20 fun ways to teach kids body vocab
Games and other ideas for teaching the useful and fun topic of body parts vocab to kids
Most courses for young and very young learners have at least one unit on body parts vocabulary like “hand” and “foot” in them, and the few that don’t certainly should. Not only is this topic great for classes of all ability levels (just add “right little finger” or “thigh” if they seem to know it all), but it is also vital for giving classroom instructions in English during the rest of the course, e.g. while explaining action songs or physical games. There are also loads of games, craft activities, stories and songs including this language point that native speaker kids love and which can be easily be adapted for EFL classes. This article will deal with games and a few craft activities, and other articles on songs and stories will follow. This article will also illustrate another great point about games involving body vocabulary, which is how many other bits of target language they can be linked in with. Examples below include prepositions, classroom vocabulary, any vocabulary that can be represented by flashcards or realia, have got, and possessive S.
1. Whose body?
Give students spoken or written explanations of animals that mainly consist of descriptions of their body parts and get them to guess which animals are being explained. This is most fun with the teacher holding a flashcard or plastic animal so students can’t see it and starting with clues that are less than obvious, e.g. “It has got four legs”. To discourage random shouting out of answers, you could take away one point for each wrong guess. The animals that you choose to use in this game should have at least one distinctive point about their body that can be the final clue, e.g. “It’s got eight legs” (spider or octopus), “Its tail is a circle and it’s got two long teeth” (rabbit) or “It’s got a long neck” (giraffe). The same game is possible with specific characters the students know such as monsters (e.g. Pokémon), robots, cartoon characters or superheroes.
2. Whose body? Two
Show students pictures of just one part of an animal’s body, and they have to guess which animal it is and/ or which part of the body it is. This can be done by cutting up flashcards or other pictures, by covering all but one part of an animal, by using an OHP and covering most of the picture, or similar things with a “spotlight” or similar function on an IWB (interactive whiteboard). Alternatively, the teacher or student can draw or trace the body parts from pictures, or draw them from imagination.
3. Which body part?
A variation of the games above is to use animals, prepositions, shapes etc to describe the body part that the flashcard you have shows until students guess which part it is, e.g. “It’s on your face between your eyes and mouth and elephants have a very long one” for “Nose”. With a high level class, it might even be possible to describe a particular animal’s body part.
4. Body Pictionary
Rather than describing body parts, the teacher or students could just draw them. To add more language to this, the Pictionary prompt cards should have whole phrases or sentences such as “It has got three legs” or “It has two very long legs and two very short legs”. This is more fun if the sentences are a little nutty, e.g. “The car has ears”. You could also draw a whole person or animal with students shouting out when they notice the part that you have drawn wrong (as you were instructed to by the prompt card), e.g. “A giraffe has a long neck, not a short neck!”, “A man has one nose, not two noses!”, or “Your eyes are between your ears, not above your ears!”
5. Crazy body mimes
Odd sentences can also be used to liven up miming to practise body parts vocabulary, e.g. “I have ten arms” (pointing to your arms and then counting to ten on your fingers) or “My nose is on my stomach” (pretending to pull your nose off your face and put it there).
6. React if it’s crazy
Another way of using crazy bodies is to read out things about a person or animal and ask students to race to react in a particular way as soon as they hear something strange, e.g. “I have two necks” or “My eyes are white in the middle”. Ways of reacting include holding up your hand, standing up, touching the part of your body that was mentioned, or touching something in the classroom. You can also play Normal/ Strange Stations, in which students run and touch one of two walls depending on what they hear, e.g. the wall marked Normal for “The man has ten fingers” or the wall marked Strange for “The giraffe has a short neck”.
7. Making monsters
Kids love drawing monsters, and there are many good ways of turning that into a game with lots of language practice. One is to have two dice, one with body parts written on the six sides and the other with the usual numbers. Students then draw the combination that comes up, e.g. giving their monster six eyes. Students can make these dice themselves for writing practice and a fun craft activity. Similar games are possible with a spinner (a cardboard hexagon on a pencil), or with a ball thrown at flashcards or words written on the whiteboard. You can also replace the numbers with names of animals, so that the monster has a “bird’s head”, “lion’s tail”, etc.
A fun writing version of this is to adapt chain writing (= consequences) to this language point. The first team writes a sentence describing the head, then folds the paper back so that what they have written cannot be seen, then passes it to the next team for them to write a description of the neck. When the whole animal has been described by being passed around the class, the next team unfolds the piece of paper then draws the whole animal.
Students follow written or spoken instructions such as “Put your finger on your shoulder” and “Put your toes on your forehead”. Some more complex and fun variations are listed below.
