ESL Vocabulary Games

Here are some fun ESL vocabulary games for teachers that help make revising new vocabulary fun. These activities are moderately difficult for the students, as the students have to produce the word or idiom themselves from definitions or other clues that they are given. Use these ESL vocabulary games with students that are good at revising their vocabulary and doing their homework.

  1. Place the flashcards face down on the table in a pile. One student chooses a word and has to ask another student a question with that word.
  2. Place the flashcards face down on the table. The first student chooses a word, and without telling the other students what their word is, they have to act it out. The other students have to guess the word, phrase or idiom.
  3. As with the above, but instead of acting out the word, the students have to draw the word.
  4. Scramble up the letters of the words and write them on the board. If you want to be kind, you can underline the first letter of the word. The students need to unscramble the words and then give you the definition.
  5. Do the same as the above, but instead of writing the scrambled up words on the board, you tell them the letters, so that they have to write them down themselves. This is also good practice for learning the English alphabet.
  6. Write the vocabulary words on the board, so that they are spread out, with lots of space around each word. The students need to take turns writing a word or drawing a picture that collocates, matches or describes each word. Their proposals can be nouns, adjectives, preposition or verbs). So if the vocabulary word is ‘crutches’, the students could add: old, plastic, used, broken, uncomfortable, hobble, to be dependent on, need to use, they could draw a picture of a crutch etc.
  7. Each of the students needs to have a blank piece of paper. Place the vocabulary face down on the table. Give them an interesting story starter (eg James Bond walked into the room and slowly took a gun from his pocket, or I was lying on a hammock on the ship’s deck when…..). Each student has to pick up a word, and write the next part of the story. They replace the word and pick up another word and continue the story. Continue until most or all of the words have been used by all of the students. Get them to read back their stories.
  8. This exercise is a lot of fun.....give the students some blank flashcards each. They need to write a subject or theme on each card. Collect the cards back, mix them up and place them facedown on the table. Write the vocabulary you would like to revise on flashcards and place them facedown on the table as well. The students need to take one card from each pile. They must not tell the other students which vocabulary word they have got. They need to speak for one minute on their subject/theme, and somehow include the new vocabulary word in their talk. The students then need to listen out for the vocabulary word to see if they can identify it.
  9. Set up a noughts and crosses grid, but instead of leaving it blank, put a letter in each square (could be A, B, C etc). Write 9 new vocabulary words onto flashcards, and on the back of the flashcard write a corresponding letter from the grid (A, B, C etc). The students have to play noughts and crosses by choosing a letter from the grid and turning over the corrseponding flashcard. If they can give a definition of their word, rub out the letter and replace it with a nought or cross (the class needs to be in 2 teams). Continue until all the squares have been competed.
  10. This exercise can be used for introducing new vocabulary, and is a variant of the game balderdash. Give the students a new vocabulary word. On blank flashcards, each of the students need to write their own, made up definition of the word. The teacher needs to write one with the correct definition. Read out all the definitions, and the students have to guess which is the correct one. They get a point for choosing the correct definition, and they also get a point for every student that chooses their made up definition.

I hope you enjoy doing these fun ESL vocabulary games with your students.

If you are interested in some more ideas then have a look at ESL Vocabulary Games - Easy and

Activities for teaching vocabulary- Difficult.

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