ESL Word Games

A Ship Comes Loaded

ESL Word Game - Listening and Speaking Activity - Any Level - 15 minutes

In this ESL word game, students have to remember and say words beginning with a certain letter. Have the students sit in a circle. Ask the students to choose a letter of the alphabet, e.g. B. Explain that the aim of the game is to say a word beginning with the chosen letter and to remember what answers other students have given. 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'. The first student then says 'A ship comes loaded...' to the second student. The second student replies 'with what?' The first student then repeats your word and gives their own answer, e.g. 'with bananas and buffalos'. This continues around the circle. If a student fails to come up with a word, forgets what answers have been given or repeats a word, they are out of the game. The last student left standing wins the game.
 

Balderdash

ESL Word Game - Reading, Listening and Writing Activity - Intermediate and Above - 25 minutes

This ESL word game is based on a popular board game of the same name. In the game, students invent false definitions for words and score points by correctly guessing true definitions. Divide the students into groups of five. Give each group a set of balderdash word cards. Ask the students to shuffle the cards and deal them out equally face down. Also, give each student some small slips of paper to write definitions on. Students take it in turns to be the leader. The leader of the round chooses one of their word cards, reads the word aloud and spells it. The other students then each invent a false definition for the word that could fool the other group members and write it on a slip of paper. The leader copies the true definition onto a slip of paper, so that they cannot be seen reading from the word card. Each student then hands their definition to the leader. The leader mixes up all the definitions and reads each one aloud. The other students then vote on which definition they think is correct and the leader reveals the answer. Students score one point for each vote their false definition receives and two points for choosing the correct definition. The leader scores three points if nobody chooses the correct definition. The scores are added up and another student becomes the new leader and so on. Play until all the words have been used or time is up. The student with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 

Lewis Carroll's Game

ESL Word Game - Spelling Activity - Elementary and Above - 20 minutes

This intriguing 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. Explain that letters cannot be moved, merely substituted. Every time a letter is changed, it must result in an English word. Give the following 'wet to dry' example to the class to help them understand: wet - met - mat - may - day - dry. Next, divide the students into teams of three or four. Start the students off with one of the easier examples. Write the first and last word on the board. Working in their teams, the students try to change one word into the other. Allow the teams to use dictionaries to help them with possible words. When the teams have finished, ask them for their answers. Teams score points according to the number of steps taken to turn one word into the other, e.g. wet - met - mat - may - day - dry = six points. Play several rounds. The team with the 'lowest' score at the end of the game wins.
 

Match the Squares

ESL Word Game - Matching Activity - Any Level - 20 minutes

This fun word game can be used when you want to review words that match in some way, e.g. adjective opposites, verb opposites, prepositions, past and present verbs, etc. Draw a six-by-four grid on the board and number the squares 1 to 24. You can make a bigger or smaller grid, depending on how many pairs of words you have to match. Divide the students into two teams. Explain that behind each square is a word. The aim of the game is to match the squares by remembering where each word is. Tell the students that they cannot write anything down. The first team selects two squares, e.g. number 2 and 16. You look at your word grid and write the two corresponding words in the selected squares. If the two words match, the team scores a point and has another turn. If the words don't match, erase them. It's then the other team's turn to select two squares and so on. The game continues until all the word pairs have been matched correctly. The team with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
 

Minimum

ESL Word Game - Reading and Speaking Activity - Any Level - 20 minutes

In this challenging word game, students think of words of a certain length that begin with specific letters. Divide the students into teams of four or five. Write a five-letter word at the top left of the board, e.g. table. For young learners, you can start with a three-letter word. Teams then take it in turns to call out a word that begins with the last letter of your word, e.g. e. Each word called out must meet or exceed the minimum number of letters in your word. Teams are allowed to use plurals to meet the minimum, but they are not allowed to repeat words. As each word is called out, write it underneath the word in a line, e.g. elbow, editor, error, elbows, erase. When all the teams have called out a word, write a new word underneath and increase the minimum number of letters by one, e.g. scream. If a team can't think of a word, start a countdown from ten. If the countdown goes to zero, that team is out of the game. The last team left standing wins the game. As a variation, for each line, you can have the teams call out a word that begins with the last letter of the word written on the board, e.g. elbow, water, report, teach, hello. In this case, add an extra rule that teams are not allowed to call out words ending in 'y' as this limits the game. You can also have the students spell words as well as call them out.
 

The Longest Word

ESL Word Game - Listening, Speaking and Spelling Activity - Any Level - 20 minutes

In this word game, students make the longest word they can from letters won by guessing the answers to clues. Divide the students into two to four teams. One team selects a letter of the alphabet, e.g. s. Choose a word beginning with that letter (e.g. silver) and give the teams a clue for the word, e.g. a metal commonly found in rings. The first student to correctly guess the word wins the letter for their team. The winning team then chooses another letter. The aim of the game is for teams 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 their word. Play several rounds. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 

Tic Tac Words

ESL Word Game - Speaking Activity - Any Level - 15 minutes

Here is an engaging ESL word game based on Tic-Tac-Toe. Draw a three-by-three grid on the board. Write a random letter in each square. Under each letter, write a number between one and ten. The numbers you write will depend on your students' level of English. Divide the students into two teams. Teams take it in turns to choose a letter from the grid. The team then 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. If they fail to say the required number of words, play passes to the other team. When a team gets three squares in a row, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, they win the game. If neither team gets three in a row, the team with the most squares wins. Play several rounds to find the ultimate winning team.
 

Two Words

ESL Word Game - Speaking Activity - Any Level - 20 minutes

This word game is ideal for reviewing vocabulary and sentence structure. Divide the class into two teams. Write two words on the board. The first student to put up their hand and create a suitable sentence using both the words wins 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. The game ends when there is only one team left. So everybody wins! It's best to start the game off with some easy words, e.g. pen/paper. Then, gradually make the words harder or crazier, e.g. tennis/buffalo.
 

Word Race

ESL Word Game - Writing Activity - Elementary and Above - 20 minutes

This ESL word game can be used to practice or review a variety of vocabulary. Divide the students into teams of three or four. Tell the students that they have one minute to write down as many words as possible that match with certain criteria, e.g. words beginning with certain prefixes, words containing double letters, etc. 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. Play several rounds using a different criterion each time. After each round, have the teams swap papers for marking. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 

Word Square

ESL Word Game - Writing and Spelling Activity - Any Level - 20 minutes

Here is a fun ESL word game to play with your students. Draw a three-by-three grid on the board. In the squares, 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, e.g. scrambled, Christmas, blueberry, etc. The aim of the game is for the teams to make as many words as they can with the letters in the square. Every word the teams write must contain the centre letter. Students cannot use any letters twice, unless they are in the nine-letter word. Teams also get a bonus score if they make a word using all nine letters. Divide the students into teams of three or four. Set a time limit of two minutes. The teams write as many words as they can from the square. When the time is up, have the teams swap papers for marking. Teams score one point for each letter in a correctly spelled word. For example, 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 score 18 points. Play several rounds using a different nine-letter word each time. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 
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