Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

The Best Online Games Students Can Play In Private Virtual “Rooms”


'lighting like The Lost Room' photo (c) 2010, ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓ - license:

I know the title for this “The Best…” list is a bit of a mouthful, and perhaps not that clear, but I couldn’t come-up with anything better.

There are quite a few online games with educational value that have players compete against others on the Web. Many of them, however, don’t allow the players to choose whom they are playing with, and are just connected anonymously.

I have reservations about students playing these games for three reasons:

1) Many of the others playing the games are native-English speakers, and are at a competitive advantage when playing with my English Language Learner students. Games are not a whole lot of fun when you’re losing all the time.

2) Most (though not all) of those games have safeguards built into them to ensure anonymity, and also have some controls on inappropriate content. However, one not uncommon way for players to take advantage of that anonymity is to use nicknames that are inappropriate.

3) I think it’s just plain more fun when you’re competing against your peers in class as opposed to some faceless person out in cyberspace.

Happily, there are several online games with educational value that allow users to create private “virtual rooms” that allow you to choose whom you play against. It’s pretty intense, exciting, and fun in the computer lab when everyone is competing against each other, and after each question is answered you see a “leaderboard” on the screen showing the position of each player.

Of course, I have to say that I feel that most of these kinds of games are played best in the classroom with students divided into groups and playing “face-to-face.” However, it can also be a nice change to do something like this on occasion in the computer lab.

In order for a game to make it on this list, it:

* needed to have educational value for English Language Learners and other students.

* allow for very easy creation of private “virtual rooms” where you can control who can enter the game.

* be free-of-charge.

Here are my picks for The Best Online Games Students Can Play In Private Virtual “Rooms”:

Gut Instinct is from the BBC.  It has questions divided into three categories — English, Math and Science, and is accessible to Intermediate English Language Learners, and maybe even Early Intermediates.  Students can super-easily create their own virtual “rooms” for between two-and-thirty people where they can compete with their peers.  All they have to do is all type in the name of their room (or “league”), choose their avatar and nickname, and the game begins.

Mia Cadaver’s Tombstone Timeout is another BBC game very similar to Gut Instinct,  Both of these games ask questions related to Math, Science and English, and you can choose which subject you want to use.  One of the improvements that Mia Cadaver has over Gut Instinct, though, is that Math and Science are divided into levels of difficulty.  That makes it more accessible to a larger number of students.  As in Gut Instinct,  in “Mia Cadaver”  you can create a private “virtual room” where only your students compete against each other.  Everybody just types in the name you’ve given the room, and the questions begin.  After each question is answered the screen shows the overall ranking of everybody in the room.  Students love it!

The BBC has another similar game called Elemental that has a a bit higher level English, Math and Science questions than the other two games. In Elemental, you can also easily create private rooms, but it appears that you might have a maximum of four players in each room (but I’m not sure about that).

iSketch is another online pictionary-style game. You can create your own private rooms, plus have a chatboard while you’re playing.

Post It Draw It is another online pictionary-like game. You’re given the word describing something to draw, and then others gain points by guessing it.

It has a lot of neat features. First, it actually provides a “value-added benefit” by playing online as opposed to playing it face-to-face by giving points to the first, second, and third person to guess correctly — something that would be difficult to do with an in-person game.

Secondly, it’s a multi-player game. You can create a virtual room with up to ten players. Unlike some of the other games on this list, though, you can’t create immediately private games.  However, students can easily create some rooms and have ten of them sign-up for each — that precludes other unknown players from participating.


Broken Picture Telephone is an online “take-off” on the old game of “Telephone” (where one person whispers to another and so on — a favorite game of ESL teachers to promote speaking practice. It had been taken off-line three years ago, but just came back.

I’m just going to quote from Jay is Games to describe how the online game works:

Someone writes out a phrase (essentially an idea for a drawing), and someone else has to draw it. Then someone else looks at that drawing and describes what they think is happening in it, and someone else uses that description to draw their picture… and so on… and so on… and so on! You won’t know what the other submissions or original objective was until you’re done.

All players have to register (which is quick and easy), and then you can start a game that is “private” so only invited players can participate. Unfortunately, I’d lay odds that it’s likely to be blocked by many school Internet content filters, but maybe not…

“Quizizz” Is A Great Game-Playing & Game-Creating Site For Classes!

Readers might also be interested in these previous “The Best…” lists related to learning games:

The Best online games websites for English Language Learners 2007
The Best Online Video Games For Learning Language & Content Knowledge
The Best “Fun” Sites You Can Use For Learning, Too
The Best Websites For Creating Online Learning Games
The Best Online Learning Games — 2008
The Best Sites For Making Crossword Puzzles & Hangman Games
The Best Fun Sites You Can Use For Learning, Too — 2008

As always, feedback and suggestions are welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Larry, “Draw My Thing” game like pictionary is really good, but the built-in comments for correct answers are BAD NEWS!
    They would not be good for school kids since they use insinuations or abreviations for profanity such as: WTF!! and Michael F’ing Jackson and other crude expressions.

  2. Jason,

    Thanks for drawing that to my attention. That’s the one game I haven’t played yet with my students, so wasn’t aware of the automated responses. I’ll write another post right now and eliminate it from my list.


  3. Pingback: Education Links for Feb. 11, 2009 | Online Education at

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