet. I try to add a dash of flare to the proceedings by having a tiny sack full of vocab cards from which I can pull items.

PRO TIP: Add a speaking element to the game by letting students choose items from the sack and getting them to say what’s on the card. It’s usually advisable to repeat the student’s answer the whole class just to make sure everyone hears it.

Junior High and Up

For first year Junior High students I have done the activity in a similar way. Here the students are just starting off learning to write so while asking them to fill in a bingo grid with text is good practice it will also take much longer. I found it more efficient to give them a semi-complete grid that they then finish off with their own ideas or just give them a set number of words to choose from.

JHS Bingo
(Please note, most Japanese people will not have takoyaki for breakfast!)

Beyond first grade of Junior High School the standard way of playing Bingo starts to seem a little childish, but that doesn’t mean that the basic mechanics can’t still be put to use. The key to levelling up any activity lies in giving the students more freedom to express, both in formation and presentation. A more advanced version would be something like Interview Bingo. In that activity students have to first think about what questions they’re going to ask and then talk to each other to win. The teacher only has to give a small amount of input at the beginning of the activity, the rest is all down to the students.

And Bingo Was His Name-O

Taking classic games and adapting them for the ESL classroom is a great way to make learning enjoyable, but the evolution doesn’t have to stop at straight-forward appropriation. What else can be done with those classic game formulae? In the past I’ve used the rules of Bingo in large-scale team games as well as in the standard one-to-one format. In these games teams have to work together to complete a task that allows them to mark one box on their Bingo grid.

For any teacher starting out, especially with younger kids, Bingo is a godsend. For teachers working with higher levels the simplistic rules of the game can be an inspiration for ways to energize the learning environment.

What are your thoughts on using Bingo in the ESL classroom? Have you adapted it in any special ways? Share with us in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “BINGO in the ESL classroom

    1. Hey Jackie, thanks for sharing your idea! That sounds really fun, I might try it out in my adult class later this week. Are there any topics or categories you’ve found to work particularly well?

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