viernes, 19 de octubre de 2012

using games to teach vocabulary


Vocabulary is key to learning any language. Whether you are a teacher of ESL (English as Second Language) students or simply helping high school students study for a standardized test, vocabulary must be taught and learned. However, few things are more dreaded than lists of unknown words. Using games to teach vocabulary can help make the whole process more engaging for you and your students. 


'Games are often used as short warm-up activities or when there is some time left at the end of a lesson. Yet, as Lee observes, a game "should not be regarded as a marginal activity filling in odd moments when the teacher and class have nothing better to do" (1979:3). Games ought to be at the heart of teaching foreign languages. Rixon suggests that games be used at all stages of the lesson, provided that they are suitable and carefully chosen.'

'Games also lend themselves well to revision exercises helping learners recall material in a pleasant, entertaining way. All authors referred to in this article agree that even if games resulted only in noise and entertained students, they are still worth paying attention to and implementing in the classroom since they motivate learners, promote communicative competence, and generate fluency.'

1. Taboo   (aka Hot Seat)
Divide the class into Teams A and B. Team A sits in a group on one side of the classroom, Team B sits on the other side. Bring two chairs to the front of the room so that when seated, a student is facing his or her respective team and their back is to the blackboard or white board. One member from each team sits in their team's chair. The teacher writes a word, phrase, or sentence on the board. The students in the chairs mustn't see what's written on the board. Once the teacher yells 'go', the teams have one minute, using only verbal clues, to get their seated teammate to say the item written on the board. The only rule (or taboo) is that they MUSTN'T say the item written on the board, in full or part. The first student in the hot seat to utter the word scores a point for their team. When the round is over, two new team players are rotated into the hot seat and a new item is written up. The first team to score X number of points wins.

2.  Memory Challenge
Put the students into pairs or small groups. Give them a time limit (e.g. 3 minutes) and ask them to write down as many words, phrases, and/or expressions as they can from the last lesson on topic X. The pair or group that can remember the most items wins.

3.  Last One Standing
Give the class a topic (e.g. food, clothes, animals, things in a kitchen) and ask them to stand up, in a circle if possible. Clap out a beat and say, one, two, three, followed by a topic-related word. After the next three beats, the next student in the circle gives a word related to the topic, and so it continues. Anyone who can't think of a word or repeats a word already said has to sit down and it's the next person's turn. The winner is the last one standing.
4.  Pictionary
Divide the class into Teams A and B. Team A sits in a group on one side of the classroom, Team B sits on the other side. One member from each team goes to the board. The teacher flashes them a word, phrase, or expression written on a piece of paper. The students have one minute to get their respective team to say the item only by drawing pictorial clues on the board. Written words, verbal clues, or gestures are forbidden. The first team to say the word scores a point. 

5.  Bingo
The teacher writes up 10 words, phrases and/or expressions on the board. Each student chooses any 5 of the items from the board and writes them down. The teacher then selects one of the items at random (bits of paper from a hat, for example) and offers a brief definition or synonym of the item but does not say the word itself. If a student thinks they have the word the teacher described, they tick it. When a student ticks all of their words, they shout BINGO!! The first student to shout BINGO wins the round. Additional rounds can be played with different sets of words.

6. Outburst

Divide the class into Teams A and B. The teacher assigns each team a particular topic (e.g. sports, vehicles, things in an office) which is to be kept secret from the other team. Each team meets for 5 minutes in private and collectively draws up a list of ten items related to the topic. After the lists are made, the game begins. The teacher tells Team A the name of Team B's topic. Team A then has one minute to try to guess the items on Team B's list (hence producing a noisy outburst). The members of Team B must listen and tick the items which Team A manages to guess. For every word Team A guesses correctly, they score a point. For every word they miss, Team B gets a point. After the points are recorded, it's Team B turn to guess Team A's list. Additional rounds can be played with different topics assigned by the teacher. The first team to score X number of points wins.
7. Concentration
Divide the class into small groups. Each group is given a set of cards which are spread out on the table face-down. The sets are made up of two kinds of cards: word cards + definition/picture cards. Students in turn pick up a card, turn it over, and try matching it to its corresponding card. If there's no match, the cards are returned to their original place on the table and play passes to the next student. If a match is made, the student keeps the pair and tries to make another match. Once all the cards are matched, the winner is the player who has matched the most number of cards.

