Friday, 20 January 2017

ESL Word Games

A Ship Comes Loaded

Age/Level: Any     Time: 15 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: None

Aim: To remember and say words beginning with a certain letter

This ESL word game is simple to set up and play without any preparation.


Sit the students in a circle.

Let the students choose a letter of the alphabet, e.g. B.

Tell the students that all the words they say must begin with the chosen letter.

Start the game by saying, "A ship comes loaded."

The first student replies, "with what?" and you say a word beginning with the chosen letter, e.g. with bananas.

Then, the first student continues to say to the next student "A ship comes loaded."

The next student replies, "with what?" The student says, "with bananas and buffalos" for example. This continues around the class.

The students have to remember what words have been said, and they have to come up with a new word beginning with the letter that they decided to play with. Students aren't allowed to write anything down.

If a student fails to remember all the words that have been said or if he/she can’t come up with a new word, that student is out of the game.

Whoever can stay in the game the longest is the winner.

A Ship Comes Loaded.PDF



Age/Level: Elementary and above     Time: 25 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: A list of obscure words and their definitions

Aim: To invent false definitions and guess true definitions

This ESL word game is based on a popular board game of the same name. Students invent false definitions for words and win points by correctly guessing true definitions.

Before you play the game, have the students find obscure words and their definitions. Alternatively, you can use the sample word list that is provided in the PDF.


Split the class into groups of four or five and provide small slips of paper for players to write definitions on.

Each player should have a few obscure words and their definitions on a piece of paper.

Players take it in turns to be the leader. The leader of the round chooses one of their words, reads it aloud, and spells it.

Each player then invents a false meaning for this word that could fool the other players and writes it on a slip of paper.

The leader should copy the true definition on to their slip of paper, so that they cannot be seen reading from the word card.

Each player then hands their definition to the leader. The leader reads aloud each definition, including the correct one.

The players then vote on which definition they think is correct.

The leader reveals the true meaning and adds up the scores.

Then, another player becomes the new leader and play continues.


1 point for every vote your false definition receives.

2 points if you choose the correct meaning.

The leader gets 3 points if nobody chooses the correct meaning.



Lewis Carroll's Game

Age/Level: Elementary and above     Time: 20 minutes     Players: Small teams     Preparation: None

Aim: To change one word into another by changing one letter at a time

This delightful word game was invented by Lewis Carroll, who wrote 'Alice in Wonderland'.


Tell the students that they are going to play a game where they change one word into another by changing one letter at a time. Letters cannot be moved, merely substituted. Every time a letter is changed, it must result in an English word.

Give the following example to the class to help them understand.

Example: wet to dry

wet - met - mat - may - day - dry

Next, separate the class into small teams.

Start them off with one of the easier examples in the PDF. Write both the original and final word on the board.

Allow the teams to use dictionaries to help them with possible words.

Teams score points according to the number of steps taken to turn one word into another.


wet - met - mat - may - day - dry = 6 points

At the end of the game, the team with the 'lowest' score wins.

Lewis Carroll's Game.PDF


Match the Squares

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: 2 teams     Preparation: A completed word grid

Aim: To memorize and match pairs of words

You can use this matching game to review a great deal of vocabulary. It can be used when you have two words that match in some way, e.g. adjective opposites, verb opposites, prepositions, past and present verbs, etc. 


Draw a 6 x 4 grid on the board and number the squares 1 to 24. You could have a bigger or smaller grid, depending on how many pairs of words you have to match. Make sure you have a completed word grid in hand when you play the game (see PDF).

Divide the students into two teams.

Explain to the class that behind each square is a word.

The objective of the game is to match the squares by remembering where each word is. Tell the students that they cannot write anything down. They must remember the positions of the words.

The first team selects two squares, e.g. number 2 and 16

Write the two corresponding words in the selected squares.

If the words match, the team gets a point and has another go.

If they don't match, the two words are erased and the other team selects two squares and so on.

Continue until all the word pairs have been found.

The team with the most points is the winner.

Match the Squares.PDF

The Longest Word

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: 2 teams     Preparation: A list of words beginning with each letter of the alphabet and clues

Aim: To make long words by winning letters

In this word game, students make the longest word they can from letters won by guessing the answers to clues.


Split the class into two teams. This game can also be played with more teams if you wish.

The first team chooses a letter.

Choose a word beginning with that letter and give the class a clue for the word.

The first member of either team to guess the word correctly wins the letter for their team.

The winning team then chooses another letter.

The aim is to get enough letters to make a long word.

At a suitable point, end the round and let the teams try to make the longest word possible from the letters they have won.

The team with the longest word wins the round and is awarded the same amount of points as there are letters in the word.

Play a few rounds to see which team is the overall winner.

