English baseball: A game that gets students’ competitive juices flowing

Charles McLarty, Hokkaido University of Information Science

Quick guide                                                                  

  • Keywords: English, opposites, competition
  • Learner English level: Elementary to false beginner
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school and above
  • Preparation time: Approximately 15-20 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-60 minutes, depending on class size
  • Materials: Printed flash cards with antonyms on front and back, printed handouts, baseball caps and gloves (optional)

This is a fun, fast-reaction game where students can enjoy competing with each other while using familiar English vocabulary words. This game is my creation, but the idea is based on arithmetic baseball, which my third grade teacher used to use to successfully motivate math-hating students in our elementary school.



Step 1: Give students the printed handouts a week before playing the game if possible.  The words used can be any part of speech, though I have found adjectives to work best. About six to ten pairs of words are sufficient though using more is possible. Read through the handout words with students. They should answer with opposites as in the following:

Teacher: Hot.

Students: Cold. 

Try asking questions to elicit answers from the designated word pairs.

Teacher: Is it hot today?

Students: No, it’s cold.

Step 2: After reading through the word pairs, have them turn their handouts over on the back. Now they must answer without looking at the handout.

Step 3: Once they can answer without the handout, begin using the flash cards. When the teacher shows hot on one side, they must say cold as quickly as possible. After they master the flash cards, begin the game.



Step 1: Divide the class into two teams. Designate team captains next. To decide which team bats first, have the two captains do janken or a coin toss. The winning team gets to bat first.

Step 2: Since the team that lost the toss must play defense first, assign positions for students to play. Choose a catcher and first, second, and third basemen. The teacher should be the pitcher the first time students play English baseball. Designate which parts of the room will be home plate, first base, second base and third base. Then, announce the home team’s starting lineup and assign students their positions. They take their positions and the teacher assumes the position of pitcher.  

Step 3: Decide the visiting team’s batting order. Like real baseball, at least three will come up during an inning. It’s a batter versus catcher showdown. The teacher “pitches” by showing a flash card to the catcher and batter. If the card shows hot, the player answering with cold first wins. If the catcher wins, it is a strike. If the batter wins, it is a hit and he or she goes to first base. If catcher and batter answer simultaneously, it is a foul ball. Like real baseball, three strikes and you’re out. When a batter reaches first base, the teacher shows a flash card. If the baseman wins, the runner is out. If the runner wins, he or she advances to second. Runners who defeat both second and third basemen, score. Games can be played for nine innings, but two to three innings may be enough for many classes. When pitching, the teacher can use flash cards, read from the handout, or do a combination of both. First batters and catchers need a few warm-up pitches to get over their nerves. For large classes, teachers should substitute liberally to give “benchwarmers” a chance to play. 



I recommend this game because even students with little knowledge of baseball can compete successfully. Also, it can improve motivation, as some boys who were unenthusiastic in regular class work came alive during games in my class. English baseball requires eight students, but can work with larger classes. Teachers can modify the game to suit their needs. Good luck!