If, in the middle of the lesson, your students:

  1. Pretend to communicate with their home planet.
  2. Make a paper plane and try to get it stuck in an awkward or unreachable place.
  3. Start beat boxing.
  4. Tell you they are Harry Potters and their scars hurt.
  5. Dig an escape tunnel,

or get busy with any other 99 things that are more fascinating than their lesson time (see a comprehensive list here, it means that it’s high time you gave their brains a break and threw in some fun.

(NB. Fun (noun) 1. enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure with the aim to get learners engaged and keep their interest in learning the language).

You can play a game, tell them a joke, show a funny video, or use a brain teaser.


These are my TOP 10 of TOP 100 language brain teasers that work in the classroom and get students to think about the subtleties and nuances of the language.

1. Poetry is in the air

Write the following poem on the board and ask your students to read it.





You don’t really need the answer, do you?

Too wise you are, too wise you be, I see you are too wise for me.

This activity may add some fun and, at the same time, become a springboard for discussion of texting in English.

2. Hangman time!

Guess the word.

_ _

Yes, two letters only. No, it’s not a preposition, and, no, it’s not OK, and, yes, it’s a noun.

And the word is….Qi

The Scrabble dictionary defines “qi” (pronounced as chich’i or ki) as “the vital force that, in Chinese thought, is inherent in all things.” This word will surely boost your learners with “natural energy” and curiosity about the language and words.

You may use this game as an opportunity to revise spelling of some tricky words. Ask your students to choose their “most favourite mistake” – a word they often misspell and challenge their groupmates.

3. Brain aerobics 

(Special thanks to Edmund Dudley for this teaser)


A B C D E F G……..P Q R S T U V W X Y 

on the board and ask students to guess a five-letter word

_ _ _ _ _


Get students to say the alphabet slooooooowly…and A and B and C, etc., the letters will give the answer.

Answer: H-O – water

4. What you hear is what you get

Get students to think of the answer to the following question:

What is so fragile that even saying its name can break it?

Answer: Silence

Don’t give the answer straight away, get students to think of things they can break. Is there an answer there?

It’s a nice way to get your learners to think about collocations and the importance of learning language chunks.

5. Borrow or rob?

Show the following list to your students and ask them to guess the missing name.

A list of naughty people:

Dennis, Nell, _______, Leon, Nedra, Anita, Rolf, Nora, Alice, Carol, Leo, Jane, Reed, Dena, Dale, Basil, Rae, Penny, Lana, Dave, Denny, Lena, Ida, Bernadette, Ben, Ray, Lila, Nina, Jo, Ira, Mara, Sara, Mario, Jan, Ina, Lily, Arne, Bette, Dan, Reba, Diane, Lynn, Ed, Eva, Dana, Lynne, Pearl, Isabel, Ada, Ned, Dee, Rena, Joel, Lora, Cecil, Aaron, Flora, Tina, Arden, Noel, and Ellen sinned.

Answer: Edna

Use this brain teaser to explore palindromes, i.e. words or phrases that read the same backward and forward, letter for letter, number for number, or word for word. You can find more examples here.

6. Word games

Ask your students to give you any word (or two words). Write the word letters in random order on the board and get students to make as many words as possible within 3 minutes.

Check out see some other word games here.

Alternatively, you can play a phonemic chart game (Many thanks to Adrian Underhill for the idea).

Instead of the word letters, write its phonemes and get students to make as many words as possible. Ask one student to write the words that are mentioned by the students.

* You can find Adrian’s interactive phonemic chart here, and lots of resources on his Pron Chart blog.

7. Say what you mean

Write the following seven-word sentence on the board and ask students to read it to give seven different meanings:

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money. – Someone else said it.

never said she stole my money. – I didn’t say it.

I never said she stole my money. – I only implied it.

I never said she stole my money. – I said someone did, not necessarily her.

I never said she stole my money. – I considered it borrowed.

I never said she stole my money. – Only that she stole money – not necessarily my own.

I never said she stole my money. – She stole something of mine, not my money.

This activity will add some fun and show the importance of emphasizing the right words in a sentence.

8. Language matters

Write the following sentence on the board and ask students to say what it means.

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Noam Chomsky came up with this grammatically correct, but nonsensical sentence in order to prove that syntax and semantics are two very distinct things. My guess-the-chocolate-word activities are also based on the same principle and help practice the form without focusing on the meaning.

You can extend this idea further and play with tautograms.

Have students string together the most words that start with the same letter while still forming a complete sentence. The longer the words the better, and the more absurd it is, the better. Students cannot use a word the does not start with the chosen letter. Every word is worth 4 points. Every word that contains two or more of the letter is worth double the points. The one who earns more points wins.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo:)

Example: Most massive mammalian mammaries make me maniacally masticate my morbidly mayoed midget manwich, moreover, mother mentioned Matilda’s meager management, mostly minding migrant moth milkers.

9. Puns

Get your students to think of the answer to the following question:

Why is six afraid of seven?

Answer: Because seven eight nine.

This funny brain teaser may be used to discuss English humour and puns.

Check out this collection of jokes in English. Get your students to guess the punchline.

And the last one is

10. Time is money


Time = Money

on the board and ask students to prove it (split students into teams).

You’re sure to hear some interesting stories and reflections on how true it is. But in the end, it’s all about the language. Use this teaser to revise collocations.


Happy teaching!

Please leave me a comment if you know a good brain teaser.

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