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EFL/ESL Vocabulary Games


EFL/ESL games to practice vocabulary words

Team Spelling

Instructions

Put the class into teams.

The teacher shows a team a photograph or drawing and the team must each write down one letter of that word (without showing their teammates), depending on their position. The leftmost student writes down the first letter, the next student the second letter, etc.
e.g. the teacher shows a group of five students a picture of an apple.
The leftmost student writes down "a", the next student "p", the next student "p", the next "l" and the rightmost student "e".

Give them a short timelimit (ten to twenty seconds depending on their English level) and then have them all reveal the letters they wrote. Award one point if the word is correctly spelled, then move on to the next group.

Variations

As preparing a lot of words all the same length (e.g. you have teams of 5 students each: it can be hard to think of lots of 5-letter words without going outside the students' knowledge of vocabulary) you can have words `wrap around`:
If you give a six letter word to a team of five students then the first student has to write down both the first and last letters.
Sitting the students in a ring can help them get the idea.

Notes

Making the vocabulary relevant to a current event is of course best (Halloween, Christmas, New Year, Valentines', etc).

The Hot Seat

Instructions

  1. Break class into 4 or less teams
  2. Place a 'hot seat' in front of the class and facing away from the board
  3. Each team selects a leader
  4. One team is up at a time and their leader sits in the hot seat
  5. Write ten words on the board so the leader can't see them
  6. Number the words 1-10
  7. Each team member is assigned a word or words on the board
  8. Some team members may have more than one word
  9. Team members take turns communicating their word to the leader without
    saying the word with no spelling, writing, or drawing allowed
  10. Team members can say 'pass' if their word is too difficult
  11. Each team has 1 minute to get as many words as possible
  12. The team with the most points at the end wins

Variations

  • Use simple words like animals or days of the week for weaker students
  • Use the word 'pass' as one of the words on the board to challenge strong students

Notes

This game can be challenging to explain so preparing directions in the student's native language can be helpful.

 

A big thanks to Steve for this EFL/ESL game!

Stand and Spell

Instructions

  1. Make list of words for students to spell
  2. Write students' names on the board
  3. Give each student one letter to be and write it next to their names
  4. Call out a word to be spelled
  5. Students stand next to each other to spell the word

Variations

  • Give each student a large alphabet card to hold above their head
  • Have one student be the leader who places students in the right position
  • Make teams for bigger classes
  • Give groups a time limit to spell the word

Notes

If one student's letter comes up more than once in a word, they can move and this makes the game more fun. Use the variation and make the 'quiet' student the leader to help include them in class.

 

A big thanks to Troy for this EFL/ESL game!

Spin the Coin

Instructions

  1. Lay out an arbitrary number of flashcards in a circle
    formation, making sure the edges of the flashcards are touching (i.e.
    no “holes” in the circle: taping the cards down helps)
  2. Give each player some marker pieces (colored chips work well)
  3. Prepare a 'coin' from cardboard, etc. with a line on each side, from the center of the coin to the edge
  4. Spin the coin in the middle of the circle and have the first student slam their hand down on the coin
  5. The
    line on the coin serves as a pointer and the student says the
    vocabulary word or grammar structure on the card the line points to
  6. If they are right, they place one of their markers on the card
  7. The first student to get rid of all of their markers wins

Variations

  • Use pictures for less advanced students
  • Have special flashcards such as 'place your marker on any available card' or 'remove 1 marker from a card'
  • Only allow one marker on each card

Notes

If you are using only a few flashcards, make the number of markers be equal to the number of flashcards.

A big thanks to David for this EFL/ESL game!

Spell from a Bag

Instructions

  1. Divide the class into groups of 2-4 students
  2. Assign everyone a vocabulary word
  3. Have each student write their word out with each letter on a separate small sheet of paper
  4. Place all the letters in a bag
  5. Students take turns taking one letter out of the bag at a time
  6. If the letter is one found in their word, they keep it and give the bag to the next student
  7. If the letter they select is not one of the letters in their word, they put it back in the bag and give it to the next student
  8. For
    example, say S1 has CAT as their word, S2 has DOG, and S3 has COW. If
    S1 draws C from the bag (even if it is not the C that they wrote), they
    keep it and give the bag to S2. S2 draws a W, puts it back in the bag,
    and gives it to S3, etc.
  9. The first student to spell their word wins

Variations

  • Use letter blocks instead of having students write their letters on paper
  • Use sentences with some similar words for more advanced students

Notes

This is a good way to review vocabulary as each students will most likely learn the words they have to spell.

