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30 Easy One-on-one ESL Games

    Teaching English to only one student may be daunting. Instead of having a group to do activities and practice with one another. You and the student are the only ones in class, so you need activities that work when there are only 2 of you.

    In this article, I will share 20 one-on-one teaching activities. These are great when it is only you and your student, but many of these can be adapted to group classes as well.

    Questions on a Topic

    Select 20 questions on 50 different topics from the article in the link below. Get ten questions for your student and ten for you. Then take turns asking each other these questions.

    🖥️ English Questions Website ►

    Shiritori – take the last letter

    Shiritori is a Japanese wordgame, meaning take the last letter. Take turns saying a word with your student, but the catch is that every following word should start with the last letter of the previous word. For example:

    bus — steak — key — yellow — willow — when — no — octopus — sun — November, etc.

    Continue around the circle until someone makes a mistake.

    Compound Words

    Choose 3-5 compound words with the same stem and write them on the board/screen without their stem. Ask your student to figure out what the stem is.

    For example: Paste, ache, brush (the stem is tooth) or ball, man, board (the stem is snow).

    doorbell, doorman, doorstep | headline, headcount, headlight, headset, headhunter | backpack, backseat, backfire | timeline, timetable, timesaver | blackbird, blacklist, blackout | lighthouse, lightbulb, lightweight | daydream, daylight, daytime | nightlife, nightclub, nighttime, nightmare | sunburn, sunset, sunshine, sunrise | waterfall, waterbed, waterproof, waterfront, watercolor | lifeboat, lifetime, lifeguard | paperback, paperwork, paperweight, paperboy/girl.

    2-minute Presentation

    Write random topics on paper strips or the randomizing wheel. After picking a topic, the student has 1 minute to prepare, and 2 minutes to prepare a speech on the topic.

    Remind them not to write a whole script, but rather focus on the structure and vocabulary they want to use. This is great practice for public speaking in the future.

    Younger learners have a show and tell session: ask them to bring his or her favorite toy, book, or stuffed animal, and tell you all about it (who they got it from or where, why it’s their favorite, etc…)

    Make sure to teach them soft skills like body language and vocal tips to improve their presenting ability.

    Mixed-up Questions

    It’s always good to start the class with a question. Write a good one on the board but mix up the word order, then challenge students to reconstruct the question and then discuss it in pairs or small groups. For example: most item you have the ever expensive what’s bought?

    Alternatively, write a question on the board but this time scramble the letters of each word. For example: tahw si ruyo seealirt rommey?

    A to Z Game

    Give students a theme, for example, jobs, things you take on holiday, food, sports, weather, friend, phone, etc. Write the letters A to Z on the board. Teams of students must race to write an appropriate word next to each letter on the board.

    Name 10

    Have students think of ten items that fit particular criteria. For example:

    Jobs where you have to wear a uniform

    Sports that are played with a ball

    Foods that contain egg

    Animals that lay eggs

    Three letter parts of the body – eye, arm, leg, hip, ear, toe jaw, rib, lip, gum.

    I am better!

    Start off by explaining the concept of one-upmanship, that some people always like to appear to be more interesting or superior to others in their company. Tell the students a relatively mundane story about something that happened recently and invite a student to tell a similar story but to top it in some way. Each student, in turn, tries to top the previous student’s tale. For example:

    You: Yesterday I overslept and was five minutes late to class.

    Student: That’s nothing, I overslept and was an hour late.

    You: An hour! I once overslept a whole day!

    A Day in my Life

    You and your student create a fictitious schedule of each other’s lives. It doesn’t need to be realistic.

    For example: 08:00 – 12:00 Swimming with sharks 13:00 – 17:00 Training with Real Madrid Football Club

    18:00 Robbing a museum

    The other person asks questions until they figure out what they are doing at that time.

    “Am I in a dangerous place?” “Am I underwater?”

    Shopping Game

    Both the teacher and student take some time to create their own snack shop.

    Make a list of items to sell, and price them realistically.

    Each person gets $20 to visit the other’s shop to buy whatever they want.

    For more advanced students, shoppers have the option of negotiating the price.

    Secret “S”

    The object of the activity is to answer questions without using the letter ‘S’.

    Write down a list of 5 questions you and your student can ask each other. Take turns to ask and answer the questions. Whoever says an “S” first (in their answer) loses.


    Take turns to share a personal photograph and explain what is going on. You can also ask follow-up questions to each other.

    An alternative activity is to find photographs online. Your student has to describe the photograph and you can discuss whether the picture is good or bad. You can even give it a personal rating.

    Dice Conversation Starters

    Make a 6-sided die that the students can use. Write a topic on each side.

    You can also use this wheel to pick topics that you can download for free from Twinkl.

    The topics can include things like hobbies, television, time, sleep, music, work, sports, friends, family, etc.

    Interview with Verbs

    You and your student both pick a different celebrity, then write down 10 verbs.

    Take turns to interview one another. But, you must include these verbs in the questions.

    Decide – “When did you decide…?”

    Hate – “What do you hate…?”

    Love – “Who loves you the most…?”

    Offer – “What can you offer us…?”

    Prefer – “What do you prefer between…?”

