It’s no secret: young children love games.  (And really, don’t most of us?)  It can be challenging, though, to find a game for the early Spanish language classroom that is fun, useful, and authentic.  Pañuelito fits that bill perfectly.

How to play the game

Pañuelito, also often called el juego del pañuelo, is  historically common in several Spanish-speaking countries.  Traditionally, the game is played with numbers.  Here’s how that goes:

  1. A group of children is divided into two equal groups.
  2. Within each team, each child is assigned a number, beginning with 1.
  3. Someone stands in a place equidistant from the two teams, holding a handkerchief.
  4. The person in the middle calls out a number
  5. The child on each team that was assigned that number races to grab the handkerchief before the child from the other team can reach it.
  6. The child who grabs the handkerchief first races back to her original position.  If she arrives there, she wins the point.  However, if the child who didn’t get the handkerchief can catch her first, then he wins the point, and she loses.

Language targets in the game

You can enjoy playing with any vocabulary, not just numbers. Try assigning students colors, food words, and more. You need a minimum of four players and two category words in order to play, and you can play with as many players as you like.

We incorporated Pañuelito into Calico Spanish Stories Online Level C.  That level is titled “I Live Here.” In it, Rita la rana verde (the green frog) has a fun day playing around her house with her family and a few friends, including Goyo from Level B and a rather high-maintenance ratón named Raúl.  At one point, they go to the sala in her house and end up playing this fun game.

In Level C, we suggest using the following vocabulary as categories to support the level’s learning targets:

  • rojo, gris, verde
  • feliz, triste, aburrido, cansado
  • cocina, sala, baño, cuarto
  • grande, pequeño, listo, inteligente

But what about showing comprehension?

You may have noticed that this game uses vocabulary devoid of any context.  That’s pretty much not okay.  However, it’s super easy to ask children to show they know what their category actually means:

  • Give them something of the color to hold up when it’s their turn to run.
  • Ask them to show a number of fingers that matches their number.
  • Require a gesture showing the word or phrase’s meaning before a point can be earned: the child pretends to cook for cocina, or pretends to wash hands for baño, sleep for cuarto, or use a remote control for sala.


Still can’t visualize how this game happens?  Here’s an example.

Aaron holds the pañuelo in the middle.  Two students are on each team, and one is assigned feliz and the other is assigned triste.

Each team stands about six feet away from Aaron.  Aaron calls out, “¡Feliz!” and each child assigned feliz begins to run for the pañuelo.  Theo from Team 1 reaches Aaron first and grabs the pañuelo and begins to run back to his place on Team 1.

Mariah from Team 2 races to try to catch him but doesn’t catch him in time.  He makes it back before Mariah can catch him, then shows a happy face to show he knows what feliz means.  So,Theo gets the point for Team 1.

Mariah goes back to her place on Team 2 to try again on another turn.

If you want something more to print out, here is a PDF of our instructions directly from the Stories Online Level C Teacher’s Guide.


One more thing before we go: the only things the Pañuelo game and this song have in common are the words pañuelito and that they’re both part of Stories Online Level C, but here’s our song for you anyway:


What’s the top complaint of elementary world language teachers?  TIME.

MAXIMIZE YOUR DISTRICT%2FSCHOOL TIME LIMITSI cannot tell you how often I hear teachers and world language district specialists alike lament the prevailing mood in schools and districts that we really ought to be producing better results in language proficiency in our younger learners, and we really ought to be doing it in 1/5 of the time high school teachers have.

Seriously, I meet a lot of teachers, and I rarely meet a teacher who has more than 90 minutes per week with her students, and even those are rare.  Thirty to 40 minutes is more typical, and as for me, I see my elementary kids once a week for 60 minutes, and when I was in a formal school situation I saw my early learners for 20 minutes per week.

What are you going to do in 20 minutes per week?

Not much, unless you get creative.

Welcome to our short series on ways you can maximize your limited time with your early learners.  Here’s tip #1 – and stay tuned til the bottom, where I share a great new free platform we discovered for creating interactive, kid-friendly games.

Team up with the computer teacher.

Sure, my students only saw me 20 minutes per week, but I’m not the only source of input, and they also saw their computer teacher for at least that amount of time per week.  Take a walk down the hall and chat over a coffee with your techy colleague and try to come up with a plan where the students’ computer time can sometimes kill two birds with one stone: give more Spanish exposure and interaction, AND create technology learning opportunities.