The Longest Word.PDF


The Picnic Game

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 10 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: None

Aim: To say an object that begins with your first name

This ESL brain teaser game can be played over a few weeks until the majority of the students have worked out the game.


Ask the students to sit in a circle and tell them that they have to imagine they are going on a picnic. They must try to think of something to take with them.

You begin by saying, "I would take a ..."

Then, you say something that begins with the first letter of your name, e.g. If your name was Paul, you might say, "I would take a pineapple."

Listen to each student's answer and reply yes or no.

Play one round each week.

The students need to work out that they can take anything that begins with the same letter as their first name.

The Picnic Game.PDF


Tic Tac Words

Age/Level: Any     Time: 15 minutes     Players: 2 teams     Preparation: None

Aim: To say a certain number of words beginning with a particular letter in ten seconds

Here is a simple ESL word game that can be played without any preparation. This game is based on Tic-Tac-Toe.


Draw a large square on the board and divide the square into a 3 x 3 grid. The same as Tic-Tac-Toe.

Write a random letter in each square and then write a small number under each letter.

Split the class into two teams. Assign the two teams with an X or O symbol.

Flip a coin to see which team will go first.

The winning team then chooses a letter from the grid. That team has ten seconds to say as many words beginning with the letter as the number under the letter indicates.

If the team manages to say the required number of words, they win the square and their symbol is placed in the square.

If the team cannot come up with the required number of words, they must pass to the next team.

The number you write under each letter will be determined by the ability of your students. If your students’ level of English is limited, put down a small number in each square.

When a team gets three symbols in a row either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, they win the game. If there is a tie, the team with the highest number of symbols on the board wins.

Tic Tac Words.PDF


Two Words

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: 2 teams     Preparation: None

Aim: To make a complete sentence that includes two specified words

This word game is easy to play and makes a fun warm up activity with small classes. This game can also be helpful for reviewing vocabulary with the students.


Divide the class into two teams.

Tell the students that you are going to write two words on the board.

Explain that the first student to put up their hand and create a complete sentence using both the words will win the round for their team.

The winning team then chooses one student from the other team to come and join them.

If the students know each other well, they normally choose the students who are really good at English, making it easier to win the game.

You then write two new words on the board and the game continues.

In the end, there will only be one team left. So everybody wins!

It's best to start the game off with some easy words, e.g. T-shirt/shorts. Then, gradually make the words harder or crazier, e.g. water/chocolate.

Two Words.PDF


Word Race

Age/Level: Elementary and above     Time: 20 minutes     Players: Small teams     Preparation: None

Aim: To write down as many words as possible that match certain criteria.

This word game can be used to practice or review a variety of vocabulary.


Divide the students into small teams and give each team a piece of paper.

The students then play a word game where they have two minutes to write down as many words as possible that match with certain criteria.

Teams score one point for each word they write.

Inflections are not allowed, i.e. changing a word to express different grammatical categories, e.g. hit, hits, hitting. Award a team only one point for the word if they do this.

Possible criteria:

 •  words beginning with certain prefixes, e.g. un-, tri-, trans-
 •  words beginning with certain letters, e.g. fl-, wh-, co-
 •  words containing double letters, e.g. oo, aa, ee
 •  words ending with certain suffixes, e.g. -ity, -ment, -ness
 •  words beginning and ending with the same letter, e.g. p___p, b___b, t___t
 •  words beginning with one letter and ending with the next, e.g. a___b, b___c, c___d
 •  words that rhyme with each other, e.g. war, bore, for, score, snore
 •  words containing a certain number of syllables, e.g. 3, 4, 5

Play several rounds using a different criterion each time.

After each round, have the teams swap their papers for marking.

The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Word Race.PDF


Word Square

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: Teams of 3 or 4     Preparation: None

Aim: To make words using letters in a square

This is a wonderful ESL word game to play with your students.


Draw a 3 x 3 grid on the board.

In the square, write a nine-letter word in a random order. The centre square must contain a vowel. You can use any nine-letter word for this game. Ideally, it should be one that contains a few different vowels.

Examples: scrambled, Christmas, blueberry.

The aim is to make words using the letters in the square.

Every word the teams write must contain the centre letter.

Students cannot use any letters twice, unless it is in the nine-letter word.

There is a bonus score if they can make one word using all nine letters.

Put the students into small groups of three or four.

Set a time limit of ten minutes.

The teams write as many words as they can from the square.

When the time is up, get each team to swap sheets with another team, and count up the letters and words. The teams check the words and spelling, and the teacher answers any queries from the students.

The game is scored by the length of the words. So, a three-letter word is worth three points, a four-letter word is worth four points, and so on. If a team gets the nine-letter word, they win 18 points.

The team who has the most points wins.

Word Square.PDF


Related Word Games: Countdown  /  Mastermind

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