ESL Vocabulary Games


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

Aim: To define and explain words

This entertaining bluffing game can be used to practice a variety of vocabulary. In the game, students bluff the opposing team by standing up to give definitions for words they may or may not know.


Divide the students into two teams.

Ask one team to define a word.

All the students who know the definition stand up. Students can also bluff that they know the word to help their team win more points.

A student on the other team then selects one of the standing students to define the word.

If the student’s definition is correct, then one point is awarded to each person standing.

These points go towards the team's score.

If the student’s definition is wrong, then one point is deducted for each person standing.

Then ask the other team to define a word and so on.

This process continues until all the vocabulary has been covered.

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

Have a different student choose someone to give a definition each time and don’t let teams pick the same student to define a word two rounds in a row.

As a variation, instead of asking the students to define a word, you could ask a question, or get the students to use the target vocabulary in a sentence, ask them to spell a word, elicit vocabulary from flashcards, etc.



Collocation Ladder

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: 2 Teams      Preparation: A list of collocations

Aim: To guess words that make collocations.

Before class, make a list of suitable run-on collocations.


From your list of collocations, put the first and last word in a ladder on the board, leaving empty rungs for the words in between. The first word should be at the top of the ladder and the last word should be at the bottom.

Each word must have a link with the word next to it. Collocations can be read up or down, so these are both acceptable:

express service

service express

Divide the class into two teams (A and B). Teams take it in turns to play.

Ask the first team to choose either the top or bottom of the ladder. Add one letter to the uppermost or lowermost uncompleted word.

The team then guesses the word or passes.

If they get it wrong or pass, the other team chooses top or bottom.  Add another letter to the word and they guess or pass.

If a team guesses the word correctly, they get one point and the next turn.

If only one letter is left and a team has failed to guess the word (e.g. servic), just add the remaining letter, and neither team gets the point.


Your list: express – service – charge – take – away – go – home – stay.

Team A chooses top and you add S, but they fail to guess the word, so play passes to Team B. Team B also chooses top, so you add an E. They correctly guess SERVICE and choose bottom. They fail to guess from the letter H. Team A then chooses bottom and you add O.

express        express        express        express        express

  _______          s______          se_____          service         service

  _______          _______          _______           _______           _______

  _______          _______          _______           _______           _______ 

  _______          _______          _______           _______           _______ 

  _______          _______          _______           _______           _______ 

  _______          _______          _______           h______          ho____

   stay              stay              stay                stay                stay

Collocation Ladder.PDF


Over the Line

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: 2 teams     Preparation: A list of vocabulary items, some paper and coloured pens

Aim: To match words with pictures

This is an imaginative ESL game for teaching vocabulary to your students.

For this vocabulary game, you will need a list of words you wish to review, some paper and coloured pens.


Arrange the class into two teams (A and B).

Give each team some pieces of paper and coloured pens.

Tell the teams the words from your list. The teams make a drawing of each word on a separate piece of paper. The students must not write the words on the pictures.

Try to have each student draw at least one picture.

When both teams have finished drawing, collect the pictures representing the target vocabulary.

Next, clear away the desks, so you have a runway from the back of the class to the board.

Then stick up both team's pictures on the board. When you stick them on the board, make sure that both team's pictures are well mixed up.

After that, draw or mark a line near the back of the class.

The two teams then get behind the line.

One player from each team, steps up to the line.

Say one of the words from the list and the two players race to the board.

The first player back over the line with the correct picture gets a point for their team.

The pictures are then stuck back on the board, and the next two players step up to the line and so on.

The team with the highest number of points at the end of the game wins.

Over the Line.PDF


People to People - Parts of the Body

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 15 minutes     Players: Pairs     Preparation: None

Aim: To practice parts of the body

If you are teaching parts of the body, this vocabulary game is a must. It's an active and enjoyable game for young learners.


You will need an odd number of students to play this game.

Ask all the students to pair up.

The student without a partner is the 'leader'.

