Vocabulary game

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Vocabulary ELT games are designed to reinforce and review students' vocabulary, including aspects such as spelling, pronunciation and synonyms.

Anagrams, hangman and word soups are all good for recycling vocabulary and more motivating if played in teams. The other ideas included in this article are a little more detailed, and some of the objectives and methods may overlap with those of other games in other articles.


Objective. Practice vocabulary.

Procedure. Students are put into three groups. The teacher gives a category to the first group, e.g., phrasal verbs. In a time limit of one minute each student has to produce a phrasal verb in turn. If a person doesn’t know a word they can’t continue until s/he says something, and the other students in the group can only help them by mime. Repetition isn’t allowed. The total number of correct answers is the score. The next team is then given a different category, e.g., verb & gerund, verb & infinitive, vocab. areas etc.

3-letter words[edit]

Objective. Practice vocabulary/pronunciation (if necessary).

Procedure. Students are put into two groups to see which can come up with the most number of words beginning with a certain letter, e.g. "B": bag vs bug - ban vs bun - bat vs but - big - bus - buy.

10 words only[edit]

Objective: review vocabulary, especially vocabulary sets and collocations.

Method: the game is played in any variation of the game Guess the word explained below, but the player describing the word can only use ten words to do so. For example, to describe the word "top hat" the player might provide these ten words: "wear, head, take off, magician, trick, high, formal, black, 1800s, upper class".

A to Z[edit]

Objective. Review vocabulary.

Procedure. Teacher thinks of a theme, probably related to what has recently been done in class. The first student has to think of a word beginning with “a” related to the theme, the second student a word beginning with “b” so on to the end of the alphabet.

Adjective sketch[edit]

Objective. To review adjectives

Procedure. Teacher gives students 10 seconds to draw a sketch of anything, which could be an animal, an object or a plant.

Teacher (slowly) reads out a list of adjectives and the students write down any which describe their animal/object/plant.

Pairs compare their sketches and lists and challenge any inaccuracies.

Teacher checks any which don't make sense.

Brain storming[edit]

This is a good activity for recycling language used in a previous class.

Objective. Review vocabulary

Procedure. The students have a couple of minutes to write down, for example, all the words or phrases they can think of related to crime. The results can be drawn up as a mindmap.

Variation. Various collocations can be brainstormed sideways as demonstrated here:

  adverb      adjective       noun       verb        adverb
deafeningly     loud         singer     breathes     deeply
 peacefully     quiet        singer      hums       pensively
  widely        known        singer     struts    magnificently

Cockney rhyming slang[edit]

Students use Cockney rhyming slang. This is more of a pronunciation exercise to practise linking and binomials, and possibly only feasible with higher levels.

Objective. Students have to match possible pairs of words with the rhyming words.

Procedure. Two columns: one with the "meaning" e.g. stairs, and the other with the Cockney phrase (with the rhyming word missing), e.g. apples and ....

Compound nouns[edit]

Objective. Practice word formation.

Procedure. The teacher writes a word on the board, for example foot, and the students make as many compound nouns as possible. In this case football, footpath, footnote etc.

Four in a row[edit]

Objective. Review vocabulary.

Procedure. The students are put in two teams and the game is played in the same way as the "noughts and crosses" game below but with a bigger grid, for example five by five. The teacher writes words in the grid, and in order to place a nought or cross they must produce a correct sentence using the word in that position. The game finishes when one team manages to occupy four squares in a row.


FreeRice.com is a Web site dedicated to generating funds which go towards ending hunger and providing free education.

Objective. Review vocabulary.

Procedure. In the form of an online word game, with different levels of difficulty and diverse topics, FreeRice tests the vocabulary of participants. For each correct answer, the Web site donates money to buy 10 grains of rice.

Guess the word[edit]

Objective. Review vocabulary.

Procedure. One student sits facing the class with his or her back to the board. The teacher writes a word on the board and the rest of the class have to help the first student to guess the word by calling out related words.