    Move – “Why did you move the…?”

    Win – “Who won the…?”

    Continue – “Can we continue with…?”

    Buy – “What did you buy for…?”

    Wait – “Can you wait for…?”

    Consider – “Did you consider…?”

    Change – “How did you change…?”


    Write down 10 different debatable topics on slips of paper, or use the question wheel I mentioned before. Take turns to pick a topic, choose a side of the argument to support it, and share its merits.

    The other person now has to give their own counterarguments to defend the other side.

    Depending on your student’s level, personality, and cultural background, you can discuss anything from plastic surgery to drug addiction.


    In our daily lives, we often have to negotiate with other people. Explain how it is done with your student. Ask them for some examples of situations where they have had to negotiate something, for example asking mom a favor, bargaining with a friend/ shopkeeper to buy something, with a teacher to have less homework, not to take a test, have some free time.

    Now practice these scenarios with your student. For example:

    Parents and children: homework, dinner, bedtime, pocket money, household chores, staying at a friend’s house, birthday presents.

    Boyfriends and girlfriends: where to go out tonight, which film to see, spending time with other people, which family to visit for Christmas, relationship rules

    Husbands and wives: marriage contracts, division of household chores, agreeing on monthly budgets, looking after children, dealing with relatives

    Teacher and student: the amount of homework, classroom behavior, the content of lessons, classroom rules

    Employer and employee: working hours, salary, job description, work responsibilities, holiday entitlements, and benefits, asking for a promotion.

    Sentence Chains

    Start telling a story with your student. Take turns adding a sentence to the story and see where it takes you. It’s a good way to practice conditional clauses.

    Fortunately, Unfortunately

    A super simple game, with no resources required and a minimum of just two players. One person says a sentence beginning ‘Fortunately…’ and the next person has to begin the next sentence with ‘Unfortunately…’, e.g.

    Fortunately, it was Saturday and Mr. Dinosaur could sleep until 10 a.m.

    Unfortunately, his neighbors woke him up! They were having a water fight.

    Fortunately, they invited Mr. Dinosaur to play with them…

    See how long you can keep it up!

    Word Ladder

    In this activity, a word must be transformed step by step into a target word. To illustrate the idea, write the word run on the board and explain that the target word is fit. For each turn, only one letter can be changed. See if the class can find a valid sequence together.

    Run – fun – fin – fit.

    Most Words

    Pick a long word like apologize, dictionary or September. Take a minute to create as many words from that word using its letters. Do it with your student and see who can find the most words.

    Longest Word

    Write a topical word on the board or screen, for example, WINTER. Your student has to think of a new, long word for each of its letters.

    W – Waterfall   

    I- Industrious

    N – Nausea

    T – Terrified

    E – Empty

    R – Retailer.

    Competing with your student, give a point to whoever has a longer word per letter.

    Agony Aunt

    Find some common problems people write to an Agony Aunt section of a magazine. You can find examples for young learners, teenagers, or specific to your student’s career. Ask what advice your student would give the person, share a similar problem they might have faced, and discuss alternative solutions.

    A great site to find news-related resources is Breaking News English.

    What’s the Missing Word

    Find a group of compound words or collocations which share a common word.

    For example, bedroom, bathroom, living room, classroom, showroom, etc.

    Give students one of the word/collocation parts, such as bed, and have them guess the missing part, add to the list writing bath, living, class, etc., until they successfully guess the word. Here are some more examples:

    ear, boxing, diamond, finger, wedding (ring)

    tea, soup, table, dessert (spoon)

    kitchen, tea, bath, beach (towel)

    green, light, ware, boat, work, wife (house).

    Scatter sheets

    Scatter Sheets are a great way to review vocabulary, introduce a theme and get your student talking. Brainstorm words connected to a theme, for example, the seaside, London, marketing, etc.

    Once you have 20 words, take turns describing them. Once correctly guess, circle it and it’s the other person’s turn to explain.

    Teacher Robot

    Pretend you’re a robot that can be controlled by voice commands of your student.

    Ask them to direct you to do simple tasks such as making a sandwich, or cooking an egg.

    try to use realia to make it more fun. It’s great for practicing imperative forms (use, move, add) or time word connectors such as before, after, and when.

    Spot the Difference

    For younger learners, spot the difference is a fun 5-minute game. Find examples on the internet, ask students to describe what they see, then find the differences. Make it into a speaking activity by encouraging your student to answer in full sentences, using prepositions where relevant.

    Role play Games

    Great for keeping a younger student entertained and learning English. A role-playing game is a fantastic way to practice those all-important functional language skills: the phrases we use for our day-to-day interactions. Ordering food, going to the doctor, traveling, problems.

    Guess the News Story

    Collect photos from news stories across the world. Let your student guess what it is about and what the headline would be.

    Post-it Mania

    Bring a pack of post-it notes to the lesson or if they are online, ask a younger student to use some if they have. Give them a word to write, then go and place it on the said word. Do this until you have labeled many things in their area.

    Think of Someone

    You and your student both make a list of 10 people you both know. Switch papers. Now pick a person from their list. They have to ask questions to figure out who you picked. Once they get it right, it’s their turn to pick from your list, and you to question them.

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