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Six super-flexible vocabulary guessing games

Six super-flexible vocabulary guessing games

Because there will never not be vocabulary to practice, these quick activities are perfect for anytime. Think to warm up your class, change pace before starting on a new unit, or for those classic last 15 minutes of class that sometimes need to be filled. Look to the back of your student book for this semester’s vocabulary list, work on a lexical set of your choice, or for upper-intermediate to advanced learners, keep a running list of interesting or unusual words to teach and revise over the weeks.

1. Bananas

To play, one student steps outside. While they are away, the class decides on a word to focus on. When the student comes back in, they ask their classmates for information to discern the word, replacing a code word (such as bananas) for the unknown word. Questions may be:

“Is there a banana in this room?”
“Can I write with a banana?”
“Can I banana alone?”
“Is banana-ing dangerous?”

2. Shopping trip

A great pick for young learners. Tell students you went to the store yesterday to buy something. Bit by bit, give them clues and allow students to guess. Decide on clues that talk about the item’s characteristics or how it is used. (“There are twelve of them. They’re small and break easily. I eat them for breakfast.” They’re eggs.)

Tip: Play the game several times over a semester, identifying a store each time that matches your unit of study (supermarket, clothes store, hardware store, butcher, office supplier, etc).

3. Guess who?

Use cut outs of celebrities or stock images to make a personalized “Guess Who?” game. In this activity, pairs each receive the same set of picture cards and must individually choose a character to focus on. Their partner asks them questions about that person in order to discover who they are thinking about:

“Do they have black hair?”
“Is your character a woman?”
“Is she old or young?”

Students place unnecessary cards face down in front of them, in this way focusing only on the cards that could have their partner’s character.

4. Catch phrase

The object of this game is to make a teammate say a word without using the word, any part of the word, or words that rhyme with that word. Students are encouraged to be creative, use verbal clues or word associations. There is a board game available, however, you can make your own version by using an online word generator to make your word lists. Use a timer to up the ante and make the game more lively!

5. Hangman

A activity firmly among the classic ELT games. However, as traditional hangman only tests spelling there are ways to add more language practice when playing. Try:

  • Having students to ask and respond in complete sentences throughout (“Is there a D?” “Yes, the third letter is a D”/“No sorry, there isn’t a D in this word”).

  • Challenging the winning partner/team to correctly pronounce the word after spelling it, or to use it in a sentence.

  • Assigning values to more difficult to spell words (such as words with several uncommon letters) and asking students to bet on which they will correctly spell. On the whiteboard, tally the the sums one as you play.

6. Balderdash

Great for advanced learners, this game is sometimes called Dictionary. To play, students work in pairs to create a definition for a little-used or obscure English word. Pairs hand in their definitions to the teacher, who has the correct definition written on another slip of paper. The teacher reads all definitions aloud, and players vote for whichever they think is correct. Points are awarded for guessing correctly and also given to students whose false definitions receive votes.
Tip: The teacher should monitor students’ writing and correct grammatical errors before they are read out, so the definitions are as well-written as possible.

Varied, easy to prepare, simple to play, and possible to adapt for different levels, these six quick vocabulary games will keep your class on their toes.

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