Variation 1. To make the game more competitive and communiative, put students into pairs and the first one to guess correctly wins a point.

Variation 2. To make the game more energetic, pairs are formed and the vocabulary is written onto tabs of paper and left in a pile in the corner of the classroom or even outside. One member of each pair then has to run to the pile, take a tab run back to describe the word to their partner. The aim of the game is to collect as many tabs as possible by successfullly describing/guessing the words.


This game is actually quite challenging.

Objective. Review homonyms.

Procedure. The teacher gives the students a list of words which have double meanings and the students write sentences using the words to show both meanings, e.g., fine — I’m fine, thanks / He got a £50 fine for speeding.


This game is less challenging.

Objective. Review homophones.

Procedure. The teacher gives the students a list of ten to fifteen words and they have to think of the homophones. For example herehear etc.

How many words?[edit]

Objective. Word formation. Spelling.

Procedure. The teacher writes a longish word on the B/B, e.g., grandmother, and students have two minutes to make as many words as possible from the letters of the head word: another, other, rather, thread, moth, great, hand, etc.

In the manner of the word[edit]

Objective. To practice adverbs of manner e.g. happily, slowly, romantically etc.

Procedure. Groups or pairs are formed, or alternatively the whole class can play.

One volunteer is sent out of the room while the group thinks of an adverb, such as “angrily”, “lazily”, “unhappily” etc.

When the adverb has been chosen, the volunteer is called back into the room and has to guess it by ordering individual members of the group, or the whole class, to perform actions in the manner of the secret word. The group member(s) have to perform the actions in the manner of the adverb which was chosen. E.g. walk angrily, drink lazily, get up unhappily etc.

The volunteer tries to guess the adverb after each performance; if they are incorrect, they continue giving orders until they guess the word.

Note: this game will work well with younger learners, especially hyperactive or boisterous ones.


See main article Mastermind

Objective. Word formation. Spelling.

Procedure. Played the same way as the Mastermind children’s game, using 5-letter words instead of colours. Basically an elaborate version of hangman.


See main article Mindmap

Objective. Pre-view and/or revise vocabulary.

Procedure. Students brainstorm an idea.

Missing vowels[edit]

See main article Missing vowels

Objective. Revise vocabulary and word order.

Procedure. Students fill in the missing vowel letters in a sentence.

Noughts and crosses[edit]

This game, known as tic-tac-toe in American English, is good for revision.

Objective. Vocabulary revision.

Procedure. The teacher draws a "noughts and crosses" grid on the blackboard and places words in the spaces of the grid. The students are then put into two teams and to in order to place their "nought" or "cross" they must produce a correct sentence using the word in that position.


Objective. Revision of lexical items/chunks: words, idioms or phrases.

Procedure. Teacher reads out a list of lexical items/chunks.

For each item/chunk a student hears, they write down the first word that comes into their head that they associate with the lexical item/chunk. For example, if the teacher reads out "mouse", one student may write "bed".

The words they write down should be written randomly, and not in the order they are read out.

Once the lists are complete, the students work in pairs to ask each other why they wrote certain words e.g.

Student A: "Why have you written bed?"

Student B: "I wrote bed because I once found a dead mouse in my bed"

Variation. While the students are explaining their lists to each other, the teacher can monitor and write up a few of their words on the board. Then after the conversations have finished, the teacher can ask students to guess who wrote which word and what lexical item/chunk they associate the word with.


The students sit in a line facing their partner. Each pair forms a team. Students in one line are given a card with the same word on it. These students give a one word clue to their partner who must try to guess the word. If they can't, the student in the next pair gives another clue to his or her partner and so on. Different pairs begin each round.


Objective. Practice vocabulary.

Procedure. Guaranteed to lower the affective filter! Simple, fast-paced vocab. game in which students, and teacher, in quick rotation, say the first word that comes into their heads after hearing the preceding word. L1 is permitted if that's the first word that student thinks of - and of course someone will have to come up with the correct translation - or ask the teacher. When it comes round to the teacher's turn, s/he should throw in homophones, homonyms, new vocab. items etc., apart from pointing out correct pronunciation, clearing up possible misunderstandings, etc.