9. Simon says
This very well-known variation on doing the actions that they are told simply involves only doing them if they follow certain words, traditionally meaning ignoring “Touch your head” but quickly doing “Simon says put your chin on your shoulder”. You can replace the words “Simon says” with more useful classroom phrases such as “You should…” or “The teacher says….”
10. Chain actions
Write the first action on the board, e.g. “Clap your hands”. When students have raced to do that action, add a second action underneath, e.g. “Put your right foot on your left knee”. When you say “Ready, steady, go”, the students race to do those two actions in the right order while saying what is written on the board. This can continue until you have ten to fifteen actions on the board. This game is particularly good for mixed reading/ non-reading classes, as the students can read the actions, use whatever reading clues (e.g. first letters) that they know to help remind them, or just memorize them from their position in the sequence. This game can be tied in with action songs or other classroom activities by making the last actions in the chain ones that you will use in your instructions.
11. Whole body slap
Slap is a very well known game in which students race to be the first to put the palm of their hand on a flashcard. It also works well with pictures or words in their open textbooks. You can practise body vocabulary and have more fun by asking them to touch the pictures with other parts of their body rather than just their palms, e.g. their elbows or little fingers.
12. Whole body run and touch
This is another well-known game that you can add body vocab to with a slight variation. In the original students compete to touch something on the whiteboard or in the classroom as quickly as possible, e.g. “Touch a chair!” You can do the same thing while asking them to “Touch the table with your knees”, “Touch the window with your nose”, etc.
13. Whole body run and count
This is a slight variation on Whole Body Run and Touch where students touch every example of the object you tell them to and also count them off, e.g. counting all six windows as they run around and touch them. You can add body vocabulary to this by asking them to touch classroom objects with particular parts of their body, or by touching and counting body parts, e.g. “How many boys’ heads?” If this is likely to get out of hand, they could just point and count rather than touching, or just touch and count the examples on their own body or of one person on their team.
14. That many fingers
Another game that involves numbers is putting them in teams and asking them to show you a particular number of body parts by working together, e.g. “Hold up 22 fingers”. To make sure everyone is involved, tell them that the number must include at least one from each person in the team. This can be extended to include instructions like “Only seven feet on the carpet”, “Wiggle seven arms” and “Twelve elbows under the window”.
15. Not just hands up
This isn’t exactly a game, but I like to vary asking students to put their hands up (to be allowed to guess or be next to play the game) with asking them to do other actions such as “Left foot up” or “Hands in your socks”.
16. Body balancing
In this variation, rather than putting their body parts in particular positions, they put objects or flashcards that they have on the places on their bodies that you tell them to. If they can, they then take away their hands and balance that object there as long as they can, for example responding to “Put your toys on your shoulders. No hands!” This is more fun if you can also use prepositions, e.g. grasping things “Under your knee” or “Between two little fingers”, but you can easily present those prepositions while doing the game if they haven’t done them before. This is a great way of linking body parts practice to a previous stage where you show or describe flashcards or realia and give them to students as they shout out the name. Alternatively, the students can request an object because they think it will be easy to balance. After balancing on the body, students can run around the classroom trying to put their thing or card “Under the door”, “Between the teacher and the whiteboard”, etc.
17. What can you do with your body
This game challenges the students both mentally and physically and brings in loads of other language such as classroom objects and actions. One way of playing it is just naming a body part or two and asking students to volunteer things that they can do with them, e.g. “I can catch a ball with four fingers” or “I can whistle with four fingers”. Another way is for the teacher to say the action and students to put up their hands if they think they can do it. They then get five points if they can really do it or lose one point if they can’t.
18. Body tracing
There are several fun ways of using tracing around a body part (onto the whiteboard or paper) to practise the language. One is to trace around someone’s whole body on a very large piece of paper (or several A3 sheets glued together) and label as many body parts in as much detail as they can (e.g. “This is Jim’s left little finger”). Another is for teams to race to trace the part that you say as quickly as possible, e.g. “Trace a thumb on the board”. Alternatively, students can guess which body part and/ or whose it is from a tracing. It is also possible to play similar games with drawings or digital cameras.
19. Really label the body
Even more fun than labelling a full-sized copy of someone’s body is labelling the real thing. The easiest way is for one person from each team to stand in the centre of their group, and the others to write on Post Its and stick them on that person’s clothes or body. An alternative is to write the body parts on bigger pieces of paper and join these to the person with bits of string. While teaching a summer school class on the beach, we even did it with water based markers directly on people’s skin! This game is a good opportunity to practise classroom questions like “What is this (in English)?” and “How do you spell…?”
20. Brainstorming race
Shout out or write up a description that is true of several body parts (e.g. “It’s little” or “It’s between your chin and hips”), and ask them to brainstorm ones that fit that category in groups. Depending on their level, they could draw the body parts, write the words, grab and show flashcards, or just shout them out.