Reading games are an absolute necessity for online English classes. But even the most attentive of students can find their minds drifting away. It’s difficult to focus if there isn’t any form of excitement or novelty during lessons.

For all teachers out there struggling to make reading fun, we feel you! Kids these days are more drawn to moving pictures rather than words. It’s definitely an uphill battle just to get them interested in a book.

However, with these free and simple ESL reading games, you can bring a spark into your Zoom classes. Who knows? You might even inspire a few of them to pick up a book on their own just for fun!

1. Taboo Voices

Taboo Voices - one of the reading games

Reading games can be mellow yet incredibly fun. In Taboo Voices, the teacher shares a screen with a short story on it. Students then take turns reading segments of the chosen story assigned to them. But there’s a catch!

How it Works

The teacher has to decide ahead of time which words are the ones that repeat themselves often in the story. It could be a character’s name or an object. The idea is to select a list of words they aren’t allowed to say while reading the story aloud.

They have to come up with another word to describe the taboo word. For example, if the words “Captain Hook” are banned, the students have to find alternatives. They need to be creative and say, “Mr. Red Coat” or “The Evil Man Without a Hand” to replace the taboo words.

The students start the game with 5 points. But It can be more if the story is long. Whoever slips up loses a point each time. Thus. the one with the most points remaining by the end of the story wins the game.

  • Hot Tip: For extra giggles, you can make it a rule that a certain word has to be read out in a silly tone.

2. Humpty Dumpty Story Game

Humpty Dumpty - one of the  reading games

As the picture suggests, you have to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. But instead of the clumsy egg man, it is story segments that the students need to reassemble.

Yes, reading games are best when they are interactive! The idea of this game is for the teacher to select a story ahead of time and split them into segments for each student.

The teacher can do this by typing out the story and sending them to individual students. This can be done via the private message feature on Zoom. Another way is to simply crop an image of the tale section-by-section and sending them as images to individual students.

How it Works

The goal is for the students to read out their segment. However, they have to collaborate with others to determine the correct order of the story. This allows students to understand the structure of a simple story and learn typical story elements. These include character introduction, setting, plot, as well as conflict, climax, and resolution.

  • Hot Tip: Generally, dividing students into groups using Zoom’s breakout room function makes things interesting. From there, you can give every group the same story to put together again. The fastest group to piece it together accurately wins!

See how to use Zoom’s breakroom function at the end of this article!

3. Mad Lib Mayhem

Mad Lib Mayhem

Without a doubt, one of the easiest reading games to prep is Mad Lib Mayhem. All you need is a link to a free story builder website. 

For instance, Squigly’s Playhouse has a large selection of free mad libs that are student-friendly and easy to use.

The teacher should prep ahead of time by choosing a mad lib and share their screen with students through Zoom. In this case, the teacher will type in answers that the students suggest.

How it Works

Mad Lib consists of 2 parts. The first part is where students give their answers to seemingly random questions like “Pick a number” and “Pick an animal”.

But it all makes sense in the second part of this game because the website will use those answers to generate a story. Obviously, the more bizarre the students’ answers are, the funnier the story will be.

After students have decided on what to put as their answers, the class will read the stories out loud.

  • Hot Tip: If the class isn’t too big, the brainstorming can be done along with the teacher. But if the class has many students, it might be better to use breakout rooms so students can play this among themselves in groups.

4. Noun Cloud

Noun Cloud

How about incorporating some digital word art into your reading games?

You may have come across something called a Word Cloud in a business seminar somewhere. Word Clouds are interesting to look at because of the different colours, sizes and whimsical arrangement.

How it Works

For the Noun Cloud game, divide your students into groups using the breakout room function and send them the link to the free Word it Out Word Cloud maker.

Each group is assigned a letter of the alphabet. Instruct the group leader to key in the nouns suggested by the group, generate the Noun Cloud, download the image and send it to the teacher.

The goal is for each group to come up with as many nouns as they can think of, starting with the letter that was assigned to them. The group with the largest cloud of correct nouns wins.

This can be fun for the students as they have the freedom to customise the font and colour of their digital cloud art.

  • Hot Tip: The teacher can take it further by allowing each group to make sentences or an entire story out of the words in their cloud.

Younger Kids

For young learners, the teacher can be the one to navigate the Word Cloud website. For this activity, students suggest the nouns verbally or by typing them down in the Zoom chatbox.

5. A Whole New World Activity

A Whole New World Activity

Turn your Zoom ESL class into a theatre stage and your students into actors in this group reading activity!

Change your background to an enchanted forest or enable a filter that makes everyone look like a one-eyed pirate. Indeed, there is very little that Zoom cannot do. Zoom has made it very easy for teachers to send waves of excitement into the virtual classroom instantly.


1. Filters

You can assign roles to your students and allow them to use a related filter that suits their characters. For example, some students can be narrators wearing a neutral filter, while the villains can wear dark sunglasses. For hero characters, students can wear halos.

2. Customised Background

Customised Background

Additionally, if the story mainly takes place in the woods or a castle, you can easily use a customized background. Simply download a related image from a trusted source like Unsplash and set it as everyone’s background for an immersive story experience.

3. Setting the Mood with Music

If you really want the students to have the full experience, consider adding background music during the reading.

Use Spotify or YouTube to play dramatic music during fight scenes and peaceful instrumentals during serene moments in the story.


Once the background is set, and characters have been assigned, students will then read the dialogue or parts assigned to them.

While you may not have enough characters to assign to the class, it doesn’t matter. Neither does it matter if the filters don’t exactly fit all the characters in the story. The main goal is to briefly create an immersive environment to bring the story to life.

Encourage the students to narrate according to the mood of the story and use their voices to portray emotions. This will help them as they ‘act’ out their characters’ dialogues.

Younger Kids

For younger students who aren’t skilled in navigating Zoom features, the teacher can guide them to do so.

Alternatively, you can tell them ahead of time to wear a certain colour to match the characters they will be portraying instead. Green for Robin Hood and Red for Captain Hook, for example.

All it takes is a little preparation from the teacher to determine suitable filters, backgrounds, and music to bring students into a whole new world.

If you’re unsure how to apply filters, customised backgrounds, or share music without sharing your screen, check out the links below for quick video tutorials!

Additionally, here are links to free short stories for you to use during these reading games and activities!

Need more ideas on how to make your classes interesting? Check out our blog for endless teaching resources and ideas!