It’s that time of the year again! No, not Christmas (yet)! No, it’s not your birthday (if it is, I’m sorry)! It’s the last Thursday of November, which means it’s Thanksgiving! 399 years later, we are still celebrating this holiday which encourages us to show gratitude. Gratitude for what we have, and gratitude for the excuse to eat a humongous and delicious meal (and play some Thanksgiving games).

While not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving, it is a special day for people in North America, and a unique opportunity for people to share their gratitude with their family and friends.

The Experience of Thanksgiving Games

Not only can we celebrate this special day with our friends and family, but we can celebrate with our students! Studying English is not only an opportunity to learn a language but an opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture. Whether you’re American or not, students don’t want to only learn English through the grammatical structure and repetition. They’ll want to learn the language through experiencing the holidays and gaining insight into its cultural significance. 

Luckily for you, we’ve got a list of Thanksgiving games that you can incorporate with your students! These games can be used for one on one lessons or group lessons. Whether these games are used as primary activities of a lesson or as a simple warm-up, they’re effective and will facilitate conversational English, creating a fun and vibrant classroom. 


Number one on the list of Thanksgiving games is, you guessed it, Charades! Who doesn’t love Charades? It’s full of movement, it’s attention-grabbing, and you can play it with all levels and ages. This is a perfect activity to introduce inside the classroom or online, as it appeals to both kinaesthetic and visual learners. While it is difficult to cater to kinaesthetic learners (learners engaged by physical activities) in the online classroom, Charades fills this void.

Total Physical Response 

With online teaching experience, you’re likely to have mimed the impossible, and you’ll have lots of fun with your students as you shout out words to guess eccentric movements. You should leave your ego at the door, as you might have to impersonate activities, characters, or things that evoke America or Thanksgiving. This could be a turkey, a cowboy, or Homer Simpson, use your imagination! These activities can foster memorization very well if the students associate words with quirky actions.

That’s the beauty of charades in the ESL classroom. One person can use their imagination, and the other can exercise their cultural knowledge and utilize their spoken English skills. You can also make the game more competitive. In a group lesson, you can make it so the first student to reach a certain number of points, wins! Let the winner be the next impersonator to keep the game competitive! Competition can make the students even more engaged as they try to gain bragging rights over their fellow classmates. 

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For Thanksgiving, I had…

This Thanksgiving game is a classic which can be used for all levels and all ages. It is a fantastic way to introduce or review new vocabulary words, and especially for Thanksgiving. Similar to ‘In my suitcase is a…’ you will initiate the game by setting an example of what you had for Thanksgiving. For example, “For Thanksgiving, I had a turkey…” Your job is done, for now… The next player will then say the same phrase, but add something else to the list. The next player will do the same, and the phrase will get longer and longer until a player forgets an item. Be careful, this includes messing up the order!

Articulacy Practice with Thanksgiving Games

If your student doesn’t know what a yam looks like (I still don’t), this activity can expose them to new items on the menu. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce new vocabulary in the food category! It is essentially an activity of repetition which is structured in a way that won’t bore the student to death. You can extend beyond the topic of Thanksgiving to Christmas or a vacation, and it will still develop your student’s articulacy. 

Thanksgiving Quiz

A quiz is one of the most engaging ways you can deliver facts without directly saying them like some fact bot. You can use the questions which you deem appropriate for your student’s level, no matter how ridiculous you are. If it’s too ridiculous, then you can always make them closed-ended questions for your students. Here‘s a freebie Thanksgiving games question;

  1. How many towns in the United States of America are named ‘Turkey’?
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

Drumrolls, please! The answer is… B! The point is, there’s an endless list of questions you can ask your students about America or the Thanksgiving holiday. It doesn’t have to be boring and generic!  


