You have your lesson plan. You’re ready for class. But something is missing. Maybe your plan is full of long exercises and worksheets. Maybe you need a quick activity at the beginning to activate schemata and prepare for new input. What better way to add some fun, break up activities or review the previous lesson than a game?
Here are some of my favorite vocabulary games. These are adaptable for different levels, ages, vocabulary sets and classroom arrangements. They can be made more challenging or changed slightly to become a “new game” if students want one. If you have questions or suggestions about adaptations, leave a comment below.
Slap the Board
This game is great for young learners, but even older kids and adults can get into it if properly motivated.
- Put your vocabulary words on the board. This can be in the form of writing the word, using a flashcard, drawing a picture or some combination of these methods.
- Divide students into two teams. Put them in lines facing the board.
- Say a word from the group of words on the board. The first student in each line must run to the board and slap the word before the other student/team. The winning student earns a point for his team.
Be careful with this game. It can get quite competitive and a lot of young students will slap every word in a frantic attempt to keep their competitor away and get the correct word without actually knowing it. If you see or anticipate this behavior, you can make a rule that only the first slap counts.
It’s also a good idea to step aside and let the students take turns calling out the words. This gives the “teacher” some pronunciation practice and gives you a little break. Allowing a student to act as teacher gives them a greater sense of control over the classroom and activity. This is a great reward for young learners.
No C, No S, No Repeat
If you’re trying to review a large set of related words, this game makes the students work to remember all of them. They do all of the work for you!
- Divide students into teams. Let’s say four teams. You don’t want them to be too big, but you don’t want to have too many either. Tell each team that they have 5 minutes to think of as many words as they can from a certain set (e.g. words from unit 4, animals, etc.) but that none of their words can include a c or an s.
- Draw three hearts on the board for each team. Advise the students that any word that contains a c or an s and any word that is repeated from another team or an earlier round will be penalized by a heart being erased.
- Teams take turns saying a word from their lists. When a team loses all of their hearts they are eliminated. To keep them interested in the game, encourage them to act as judges.
This game can be challenging for low levels. Make it easier by removing the restrictions and allowing those classes to play “No Repeat”.
Backs to the Board
This game helps with defining the words to make sure students understand and remember the meaning, not just the list of words.
- Have one* student come to the front and face the class with their back to the board.
- The teacher shows a word to the class, making sure that the student(s) at the front don’t see it. This can be done by writing it on the board or showing a flashcard.
- The class tries to get the student at the front to guess the word by describing it or acting it out. You may need to make rules about translating from L1 or spelling.
- If you’re playing with teams, the first team to guess gets a point. If you’re playing with another configuration you can find a way to assign points or simply move on to the next word.
*The set up of the game depends on the classroom size. If you have a large 20 or 40 student class, you’ll want to split them into groups and have one student from each group come to the front of the room and stand in front of their group. If you have a small class, you could have one student come to the front and stand in front of the entire class. Alternatively, you could have students work in pairs and alternate turns.
An alternative would be to show the word to the student(s) at the front of the room so that they are the only one(s) describing and the majority of students are guessing.
Sometimes you run out of activities and you need something to fill a few minutes of time. This works best if you make all words eligible for play, but you could limit it to a specific set of words.
- Divide the class into teams. If you have a small class each student can be their own team. Each team starts with two hearts.
- Write a word on the board. The first team thinks of a word that starts with the final letter of your word. For example, if you wrote cat, team one could say tan or any other word beginning with t.
- Team two thinks of a word that starts with the last letter of team one’s word. Keeping our example from above, they would need a word that starts with an n. Maybe night.
- If a team can’t think of a word, they lose a heart. The last team with a heart is the winner.
Higher level classes will need a greater challenge. For those classes, limit the vocabulary set to something you’ve studied recently, only verbs, words longer than 3 syllables or any other limitations you can think of.
A simple game can be a great game. I know you will be skeptical, but I promise that every young learner I’ve played this with has loved it.
- Hold up a flashcard so that students can only see the back of it. This needs to be a flashcard from your current unit. Ask the students “What’s this?”
- Students take turns guessing what the card is. Let the winning student hold the card until the end of the game.
That’s it. It’s a wonderfully simple game. You can write the words on the board and have the winning student match the flashcard to the written word to give them an extra challenge.
Kids love when you’re really exaggerated with your “NO!” and when you act upset that they guessed correctly.
That’s it for now! Keep an eye out for another post with more game ideas.