Some of these can be used as warm-ups. Most of them can be linked to any lesson theme or grammatical form you're working on. These games usually require at least a small group to play, but you may be able to adapt some of them for one-on-one settings.
Find Someone Who... (literate beginner-intermediate, group)
Create a list of characteristics such as "likes chocolate," "has two children," or "can swim." There should be 10-15 items, and you can relate them to your lesson if you wish. Then let the learners mingle and get signatures of other learners who fit the descriptions. Make sure they are using appropriate question forms ("likes X" becomes "Do you like X?") and aren't just pointing to the items on the page.
This can be made into a Bingo activity by putting the items on a grid.
Pictionary (any level, group)
Divide into 2-3 teams and give each a supply of paper if you aren't using a whiteboard. It's best if each team can sit around a table or have their own whiteboard space. Tell one member from each team what item to draw, and on your signal they may begin. The first team to guess wins a point. Play a fixed number of rounds and the team with the highest score wins. Notice that in this version, all teams are working independently at the same time to guess the same word,
but you could take turns with each team. You can also give stickers or wrapped
candy to the person or team guessing correctly if you don't want to make it
competitive with points.
Scavenger Hunt (any literate level, group)
Divide into teams and hand out a list of items to be collected (a penny, a stick of gum, a signature, a pine cone, a shoelace, be creative). Define the searching range (classroom, house, campus, neighborhood, building). The first team to return with all the items wins a prize.
Twenty Questions (intermediate-advanced, individual or group)
Select an object in your mind and let the learners ask up to twenty questions to guess what it is. Trade places with the winner and let that learner select an object for the next round.
Storyline (intermediate-advanced, group)
Divide into groups of 4-6 people. Give everyone a sheet of paper and ask them to write the first sentence of a story at the top of the page. It may begin "Once upon a time..." if they like. Then they pass the page along to the next person in the group. That person reads the first sentence and adds one more to it to continue the story. Then that person folds the top of the page backwards so only his or her own single sentence is visible and passes the page to the next person. That person writes one more sentence, folds the paper back to hide the previous sentence, and passes it along again. When the pages have passed through the entire group one or two rounds, everyone unfolds the pages and reads the stories. They are often hilarious, and this game usually generates contagious laughter.
Telephone (any level, group)
Divide the group into two teams and have them stand in single file lines. Whisper a somewhat complex sentence (according to their level) into the ear of the first person in each line. Make sure no one else hears. Give the same sentence to each line. Then each person must whisper it into the ear of the next person until the end of the line. The last person must either say the sentence or write it on a whiteboard. The team whose final sentence most resembles the original one wins. In case of a tie, the fastest team wins. Try giving an easy sentence to start with to build confidence before moving onto a difficult one. If the game is too hard in the first round, learners will decide it's no fun.
More ideas may be found on the following pages:
Free samples of lots of games and activity ideas from the book Edutainment:
How to Teach English with Fun and Games (Delta Systems Co., 1998).