Types of plays on an online English lesson with children

Play helps children to develop a broad range of language skills and understandings.

Building entire courses and language programmes or just integrating some quality play activities into English lessons with children can definitely give a boost to their language development.

How to organise play-time for young learners online and overcome the lack of physical presence? – is a question that our educational experts often get from novice English teachers and tutors.

In attempt to help you plan great play-based lessons, we have created this collection of different types of plays including practical exercises you can use on your lessons.

Dramatic and Fantasy Play

These types of games give the opportunity to children to explore English freely. Speaking and listening skills develop through these games naturally and they provide teachers with the chance of introducing specific vocabulary and grammar structures. We can also use these types of games for developing writing skills, spelling and reading if the child’s age and abilities allow.

  • Role-play

Act out a nursery rhyme, poem or story

Physical involvement makes learning and memorising easier. When you are reading for example a poem, you can encourage children to imitate the movements described in the poem. Make sure the child can see your full body through the camera and help them find the spot in the room where you can see their whole body as well.

Create different role-play situations

These kinds of role-play give the perfect opportunity to practise the language of dialogue, taking turns and listening to each other.

Children enjoy imagining different situations. It can be completely unrealistic, but you can also create situations which are more life-like. For example, you can tell your student(s) that your best friend’s birthday party is coming up. “Help me and let’s plan a surprise party together!” This role-play exercise provides endless opportunities for you to develop children’s language skills. You can not only discuss the party’s location, the music (here you can ask students to show you a song they love), the games (here you can ask students to introduce a game they like and explain how to play it) but you can also improve their writing skills by creating a shopping list and invitation cards or letters. With children who cannot yet read or write, you can plan the birthday cake by drawing and talking about it, create birthday hats or origami cards.

Dressing up

Every child enjoys dressing-up plays. They are perfect to create the way for fantasy play. You don’t need to worry about how to provide costumes or such – encouraging children to make their own props can be easily turned into learning.

You can organise a Pyjama Party, create masks for role-plays, borrow mum’s apron and play cooking, write a menu, draw and colour / cut out objects, flowers and trees to “sell” and so on – the possibilities are endless.

Manipulative games

This type of games develops children’s fine-motor skills. Just like other games, they provide a great opportunity for language development. Children can learn to follow and give instructions, and have discussions and chats with their teacher while creating.

  • Working with materials


There are countless opportunities to introduce new language, develop speaking and listening skills while having fun with different kinds of paper.

You can ask the parents to collect simple household paper for the lessons – no extra cost involved! You can use A4 printing paper, newspaper, tissue, napkins, toilet paper roll and cardboard to teach children English communication.

For example, you can take the hard cardboard middle of a toilet paper roll and some coloured pencils to create easy but fun dolls you can later use for role-play activities.

With elder kids who can safely use scissors and glue, you can dress up a wooden spoon from the kitchen.

Play dough

Play dough can be used to provide learning experiences and language development. While playing with play dough, we can teach language of manipulation such as push, pull, pinch, squeeze and smooth. We can teach grammar structures such as “longer than, thicker than” when asking children to create a long and a short snake from play dough. We can also link dough play to different themes and teach vocabulary.

Another great use of play dough is teaching the letters and sounds. Children can form the letters with play dough and make figures that start with that letter. For example, make the letter A with play dough then form an apple, and an arm.


We can find pasta in every kitchen, so it is another material that your learners and their parents can have easy access to and we can use it for English language development.

For example, to teach the vocabulary of jewellery, you can create necklaces, earrings and bracelets from pasta and string.

Games with rules

“Children will enjoy playing with a variety of jigsaws and table-top toys. This will be the start of early reading and mathematics, and will help to develop children’s hand-eye co-ordination”

(A Practical Guide to Working with Young Children – Hobart & Frankel 1996)

Children’s vocabulary and communication skills extend as they engage in table-top play. They need to understand or describe the rules of a game and communicate as they play.

Some simple examples of games with rules are playing computer, board and card games.

There are several online platforms where you can play card games real time. However, we advise to aim using “real” games during your lessons as well.

How can you play for example board games without being physically in the same room with your student? Children don’t mind, even enjoy, rolling the dice and drawing cards for you! You can discuss with the parents what card and board games they have at home that you can utilise on your English lessons. If the child’s age allows, you can also start a project of making your own board game with the child, creating and writing your own cards and rules.

Simple games just as hangman or scramble can be easily played online with just a pen and paper. Hangman is a perfect game to introduce new grammar structures, vocabulary and by taking turns, practise writing and spelling skills.

With elder children, introducing immersive computer games with a storyline provides endless opportunities to improve English skills.

You can download KnowledgePond’s lesson plan instructions to learn how to use immersive computer games for education. Start planning fun lessons today!

Physical play

When we become physically active in our learning it involves additional brain activity, which makes it easier to remember what we have learnt. Games with physical activities capitalise on this fact, so make your students stand up and move regularly during the English lessons.

When teaching vocabulary, play charade – the word guessing game – it is fun, gets children move and talk in English, so its educational value is priceless.

Creative play

Being creative enables children to make connections between one area of learning and another, and so to extend their understanding of the language. Creative play is also a great tool for developing pre-writing skills.

Art and Design

Draw or paint pictures and talk about them. These activities encourage children to talk about their work developing descriptive language. You can use stories and rhymes as stimulus.

When you are doing crafts, you can teach children to listen to you and follow instructions.

To mix things up and maximise the language learning possibilities, try drawing on different materials, such as sugar paper, napkins and cardboard.

You can also ask your learners to collect some natural materials during their next walk with their parents. Leaves, nuts and flowers provide you with a great opportunity to improve children’s vocabulary and speaking skills.


Children should listen to a variety of music in English. This helps them to recognise patterns and rhymes which is essential for building proper pronunciation. To make the most of these exercises, include movements such as clapping, tapping and stamping.

If you or the child plays any musical instruments, involve these in your lessons.

And sometimes just give way to some spontaneous dancing.

Download KnowledgePond’s information sheet to have a summary of different types of play with practical exercises. It can be yours for free.

Need more ideas about how to teach children English online?

Watch KnowledgePond's presentation on How young children learn English here:

Happy teaching from KnowledgePond's team!

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