If your students are excitable, you can play charades. If they’ve got artistic flair, let them play this Pictionary! Similar to charades, you can cater to your more artistic students with this game. Thankfully, most online teaching platforms include whiteboard accessibility for students which will make this game very easy to conduct. If your student needs assistance, you can give them a selection of words to narrow down what they can possibly draw. What better way to increase memorization than to allow your student to combine their creativity with learning? 

Get Competitive with Thanksgiving Games

Similar to the game Draw My Thing, you can set a timer to make it even more fun. Students will have to spend their time wisely to create a clear picture for the other player! If you have a group classroom, you can split students into pairs and assign one member from each pair a word. That student will then have to draw the said thing, without speaking, while the partner tries to guess what it is. The first student to guess, wins! Have pairs compete for points, and you’ll have a hilarious yet intense game in your classroom.  

You can even modify this game, where you can describe the thing which the player has to draw. You can give the player one detail at a time, and see how long it takes for them to successfully guess the person, place, or thing! 

The Alphabet Game

3… 2…1… Keyser Söze? Has your mind ever gone blank when you’re looking for the answer? The alphabet game is an interactive game of whits and quick thinking! Player number one will start by saying a sentence beginning with the letter A. The next player will continue the dialogue starting with the letter B. The next player starts with the letter C, and so on! This game can lead to some hilarious exchanges between yourself and your students.

This game is more difficult than it sounds and can be adjusted according to the level of your students. You can set a timer for every time a new sentence starts, to encourage spontaneity and quick thinking skills. You can even modify the game so they only have to say words associated with America and not sentences. 

»7 Ways to Keep Online ESL Learners Engaged

Pass the Story

Pass the Story is similar to the Alphabet Game, as it requires lots of spontaneity and creativity. Only, in this game, you and your students will be working together to create the narrative you want! Each player will say one sentence at a time, and the other will continue the story using their imagination. When two different imaginations collide, where will the story end up? I honestly couldn’t tell you. You’ll have to find out yourself with your students! Your student might be a natural-born storyteller (a Morgan Freeman of sorts). 

Not only will the story be exciting or hilarious, but it can also introduce key sequencing structures. Sequences are important to understand a story’s narrative structure. Your students will use terms such as first, next, then, and finally to traverse their very own adventure. 

Stop the Bus

Stop the Bus is a versatile game. It is arguably best played in groups, but you can also play with your only student to improve their general knowledge. You can play it in the classroom, but also online. Give the student categories, for example; girl’s name, boy’s name, city, state, food, animal, and so on. Students will then have to fill in each category and yell “stop the bus!” when they’ve finished. 

Rounds can be introduced. As you switch up the categories, the game has plenty of replay value. With this game, you can decide how flexible you want to be with categories to accommodate your student’s level. 

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Thanksgiving Games Bonus: The Gratitude Game

This is more of an activity than a Thanksgiving game. In this activity, students write down three things that they are grateful for. This can be a time to practice English while also reflecting on the things they are fortunate enough to have. When they reveal the answers, you can have a nice discussion as to why they wrote down these things. Facilitating conversations about things that are meaningful and interesting to your student is a good way to disguise English practice! 

If you have a group lesson, you can make students think of more obscure things to be grateful for. This will make students think carefully to avoid writing the same things as the other students. 

Celebrate From a Distance 

These are some of the top Thanksgiving games that we thought we would share with you on this special day! The games mentioned are appropriate for use in the classroom or online, or whether your student’s skills are advanced or not. While you or your students may not traditionally celebrate the holiday, it’s important to include national holidays in the classroom. 

English is the lingua franca of the world, and it’s important for the student to understand other aspects of the language, such as American-English. Through being exposed to American customs or colloquialism, they’re experiencing a new layer of English. National holidays offer the student an alternative way to gain insight into foreign cultural traditions. It’s a way for the student to participate from a distance. Not only will they have fun trying out these new activities, but they’ll gain new skills in lessons disguised as Thanksgiving games. Whether they’re storytelling or learning new words, they are applying their spoken English skills. 


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