ESL Word Association Games

Mallet's Mallet

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: Individual or 2 teams     Preparation: An inflatable hammer or toy

Aim: To say words relating to a category

This enjoyable ESL word association game has been adapted from an English TV show. It works well for revising words and can be adapted for any age or level. Your students will certainly have a lot of fun playing this game.

You will need an inflatable hammer or toy for this game.


There are two ways to play this word association game.

The first way is to divide the students into two teams.

Have the students line up in their team.

Then put two chairs at the front of the classroom.

Get the first player from each team to come and sit on the chairs.

Give the two players a category, e.g. sports.

The two players then take it in turns to say a word associated to the category.

If a player hesitates, repeats a word or doesn't answer, they get hit with the inflatable hammer or toy and are replaced by the next player in their team.

When a student beats three opposing team members, they step down and let someone else play.

The first team to run out of players loses.

The second way to play this word association game is to get the students to sit in a circle.

Give the students a category.

Starting with any student, go around the circle until a student hesitates, repeats a word or doesn't answer. That student is out and leaves the circle.

Repeat with a new category until one student is left. That student is the winner.

Mallet's Mallet.PDF



Age/Level: Any    Time: 20 minutes     Players: 2 teams     Preparation: Word slips

Aim: To associate one word with another

This is an imaginative ESL word association game to play with your students.

Before you begin the game, have the vocabulary you wish to revise written down on small pieces of paper.


Separate the students into two teams.

One player from each team comes to the front of the class.

Show both players a word. This is the 'Password'.

The aim of the game is for the teams to try to guess the password.

They do this by word association, e.g. If the password is 'flower', a player might say roses. His/her team then tries to guess the password by associating the word 'roses' with another word.

If a team guesses correctly the first time, they win 5 points, the second time, they get 4 points, and so on.

The players at the front of the class take it in turns to associate one word with the password. So, both teams play for 5 points, then 4 points, etc.

If they can't guess correctly after five times, the players are changed and a new password is given.

When a password is correctly identified, new players come to the front and start with a new password.

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


What's the Topic?

Age/Level: Elementary and above     Time: 25 minutes     Players: Pairs     Preparation: A list of ten topics you want the students to practice

Aim: To associate words with topics

This word association game helps students practice key words relating to a topic. This game can also be used as a lead-in to a topic area.


Write a list of ten topics you want the students to practice on the board, e.g. holidays, happiness, love, etc.

Divide the students into pairs and give each pair a piece of paper.

Ask the pairs to copy the topics from the board and then write three words they associate with each topic.

You can specify whether the three words should be general associations or personal associations. For example, the word 'holidays' can be generally associated with words like beach or hotel, but someone may have a personal association with the word 'holidays' such as cycling or sleeping.

When the students have finished writing, have each pair join with another pair.

Pairs take it in turns to say one of their associated words to the other pair.

The other pair then gets three tries to guess which topic the word refers to.

If the pair guesses the correct topic on their first try, they receive three points. On their second try, they get two points. On their last try, they get one point.

This process continues until all the words have been used.

The pair with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

You can make the game last longer or shorter by changing the number of topics and number of words the students write.

What's the Topic.PDF


Word Association Game

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

Aim: To associate words

This word association game is easy to play and set up.


Ask all the students to stand up.

Choose a word that you are currently teaching.

The first player says any word that they associate with the chosen word.

The next player must then do the same with the first player's word.

This continues from player to player.

If a player says a disassociated word, repeats a word, or is too slow to answer, they are out and have to sit down.

The winner is the last person left standing.

Example: ocean, blue, green, field, flower, valentine, love, heart, etc.

Alternatively, you may ask the students to associate only with your chosen word.

Word Association Game.PDF


Word Disassociation Game

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

Aim: To disassociate words

Here is a fun game to use with any level. This game is the opposite of word association.


Ask all the students to stand up in a circle.

Tell the students that they have to shout out the first word they think of when they hear another word. However, the word they say must have no connection with the previous word.

Start by choosing a word at random.

The first player then says a word that is completely disassociated with your word.

The following player does the same with the first player's word and so on.

If a player says a word that is connected with the previous word, takes too long to answer, or repeats a word, they are out of the game and have to sit down.

Anyone can challenge a player, if they think there is a connection. If the connection is agreed, that player is out of the game.

Word Disassociation Game.PDF



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