Games for ESL Teachers: Punchout

If you teach a lot of kids, like I do, you probably have four or five stand-by games for practicing vocabulary or grammar structures. Today I’d like to share one of the games my kids really like, with some advice on how to make it work in your classroom. Today’s game is called Punch-out!, and it’s great for elementary-school-aged kids. It’s a little bit weird and icky, which kid’s pretend to hate but actually love, and it gets them shouting out English words and having fun pretty quickly. Best of all, it’s really easy for the kids to just learn as they go—no need for a lengthy explanation that the kids will just zone out anyway.


punchoutBreak your kids into two teams, and draw a mouth on the whiteboard for each team. Draw in some teeth, six to eight, depending on your kids’ temperament and how fast they go through the game. Line the teams up, so that you have two rows of kids leading up toward the whiteboard. Show a flashcard, and have the first two kids in line say the word. The fastest kid gets to erase a tooth from the other team’s mouth, as if they’re having a little boxing match. If the kids say the word at about the same time (don’t be too technical about it), have them do “Rock, Scissors, Paper” to determine the winner. The first team to lose all their teeth loses.


To kick up the challenge level, you can have the kids use the word in a sentence. At our school, we generally have a set phrase of the day, with vocabulary the kids can work into that grammar structure, so it’s pretty easy to use that. I’d recommend leaving a poster with the sentence up on the board, and letting them reference it throughout the game. The stronger kids won’t need it, and the weaker kids will reference the poster less and less as the game goes on.

If you have three kids, let them each have their own mouth. If your students are Japanese, like mine, then they’ve already got a system for doing Rock, Scissors, Paper between three kids. If everyone picks the same thing, or if all three types are present, it’s a do-over. If two people beat one person, then those two fight it out. This may be common knowledge for some of you, but I learned how to do Rock, Scissors, Paper with 3 or more people after I came to Japan. It never even occurred to me that it could be done with more than two!

Things to Watch For

Don’t let the kids draw their own mouths. It takes absolutely forever for them to finish, and they’re not speaking or listening to English for the full two or three minutes it takes them to draw. Always draw it for them.

Don’t play this game in a classroom next to adults, or any time you need the kids to be fairly quiet. After about a minute and a half of playing, my kids are usually screaming at the top of their lungs, shouting the vocabulary  and “ROCK-SCISSORS-PAPER-ONE-TWO-THREE!”

Eight teeth is about the maximum you’ll ever want to do. Less than six, and the mouth looks really weird, and the kids will start to complain if they’ve seen the game before. More than eight, and the game will go on for almost 10 minutes, which is a bit long to expect an 8-year-old boy to stay on task. I have a lot of different games so that I can do one fast one, switch to another, and keep the kids’ attention without having to work too hard at it.

I hope your kids have as much fun with Punch-out! as mine do. Good luck, have fun!



English teacher, student of Japanese, and aspiring linguist.

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Posted in Teaching Tips

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