Reporting verb skits[edit]

With a similar format to the game Act the word above, this one involves demonstrating a reporting verb rather than describing it. It is also useful for practising intonation as this is a key aspect of different reporting verbs e.g. comsider how the intonation changes when confessing or admitting that "I shot JR".


  1. Two lines of students are formed parallel to the board, one line standing next to the board with their backs to it, and the other line facing them.
  2. The teacher writes a reporting verb on the board e.g. confess, deny, ask
  3. The students in the line facing the board then demonstrate the verb a sentence which conveys the meaning of the verb e.g. for confess, a student may say "OK! It was me! I stole the cupcake!"; for deny "I`tell you I did NOT steal that cupcake!"; for ask "Have you seen my cupcake?" etc.
  4. The student(s) who guess the verb first win a point.

Note: Students tend to fall back on definitions so instructions must be checked.

Rhyming words[edit]

Objective. Practice vocabulary containing the letters "gh" with (often) surprising pronunciations.

Procedure. Match pairs of words. Prepare slips of paper with the following words (one on each). In pairs, students have to match the mixed-up pairs of rhyming words as quickly as possible. Each match must contain only one word with the "gh" combination. Some are homophones.

caught - courtBrE - sought - sortBrE - nought - shortBrE; cough - off; dough - go - though - slow; drought - out; eight - hate - weight - wait; laugh - half; right - write; sigh - why; slight - bite - height - quite; tough - stuff; through - true; weigh - way;

The W Game[edit]

See main article The W Game

Objective. Practise (by contrasting, when necessary) the pronunciation of words beginning with "w". Homophones and minimal pairs.

Procedure. Each team tries to come up with as many words as possible beginning with "w" and to group them together by vowel sound.

Things you can do with a...[edit]

Objective. Practice vocabulary.

Procedure. Students are put into two groups. They have to come up with as many verbs as possible to describe things they can do with an object, e.g. a watermelon: bite, buy, cut, drop, eat, play football, sell, share, slice, suck, throw... (the teacher might need to take care when choosing the item). More abstract topics can also be used, such as "things you might find on the street", "places you can play football", "things we can't live without" etc.

Variation. Groups can place bids on how many words they will think of, and the highest bidding group gets to list their items (within a short time limit). If they don't meet their bid, they are ridiculed (by their peers) or penalized (through loss of points).

Two of each[edit]

Objective. Practice vocabulary.

Procedure. Ask students to give you two times, two places, two colours, two verbs, two adjectives, two adverbs and two nouns. Divide students into two groups; each group has to produce a short story containing all the words.

Word battleships[edit]

See main article Word battleships

Objective. Practice pronunciation and spelling.

Procedure. Pairwork - students fill in a grid with words and try to guess the words the other student has put on their grid. A more complicated version of noughts and crosses above

Words beginning with...[edit]

Objective. Vocabulary practice.

Procedure. Short version - students choose a letter and the group (depending on level) has to find 3, 6 or 10 words beginning with that letter, as follows: 3, 6 or 10 words in general 3, 6 or 10 verbs 3, 6 or 10 nouns 3, 6 or 10 adjectives

The important point is that no words can be repeated, so if they use water or book in the first group of words, they can't use it as a verb or noun later, but waterfall/watery and booking/bookshop are great.

Extension. Students have to write sentences, practising affirmatives, questions, etc and in past, present etc. using x number of the words they've come up with.

Variation 1. As above, only with words ending with the chosen letter.

Word snakes[edit]

Objective. Practice vocabulary, spelling.

Procedure. Starts with the teacher or any student and goes around the class. The first person thinks of a word and the next has to think of another beginning with the last letter of the previous word, e.g., think, key, yes, etc.

External links[edit]