ESL Vocabulary Games


ESL Vocabulary Game - Speaking Activity - Elementary and above - 15 minutes

In this fun vocabulary game, students bluff an opposing team by standing up to give definitions for words they don't know. Divide the students into two teams. Give one team a word to define. All the students in the team who know the definition stand up. Students can also stand up if they don't know the definition to help their team score more points, but if they are chosen to define the word their team loses 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, one point is awarded to the team for each person standing. If the student's definition is wrong, one point is deducted from the team for each person standing. Then, give the other team a word to define and so on. 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. The game continues until all the vocabulary has been covered. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. As a variation, instead of asking the students to define a word, you could ask a question, get the students to use the target vocabulary in a sentence, ask them to spell a word, etc.

Collocation Ladder

ESL Vocabulary Game - Reading, Spelling and Speaking Activity - Elementary and above - 20 minutes

This useful vocabulary game can be used to help students practice collocations. Write the first and last word of your run-on collocations in a ladder on the board, leaving empty rungs for the words in between. Explain that each word on the ladder makes a collocation with the word next to it and that the collocations can be read up or down. Divide the class into two teams (A and B). Team A chooses either the top or bottom rung of the ladder. Write the first letter of the word on their chosen rung. Team A then tries to guess the word from the collocation, e.g. 'express s...' If Team A gets the word wrong, Team B chooses the top or bottom rung and another letter is added and so on. If a team correctly guesses the word, they score one point and play again. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Over the Line

ESL Vocabulary Game - Drawing, Listening and Matching Activity - Young Learners - 25 minutes

This is an imaginative ESL game for teaching vocabulary to your students. Divide the students into two teams. Give each team some pieces of paper and coloured pens. Write target vocabulary you want the students to practice on the board. Each team then makes a drawing of each word on a separate piece of paper. Teams do this without writing the words on the pictures. Try to have each student draw at least one picture. When both teams have finished drawing, collect in the pictures and mix them up. Next, erase the target vocabulary from the board and stick up both team's pictures in a random order. Create a runway from the back of the class to the board and mark a start/finish line near the back of the class. One player from each team, steps up to the line. Say one of the target words and the two players race to the board to grab a corresponding picture. The first player back over the line with a correct picture scores 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 most points at the end of the game wins.

People to People

ESL Vocabulary Game - Listening and Speaking Activity - Young Learners - 15 minutes

Here is a fun vocabulary game for practicing parts of the body. You will need an odd number of students to play this game. Ask all the students to find a partner. The student without a partner is the 'leader'. The leader calls out different parts of the body for the students to connect with their partner, e.g. 'hand to hand', 'knee to elbow', etc. The pairs listen and follow the leader's commands. If the leader is having problems thinking of parts of the body, feel free to get them to repeat after you. After a few commands have been called out, the leader says, "People to people." Everyone then has to find a new partner (including the leader). The odd student left out becomes the new leader and so on.

Ships of War

ESL Vocabulary Game - Listening and Speaking Activity - Any Level - 20 minutes

Here is an engaging vocabulary game to help students practice category words. Divide the students into teams of four or five. Explain that the students 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. When every team has chosen a 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 ship's crew lines up behind their captain. The shooter is the last crew member in each line. Give the students a category. Words from the category are 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 replies with a word from the category. The crewman behind the captain then says another word from the category and so on down the line until it is the shooter's turn. The shooter then 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 too slow to reply, can't think of a word, repeats a word or the shooter calls out the wrong ship (e.g. their own ship or a ship that has already been sunk), the ship is sunk and everyone from the ship joins the crew of the ship that went before them. When a ship has been sunk, change the category. The last warship left standing wins the game.

Vocabulary Deck

ESL Vocabulary Game - Speaking or Writing Activity - Elementary and Above - 20 minutes

This ESL vocabulary game is useful for revising words. The game can also be used to practice word order and sentence structure with more advanced students. Tell the students that they are going to play a vocabulary game using a pack of playing cards. Assign each card (ace to king) with two letters and write them on the board. Explain that each card represents two letters of the alphabet. Divide the students into teams of three or four. Choose a category, e.g. verbs. Shuffle the cards and turn the top card over. Show the card to the first team and set a time limit, e.g. five seconds. The team then races to say a category word beginning with one of the letters the card represents. For example, if the card is an ace, the students race to say a category word beginning with A or N. If the team is able to come up with a suitable word before the time limit has been reached, they score a point. The game is then repeated with the second team and so on. The team with the highest score at the end of the game wins. For higher-level students, set a time limit and turn over ten cards. Have the teams write down a sentence using words beginning with the given letters in the order they are drawn from the pack. Afterwards, the teams read their sentences aloud and score points according to how many words are in their sentence.

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