If you’re looking for a fun way to get your students talking, you’ve come to the right place! Keep on reading for all the details about Hot Potato, traditionally a great party game that can also be used for a quick ESL speaking activity for a great warm-up or filler activity.
How to Play Hot Potato
Time: 5-10 minutes
Level: Beginner, up to 11
Materials: Flashcards, timer, “potato” (an object for students to pass around)
There are plenty of phone app timers, but a kitchen timer works well. To play, start the potato, which can be a whiteboard eraser, ball, or any lightweight, easily-seen object, moving around the class from student to student.
If there is not a practical way to play in a circle, have a contingency for the last student getting the potato back to the first student, such as pausing the timer.
When the timer goes off, the student with the potato is shown a flashcard. If they can correctly identify the word, they stay alive, but if they are wrong, they are out and must sit down. Vary the length of time for the timer, generally 5-15 seconds, with an occasional longer or shorter spell.
A variation is to have two potatoes which look different. The person who has the potato A must ask the person holding potato B a question about the flashcard, and that student must answer. It’s a great way to practice just about anything! For example:
A: Do you like oranges?
B: Yes, I do/No, I don’t.
You could also consider showing two flashcards and have students work on conjunctions (more ideas here: Conjunction Games).
Variations for this Classic Passing Game
Another variation is to use with something like giving directions. You can use your school classroom as a starting location. Then, whoever is holding the potato has to give directions to another location. More details here: Giving Directions ESL.
It’s also one of my favourite money activities. Whoever is holding the object has to answer a question like, “I had $8 but I spent $2.50. How much do I have left?”
Teaching tip! If you find the lights in your classroom quite harsh, consider picking up some light filters.
If the class is large, this can be a very long game and the students who are out will lose interest quickly. So, I would break large classes into groups of 10-15 players. All groups use the same timer and flashcard—I simply say, “Three, two, one,” and the students holding potatoes all say their answers together.
Just be sure that you have a way to pass the object around the circle.
Like this activity? There are 38 more just like it in this book: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Kids (7+)
Procedure and Rules for the Hot Potato Game:
- If possible, move students/players into a circle. Simply have them stand around the edge of the classroom. If the class is very large, divide into groups of 10-15 and make the appropriate number of circles.
- Begin moving a “potato” around the circle. Students can either pass or toss a small object. The key is that the player can see the next person who they should pass it to easily in the room and there should be no confusion.
- Set a timer for a random (brief) amount of time. There are plenty of free timers online or use the classic song you can find on YouTube designed for this. Five to fifteen seconds is good, with an occasional shorter or longer time.
- When the timer goes off or the music stops, show a flashcard (or PowerPoint image).
- The student holding the potato must correctly identify the image or sit down. If playing with more than one group, count 3,2,1, and have them answer together. Have a demonstration round if your class is playing for the first time.
- The winner is the last player standing.
Do you Like this ESL Speaking Activity?
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 75 Pages - 07/12/2015 (Publication Date)
Yes? Thought so!
This ESL speaking activity for kids is from this book, available on Amazon: 39 ESL Speaking Activities for Kids. The rest of the activities are just like this one in terms of ESL teaching awesome. Fun, engaging and interesting ESL games and activities? Yes please!
Top Quality ESL Activities at your Fingertips
If you want to have almost 40, top-quality ESL speaking activities for kids right at your fingertips, then you’ll need to check this book out. Keep a copy on your office bookshelf to use as a handy reference guide. Or, have it on your tablet for easy access when lesson planning on the go at your favourite coffee shop.
Easy to Use
Oh yeah, do you want to know the best part? These are no-prep, low-prep so you’ll be able to save a ton of time when planning your ESL lessons. Just open the book a few minutes before class starts and you should be able to find something that’ll work with almost any vocabulary or grammar point.
If you want to add some variety to your classes, then check out the book on Amazon. It really is that easy to make your English lessons with kids better:
Hot Potato FAQs
There are a number of common questions that people have about this popular game. Here are the answers to some of the most popular ones.
What are the Rules of Hot Potato?
The rules for hot potato are very simple. When someone drops the potato, they are out. Or, the person holding the potato when the music stops is also out of the round. Continue until only 1 person is left.
Where Can I Find a Hot Potato Timer?
If you don’t want to spend any money, you can easily DIY your own hot potato timer. Students can pass along any object, perhaps even a potato that you bring from home.
And for the timer, you can borrow one of those hourglass timers from another game you may have. You could also use a countdown timer on a computer or cellphone. There are a ton of options out there, but the key is that when the music stops, the person holding the object has to do something.
However, if you want to get yourself the official Timer then you’ll definitely need to check it out on Amazon. Does anyone have a budget for teaching supplies that haven’t been used?! This may be the ultimate purchase!
How do you Play the Hot Potato Game?
To play the hot potato game, players pass around the timer around the circle and when it goes off, the player holding it has to do something. There are various kinds of timers you can use, as well as many variations for what specific thing the person has to do.
Where did the Game Hot Potato Come From?
The term hot potato comes from the mid 1800s and means to abandon something quickly in order to not get burned. It’s an allusion to the fact that potatoes retain a lot of heat after being cooked. The game has existed for decades as a family game and you can buy an actual game for kids these days.
What Does the Phrase Hot Potato Mean?
The phrase hot potato means a sensitive issue that is controversial and risky to deal with. For example, in the USA, gun control is one such issue. It dates from the mid 1800s.
- Wild, frantic, laugh out loud, electronic musical tater-tossing good...
- Begin the music and pass the potato, but don't get caught holding the...
- Designed for 2-6-players
- Includes an electronic plush potato stuffed with foam, 13 potato chip...
More Hot Potato for ESL Students
Check out another game variation in this short video below. In reality, there are a ton of different ways to play this fun speaking game for kids (or adults), so get creative because the sky is really the limit in terms of what you can do with this activity:
Have your say about this ESL Speaking Game for Kids!
What do you think about Hot Potato? Would it work in your ESL classes with children? How many players do you find is ideal? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you.
Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself, find this useful resource.
Last update on 2020-10-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API