 

A big thanks to David for this EFL/ESL game!

Nim

Instructions

  1. Prepare sets of at least 12 flashcards for each group
  2. Lay out a number of flashcards in several rows
  3. Any number of rows is possible
  4. I like to use at least 12 cards in a 3x4 format
  5. Players take turns saying and removing any number of cards from a single row
  6. The player who has to take the last card loses

Variations

  • Play with the alphabet where the student who says “Z” loses
  • Play with numbers where a number is set ahead of time to be the last number
  • Have the loser perform a silly task

Notes

A big thanks to David for this EFL/ESL game!

Minesweep

Instructions

  1. Place a number of flashcards face down
  2. Set one of the flashcards to be a whammy card
  3. Students take turns flipping over and one card at a time and say the word/sentence
  4. Whoever turns over the whammy card must perform a silly task
  5. After someone pulls the whammy card, shuffle the cards and start again

Variations

  • Make the whammy card be a “safe” card, where everyone but the student who turned over the card has to perform the silly task
  • Have players get one point for each card the say/answer correctly
  • Play this game with regular playing cards to practice numbers, with one face card as the whammy
  • Combine
    playing cards with a list, using numbers 1-6 or so and having a
    numbered list on the side with six vocabulary words/grammar structures

    • If a student turns over a 3, they say the item that is third on the list
  • Use grammar structures and/or questions for more advanced students

Notes

If you use flashcards, make sure that you can’t see through the back!

 

A big thanks to David for this EFL/ESL game!

Fly Swatter

Instructions

  1. Write vocabulary words scattered across the board
  2. Place two chairs in front of the board with a fly swatter on each chair
  3. Divide class into two equal teams
  4. Have one student from each team sit in the chairs with their backs to the board
  5. Say one of the vocabulary words on the board
  6. Students stand and find the word on the board
  7. Students get one swat and the first student to hit the word with their fly swatter gets one point for their team
  8. If neither students hits the right word, the next students are up and no points are awarded.
  9. Repeat until everyone has had at least one turn

Variations

Use pictures for young students who haven't learned the alphabet

Notes

This game can be used with any level student who needs to practice vocabulary and is an exciting way to warm up the class. Students will often get loud so don't let teammates shout the answer or location of the word.

 

A big thanks to Ted for this EFL/ESL game!

Crazy Face

Instructions

  1. Give each student a piece of paper with the outline of a head on it
  2. Have each student pick their favorite color marker
  3. Give students one thing to draw, such as 'nose'
  4. Have students pass their paper to the person next to them when finished
  5. Give students another part of the face to draw, such as 'hair'.
  6. When done, have students give a name to their face and show them to the class

Variations

  • Have students draw a whole body
  • Have students draw a house to learn house words
  • Have students draw a zoo to learn animal words
  • Use different themes for different vocabulary

Notes

Make sure there is plenty of room on the paper for kids to draw. They often find it helpful if there is one thing already done, such as the outline of a head, to help them get started.

Encourage creativity and let them draw any style they want, like and elephants nose instead of a person's nose. The kids will crack up at drawings they they get and you can be really creative by having them draw things like sideburns, jewelery, etc.

 

A big thanks to Ted for this EFL/ESL game!

Colored Ballons

Instructions

  1. Blow up balloons of different colors
  2. Send 4 or 5 balloons into class
  3. Balloons cannot touch the ground
  4. Students call out color of balloon every they hit one

Variations

  • Have balloon colors represent different vocabulary words
  • Have balloon colors represent sentences for more advanced classes

Notes

This game can be used with any size class but works better with larger classes. Just make sure the door is closed because the young kids go crazy. Also, be careful of them jumping out of their chairs to hit balloons.

 

A big thanks to Ted for this EFL/ESL game!

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