10 Great Games to Use with Kids in Japan

10 Great Games to Use with Kids in Japan

Gwyneth Jones
by Gwyneth Jones 71,049 views

When you start teaching kids in Japan, it can be daunting to come up with exciting games.

Fortunately, there are some tried-and-tested games ready for you to use, based on games already popular with Japanese students and an exciting and memorable way for them to practice the language you’ve taught them.

Try These 10 Great Games to Use with Kids in Japan

  1. 1

    Telephone race

    You might know it as “Chinese whispers”, they know it as “Dengon”, but the idea is the same.

    You might know it as “Chinese whispers”, they know it as “Dengon”, but the idea is the same. Line up two or more teams in front of the board, with the front member of each team holding a piece of chalk. Walk to the back of the rows, and whisper or show a word to the last member of each team. They whisper the word to the person in front of them, and so on, until the kid at the front runs and writes the word onto the board. You can make it more complicated by giving whole sentences.

  2. 2

    Bingo sheets

    You can use the “bingo” idea in a hundred ways. Each kid gets a grid that they have to fill in, and when they have a straight line they get a “bingo” point (super prizes for filling the whole grid)! Before the main game starts, fill in the grid with possible answers, e.g. months of the year or things that people can/can’t do (play soccer, speak Chinese etc). Then, kids go around the class asking each other “When is your birthday?” “Can you speak Chinese?” or other appropriate questions. When the answer matches the box (“January” “Yes, I can”) the kid they asked signs their name in the box. Even junior high kids can get excited by this.

  3. 3


    Younger kids go crazy for this, but don’t use it with fourth grade elementary or younger, as they tend to cry when they lose. Kids pair up and sit opposite each other. Between them are cards with your target vocabulary – letters, numbers, fruit etc. Kids hold their hands on their heads and wait for you to give a word. Once you’ve said a word, kids rush to slap the appropriate card before their opponent. The fastest gets to keep the card, until there are none left and they add up their points. Another way to do this is to put an eraser between them, and to give them a key word from the newly learned vocabulary. Go through all the words they’ve learned, throwing some more in if you want. When you say the key word, kids rush to grab the eraser before their partner (and much squealing ensues)!

  4. 4

    Shiritori race

    Shiritori is a game where you start a word using the last sound from the previous word, or for English, the last letter. Write a word on the board and let kids work in teams to come up and write another English word on there. To spice things up, divide the board in two and get two rows to race (passing the chalk back to the person behind them and rejoining the row from the back) – see how many words each team gets in five minutes, or how quickly they can reach 30 words etc. A simpler version of this game is to get teams to write the alphabet in the correct order before their opponents.

  5. 5

    Criss-cross questions

    With kids at their desks, pick a line or row to stand up. Ask simple questions that they should know, like “What day is it today?” or “What food do you like?” Let the student who raises their hand first answer. If they answer correctly, let them sit down. The last kid left standing gets to choose “line” or “row”, meaning that all the kids in front and behind, or all the kids to the left and right of them, stand up to go through the same ordeal. Some students struggle, so make sure you give them really easy questions and let them answer if they’ve been standing for a long time.

  6. 6

    Go fish! (“do you have…?”)

    Based on the classic card game – kids have cards from a certain set and must collect the rest of the set from their classmates. You can do this by having sets of four matching cards (with target vocabulary) in circulation, either throughout the whole class or in smaller groups. If a student has at least one card from a set, they choose somebody to ask “Do you have <a banana>?” If the person they ask has that card, they must give it to the one who asked. If not, they can either pick up more cards or walk away and ask someone else (up to you).

  7. 7

    Charades (smaller kids)

    Great for practicing emotions, animals or actions – you can start yourself by acting one out and getting kids to guess which one it is. After a few turns, ask for volunteers to come up and do their own gesturing. In elementary school, a lot of children were happy to get up in front of everyone and do this! You can give points to team who guess correctly, or just keep it going without rules.

  8. 8

    Fruit Basket

    Using fruit as an example – each kid is given a fruit (either you tell them, or give them a card). Make sure everybody knows which fruits are in use – keep it simple, four or five. Get everybody to sit in a circle of chairs, with one person standing in the middle. That person chooses a fruit – for example, they shout “Apple!” and everybody who was given ‘apple’ has to get up and quickly run to another seat, while the person in the middle races into the first empty seat they can see. The idea is that somebody else ends up in the middle, and chooses another fruit. You can mix it up by saying two or more fruits at once, and of course you can make it more complicated for higher levels, e.g. “Stand up if your birthday is in May” or “If you have a cat!” Great with kids, but be careful of overly-enthusiastic pushing and injury potential.

  9. 9

    Quiz competitions

    Review new vocabulary and grammar with quizzes. If you have access to a TV screen and Powerpoint, you can create a flashy, animated quiz and arrange kids into teams. Even third year junior high school students get into this if you’re enthusiastic (and funny) about it – things from “What’s this?” with a photo, to “Which is correct?” from three possible sentences. You can create spin-offs from any TV quiz show you like, as long as it isn’t too complicated – Jeopardy is a popular one to emulate.

  10. q

    Anything with “janken”

    Almost everything in Japan is decided by “janken” – or rock, paper, scissors. Teach them “rock, paper, scissors” and add it to games for added excitement. For example, if kids are walking around the room asking each other questions for a bingo game or similar, let them “janken” first to decide who asks the questions first. For younger kids, a “game” can be as simple as walking up to each other, doing “janken”, and the winner asking something like “can you ski?” getting their answer, and moving on. You’ll be surprised how exciting this can be!

Finally, remember to keep it simple – you don’t want to spend longer explaining the rules than actually playing the games!

Have you ever taught in Japan? If not, would you like to? Let us know in the comments!

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