But what will they do?

Explore authentic children’s content

Many sites created for Spanish-speaking children contain safe, accessible language for your learners, too.  What about watching a pictocuento or singing Disney karaoke or doing a geography quiz?

Go shopping

Children can get some interesting exposure to intercultural differences and similarities.  What about exploring the toys section of Amazon Spain?  Kids can even create a wish list and email it to you!

Schedule some fun

Schedules for kid-friendly festivals are easy to find and often have their schedules (dates! days! activity words! times!) online.  Can your learners plan, for example, what they want to check out at the Festival Internacional del Globo?

Play a game

Try our animal identification games on Sugarcane!

Try our animal identification games on Sugarcane!

New interactive game sites are making it easier and easier for you to develop games directly related to your content that kids can play on their own time and in computer class.  Quizlets on your class vocabulary immediately come to mind.

Even better, we’ve recently discovered Sugarcane, a new platform we really like, and we used the fun animal characters from the Calico Spanish Stories & Homeschool programs to create five different games related to animal words, identification, and description.  In all we’ve created 38 Spanish learning games on the Sugarcane platform.  Check them out and share the games with your learners’ computer teacher.  Then, try creating your own Sugarcane game!

Our #LangChat on “Games in the language classroom” was full of great ideas and discussion. I’ll try to summarize most of the ideas here. Pull up a chair and grab a cup of coffee, there are so many great ideas to share! Thanks to Diego Ojeda and Elvira Deyamport for moderating and for all the #LangChat participants for sharing their methods and successes.

Games can be a wonderful way to get students engaged in the language classroom. Some teachers shared that they prefer to use the term “activities” rather than “games” as it sells better with administrators. Regardless of what terminology you use, keep in mind @tmsaue1’s comment, “It’s not important WHAT game you play, but WHY you play the game. Does it allow students to use language?” Furthermore, as @ninatanti1 shared, “Engagement is the key. If they’re engaged, the activity/game is a success.”

Assigning Homework in a World Language Classroom– Follow the blog on Bloglovin

What makes a good game?

The answer to this question depends on your instructional goal. Generally, games are simply a fun and interactive way to use the target language. @tmsaue1 reminded us that finding ways to move past single word responses is very important. Others noted that they wanted to include culture in the games, and several people mentioned the that the competitive nature of games grabs students’ attention more than standard activities. Getting students moving to increase their retention of the language was also noted.

Game Ideas:

I must say that I impressed by the creativity and the amazing modifications made to games by our colleagues. This blog post is an attempt to organize the myriad of ideas so that you can enjoy the variety and opportunities presented in these games. Because this was a twitter chat, the descriptions of the games are limited. If you need clarity on a game, try asking for guidance on Twitter. The twitter id of each contributor is listed for easy reference. If you have a modification or detailed description of how to play, please share it in the comments. In some cases I have slightly modified tweets to make them easier to read. Full Archive:

Diego Ojeda uses games extensively in his high school Spanish classroom and he has written a few documents to share many of his games with you. Visit his website to download your own copy. A few games are described in Spanish, but directions for most games are written in English.
Verbal games, word games, body games, group games, see examples: @DiegoOjeda66

You can also find additional non-tech games and activities described on the Language Teacher’s Collaborate wiki (founded by @DiegoOjeda66).

Do you want more resources in a book format? Visit the Language Teacher’s Collaborate wiki for great resources for warm ups and games: @diegoojeda66

@Fallinginflour mentioned that most website games are for romance languages, very few for Asian languages. SECottrell suggested folks follow @jannachiang as she is “the go-to for links for Asian languages.”

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Guessing games

  • Show students a word and they have to speak [the target language] to get the other person to guess the word – but they cannot use that specific word. Students must use the words/phrases that know to communicate their thought (w/out saying that word). My students loved this! I wanted them to feel like they were dropped in country and couldn’t say word they wanted, so they had to talk around it, so to [email protected]
  • A modification to this game was recommended by @NinaTanti1:
    I also use this with projected images on screen. One partner sees image and describes it to a partner who guesses.