8.  Scrambled Letters 
Write up eight words with their letters shuffled (e.g. eicscen for science) on the board. When the teacher says 'go', the students, individually or in pairs, endeavor to untangle the words as quickly as they can. The first student or pair, to do so wins. The teacher can then quickly run through each of the scrambled letter groups on the board, eliciting information about each word or concept. Tip: Don't make them too difficult.

9.   Q & A
Write up two separate word lists on the board; an A list and a B list. Assign half the class the A list and the other half list B. Each student takes each word from their list and contextualizes it into a coherent question. Ideally, the question should demonstrate some understanding of the word (e.g. Is your family very hospitable?, NOT What does hospitable mean?). If students need help, they can consult the teacher, their notes, or their textbook. When the students have finished writing their questions, As and Bs pair up and exchange their list of questions. The students read each question and write an answer to the question on the same piece of paper. In their answer, they need to use the same word that is underlined in the question. After the answers are written, the papers are exchanged again and read by the original student.

Student A's question:    Are there any skyscrapers in New York City?        
Student B's answer:      Yes, New York City has several skyscrapers.  
10.   Categories  (aka The Alphabet Game)
Divide the class into 3 or 4 teams and assign a secretary for each group. On one side of the board, write down six categories related to the current topic or syllabus of your course (e.g. countries, sports, jobs, movies, furniture, verbs, things that are round). To start the game, the teacher randomly selects a letter of the alphabet and scribbles it onto the board. Each team must then work together to quickly find a word for each of the six categories that starts with the chosen letter. The first team to complete all six categories shouts "stop!" The class then stops writing, and a member of the team goes to the board to fill in the categories. The teacher then checks each word with the class and also elicits what other teams had for each category. If the quickest team has filled in each category correctly, they earn one point for their team. The teacher then chooses a different letter and another round is played. The first team to score X number of points wins.

EFL/ESL Vocabulary Games

Team Spelling


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.

The Hot Seat


  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
  Stand and Spell


  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
  Spin the Coin


  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

Spell from a Bag


  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


  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
  Fly Swatter


  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

Crazy Face


  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


  • 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

This vocabulary game needs an OHP in class. Make slide presentations of funny characters miming feelings. For example, make slides with a picture of a clown with a sad face. Next to the sad face insert a speech bubble with “Oh! I’m so sad” written in it. Make more slides with other emotions like happy, sad, angry etc. Use picture animations to make the presentation more interesting. Show the presentation in class using an OHP. After the slide presentation is over. Ask a student to think of an emotion and mime it. The rest of the class should guess what the emotion is. Ask students to volunteer for miming. Some students may feel very shy and intimidated by the very thought of going in front of the whole class and miming.
How many times
This is more of a vocabulary drilling game to remember words. Choose words the students are already familiar with. Set a winning number. For example, set “5” as a winning number. Ask the students to be ready with a pen and a paper. Call out a word. As soon as you say “Start” the students should start writing the word. Once you say “Stop”, the students should stop writing. All the students who write the word 5 or more times are the winners.  Award the winners with a candy. This makes the learning experience very sweet.
Word bag
Write many words on small pieces of paper. Put them in a bag. Make corresponding picture cards. Each picture card should have the picture and the name on it. For example a vase picture card should have a picture of a vase and “Vase” written in bold on it. Divide the class into small groups. Give one word bag to each group.  Place the picture cards on table. The student should pick a word from the bag first then the student should pick out the first card from the table. If the word matches the card, the student gets to keep the card. If the word and the picture do not match, the card is put back and the bag is passed on to the next student in the group. The student with the maximum number of cards is the winner. This vocabulary game helps the students to remember the spelling of each word.

 In conclusion ,it's very useful to teach new vocabulary with games ,not only because it's relaxing but also because we can make a good learning atmosphere  can guide the students to learn more and meaningful. Teachers must create  attractive methods for the class.What should a teacher do if their students get bored? Using  games can be an alternative solution to handle this problem. Games, can  encourage many students to sustain their interest and work.


3 comentarios:

  1. Hi Janet, I agree with you because to teach english with games is relaxing. In addition, you can enjoy the class with the students and have fun.

  2. Hi Yanet,

    I agree with you. Teachers have to teach vocabulary using creative methods like games. Games help students to feel relaxing and teachers can catch the students attention.

    Nice Job!

  3. I agree with you Janet!

    I think that games also relax students, because when they are in schools and other places they just not study english , they study math, literature and so on! so we can start with a game in order to relax them and make a successful class!!!!!!

    GReat Job!