Kidnap! An ESL Speaking Game for Large Classes

Dear Teacher,


In China classes can be as large as 120 pupils! Therefore I decided to do a game for big classes, which needs no space, 
and no materials aside from pencil and paper.


Here is one games from my book 176 English Language Games for Children.  This game is a certified success and you'll be able to use over and over for any language or target structure.

large class of children

To order the games with these special large class games included please go visit

Kidnap works!

Teachers have found that children absolutely love this game and it is worth learning.


It is always a problem here in the Philippines having 70-80 students per class ... It's really tough handling big classes in a limited space.  I'm so glad that I came across with your games. I have tried them in class and it was really great fun and my students have been motivated to speak. I handle senior classes and they find the games very stimulating. The latest game that i received from you is KIDNAP and it's really appropriate for big classes like mine. More power!   Ana Lorgie, Philippines


Category: Speaking
Group size: Any size class
Level: Beginners to intermediate
Materials: Paper and pencil
Age: 5 to 12.  Playable by teens & adults
Pace: Wake up - controlled and fun  



Teach this game in stages and demonstrate it. Start by passing pictures as described in the section below entitled ‘How to play’. When students successfully complete that part of the game add the ‘kidnap’ papers, as described below. This breaks the learning of the game up into two simple stages. Teachers have reported back that children adore this game, so it is worth learning and re-using regularly for different vocabulary, grammar and for revision.


Set up

Divide the class into teams, which do not have to be exactly even and name each one. Draw or stick vocabulary pictures on the board. Tell each child to copy one of these pictures and take care that all the pictures are being drawn more or less equally. One way to do this is to number the pictures on the board and then count round the children. The children draw the picture their number corresponds to.

Children then write their team name on the picture. Use words instead of pictures when prac-tising a sentence with a target structure, but for working on vocabulary, pictures are much more effective. While children are drawing write out the team names in a column on the board and allocate nine lives to each team horizontally. Each time a team loses a life, rub one off the board.


Team Lives
The Pixels 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
The Vampires 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
The Dudes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
The Geeks 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
The Ghosts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

By now each student has a piece of paper with a picture on it. Be sure that students have written their team name on the paper. Ask students to each take a second piece of paper. Only one pupil from each team draws a square on it, pressing lightly so the pencil line does not show through the paper. The other pupils leave their paper blank. Everyone now folds this second piece of paper in half. 

Now all students pass the folded papers around until no one knows who has the papers with the square on. Pupils look secretly at their folded paper to find out if they have the square and don't tell anyone if they do.


How to play

Now everyone is ready to play. Call out one of the words, such as ‘bananas’. All those with a banana picture hold up their hands. Pick one. He or she stands up and is the collector of all the banana pictures. Do the same for another picture, such as milk. You now have two students standing: one will collect in all the bananas and the other all the milk.


Give the word or sentence that is to be repeated on passing a picture. A picture can only be passed when this word or phrase is spoken, otherwise it’s cheating. Repeat the chosen vocabulary or say short sentences such as ‘I like bananas’ if passing the bananas, ‘I like milk’ if passing the milk. Anyone with a banana picture passes his or her paper along the line in the direction of the collector, while the milk simultaneously travels to the milk collector. Everyone passing a picture must say the given word or phrase to the person he or she hands it to.


Have a rule that the paper cannot travel diagonally, but can only go up or across rows so that the maximum number of people are included.


After a few goes, ask if anyone has not yet had a go at all. Specify that for the next round the paper must go via those people who have not had a turn. Ask them to stand up so they can be identified.


Whispering or murmuring will keep a lid on the noise. Anyone talking or saying any-thing other than the given vocabulary or phrase loses a life for his or her team. Rub out one of the lives you drew on the board earlier.


Exploit this game for any language. It’s excellent in that everyone has a chance to speak and drill themselves in the given words or phrases while having fun.


The ‘kidnap’ papers


Now, here's the snag! Those with the papers with a square can kidnap a picture if it comes their way and take it out of the game. If anyone succeeds in doing this, they shout out ‘Kidnapped!’ They then tell you the team letter on the paper they have in-tercepted. This is the equivalent of a member of that team being taken hostage, and that team loses a life. Older children can also write their names on their paper, along with their drawing and team letter, so that specific class members are kidnapped. (The younger ones won’t really like this, so for them keep it general.)

Continue to play, using the other words. Have a blank paper swap every couple of rounds so that the square ‘kidnap’ papers can secretly circulate. At the end, the team with the most lives wins.

Language ideas to use with this game

Work on any grammar or vocabulary with this game.  Here is an example to give you the idea with the past tense.
Use food vocabulary for the pictures for revision and use the target structure:

"Yesterday I ___________ (past tense) + ____________ (food vocabulary)"
Round one could be "Yesterday I ate apples"
Round two could be "Yesterday I bought pears"
Round three could be "Yesterday I washed potatoes"
and so on.


  • Your class revise food vocabulary so that does not use up much of their concentration, meaning that they can apply themselves fully to saying the sentence with the new structure correctly.
  • As mentioned above, use either new vocabulary or a new target structure - but not both.  Revise vocabulary if using a newish target structure, and vice-versa.
  • Play a couple of listening games with the new vocabulary or structure before playing this speaking game.  (See my book of games for ideas).

Materials for you to try with this game

For this game your pupils need a pencil and two pieces of paper each.

Tell me what you think

I'd love to hear how you get on with this game, other teachers say it works extremely well for them.


I would like to say that your "Kidnap" game was a wonderful activity yesterday in my Vietnamese class. You would be surprised but it is true. I'm teaching Vietnamese as a foreign language to students in an international school.

The kids loved the game and secretly tried to work out in their team who would be the "kidnapper" in the other team to avoid being kidnapped. They were really engaged. Thanks to the fantastic games.     Xuan Tran Thi

ESL classroom games book cover5. Download the full ESL teaching resource with 176 games!

Order the full teaching resource with 176 games to make your teaching more fun.


All the best,
Shelley Ann Vernon
Teaching English Games