Matching-Go Fish-Memory

  • @SraSpanglish: is memory or go-fish w/ vocab too simple to be productive? ~~I don’t think so @k2quiere
  • One activity/game I’ve just completed for Spanish 1 is a matching verb ‘magic square’; French 1 coming @IslandLanguages

Speed Dating

  • For international students: A ‘speed dating’ game where students must ask each other questions projected on PowerPoint screen. 30 seconds per slide. @ NinaTanti1

Web-based and digital games

Web 2.0 games (Scavenger hunt, photo hunts)

  • Short descriptions in TL, studs find sites to meet the description & post URL on wiki pg for their group. Then they create own. @k2quiere
  • Free Rice is online vocab game that can be played in different languages & for a good cause. Kids love it! @melindamlarson
  • Internet scavenger hunts – Old blog post about this! Have students make them – our use my students’! @SECottrell

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Sentence Building

  • Did 1 w/pic as pieces of caterpillar kids use pics to build longest sentence possible great for team building and expanding thinking @maestrachevre


Truth and Lie

  • Advanced students – 2 truths and a lie is fun to trigger “dudamos que…” + subjunctive @SECottrell
  • RT @SraSpanglish: 2 truths&lie variation: 2 real instructions, 1 crazy was fun in cooking unit // brilliant @SECottrell

Baccalauréat (Scattegories)

  • I play a scattegories-type game (Baccalauréat) each day for bellwork. Simply post a letter du jour and students race to finish first @melindamlarson

Family Feud

  • Fun game is Family Feud – survey students in TL about their Favorites in categories, tabulate, then play game in TL @espanolsrs

Dice Games

  • for youngers I use ‘math games’ with large dice, for olders substitute verb/subj.pron for dice numbers for ‘speed’ conjugations @islandlanguages


  • In response to concerns that charades might not offer enough communication (word level only), @pamwesely suggested that she “would have audience create a meaningful sentence based on Charade word – keep kinesthetic learner engaged like @SraSpanglish says.” @pamwesely

I Never

  • With high school, I do a clean version of the “I never” game to practice the present perfect. “Nunca he viajado a España,” [I have never visited Spain], etc. @senoritaraz

Simon Says and other Command [Imperative] Games

  • @NinaTanti1 asked, “What about “Simon Says”” @melindamlarson replied, “great for reviewing body parts & imperatives.”
  • With commands I break students up and have them create “chain of command.”Give these to other section to act out. Hilarious! @AlyssaMaske
  • blindfold one students and other give directions-he has to find something hidden in classroom @suarez712002
  • Treas hunt 4 commands.Student write directions in TL 2 spot in school & hides paper. Exchange directions when find paper get prize. @espanolsrs

Reader’s Theater

  • Is not a game, but Reader’s Theater in the FL class is fun! @DiegoOjeda
  • here’s a Reader’s Theater play in Spanish to review: no memorizing just reading might include reluctants @IslandLanguages

Who has the coin?

  • A blog post I did for tonight’s – chat “Who has the coin?” fun for practicing descriptions @SECottrell

Cultural Games
Several people were looking for ideas to tie games to culture.

  • Pasapalabra @DiegoOjeda66
  • What’s in the bag: Describe and feel -what is it used for using authentic cultural items. @tonitheisen:
  • With ID realia in a bag, you lose if you guess wrong or come up w/ dull description @SraSpanglish
  • teach games through songs–authentic! @suarez712002
  • RT @maestrachevre: @SraSpanglish @Elle_Spanish Skype and do role play too! You just blew my mind. Now where 2 find skype spkrs? @sraspanglish
  • Song idea: give each student line from song. Write line on mini-dry erase board. Play song. When hear line, hold up your board. @espanolsrs

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Who’s line is it anyway

  • Who’s line is it anyway – props – for present progressive. Also great for creativity, quick thinking in language @DonaKimberly
  • Discussion on activities that lead to spontaneity (Who’s line is it anyway) Some felt that the game fails as students aren’t comfortable being spontaneous, others felt that they need to overcome that through practice and repetition as they’ll face that in a target language country. One participant recommended writing sample sentences for 3 or 4 minutes to get started.

Word games:

  • What games can encourage students to play WITH language? See @pamwesely
  • 20 Questions is a good game to review interrogatives & require some critical thinking @melindamlarson
  • Game w/a tough authentic text (online?): race to find specific words – scaffolds reading. Must be followed w/actual reading tho @pamweseley
  • Just found this one @ninatanti1

Learning Centers and Unit Studies

  • A blog post on using learning centers with games and activities for a Weather Unit: Learning Centers for weather unit @donakimberly
  • food unit? supermarket dash kids get list and go to store website have to find all products fastest and w/certain amt $ @maestrachevre