The leader calls out different parts of the body using the following phrase, e.g. hand to hand, knee to knee, etc.

The pairs have to follow the leader's commands and touch each other hand to hand or knee to knee, etc.

After three or four goes, the leader calls out, "People to people."

At this time, all the pairs have to partner up with a different person (including the leader).

Again, there will be an odd student left out. This student becomes the new leader and so on.

If the leader is having problems thinking of parts of the body, feel free to get them to repeat after you.

People to People.PDF

Ships of War

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: Teams of 4 to 5     Preparation: None

Aim: To say words associated with lexical areas

Here is an entertaining vocabulary game to help students practice words from different categories.


Split the class into teams of four or five.

Explain to the class that they are going to play a game of warships, but first they must choose a name for their ship, a captain and a shooter.

If necessary, brainstorm the names of famous ships with the class, e.g. the Titanic, the Black Pearl, etc.

Once each team has chosen their name, ask them to choose a captain and a shooter.

The captain's job is to memorize the ship's name. The shooter's job is to memorize the names of the other ships. The remaining students in each team are the ship's crew.

Arrange all the captains in a circle, the ships' crews line up behind their captains. The shooter is the last crew member in each line.

Decide on a lexical area of vocabulary, this vocabulary will be used to defend ships from attack.

Give the students time to think of words associated with the category. Every student (except the shooters) must think of words.

Then start the game by calling a ship's name.

The captain of that ship must reply with a word from the category.

For example, if the lexical area is sports, the captain might say football, the crewman behind might say tennis, and the next crewman might say baseball, etc., until it is the shooter's turns, and he/she calls out the name of another ship.

The captain of that ship replies with a word from the category and the process is repeated.

If a captain or crew member is slow to reply, can't think of a word, a word is repeated or the shooter calls the wrong ship (e.g. their own ship or a ship that has already been sunk), the ship is sunk and all the crew members join the crew of another ship.

After a ship has been sunk, the lexical area can be changed.

In the final round, there will be two big ships battling it out to be the winner.

Ships of War.PDF



Age/Level: Any     Time: 15 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: A ball, word slips and sellotape

Aim: To say some target language using specific vocabulary

Your students will enjoy playing this exciting vocabulary game. It's a useful game for reviewing target language and practicing tenses.


Tell the students that they are going to practice making sentences using the target language or tense you are studying in class.

Have the students stand in a circle.

Stick a different word onto each student.

Stand in the centre of the circle with a ball.

Throw the ball to a student.

The students on either side of the student with the ball rush to look at the word on the student, and then use the vocabulary with the target language.

The first student to do so correctly stays in the game.

The other student is out.

The last two students left standing are the winners.



Vocabulary Deck

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: Small teams     Preparation: A pack of playing cards

Aim: To think of words or sentences beginning with certain letters

This is a motivating vocabulary game for developing students' word knowledge. It can also be used to practice word order and sentence structure for more advanced students. For this game, you will need a pack of playing cards.


Write the following on the board:

Ace – A, N   2 – B, O   3 – C, P   4 – D, Q   5 – E, R   6 – F, S   7 – G, T   8 – H, U   9 – I, V    10 – J, W   Jack – K, X   Queen – L, Y   King – M, Z

As you can see, for each card from ace to king, two letters of the alphabet are assigned.

Put the students into small teams.

For lower-level students:

Choose a category, e.g. verbs.

Shuffle the cards and turn the top card over. Show the card to the first team.

The students in the first team must think of a word beginning with one of the letters that card represents. For example, if the card is an ace, the students must say a word beginning with A or N. The word must match with the chosen category.

This is repeated with the second team and so on.

Award points for correct answers. Also, give the teams a time limit for coming up with a word.

For higher-level students:

Turn over six or seven cards and have the teams write down a sentence using words beginning with the given letters, in the order they are drawn from the pack.

The teams read their sentences aloud and win points accordingly.

Vocabulary Deck.PDF



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