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Six super-flexible vocabulary guessing games

Because there will never not be vocabulary to practice, these quick activities are perfect for anytime. Because there will never not be vocabulary to practice, these quick activities are perfect for anytime.

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. 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. They're small and break easily. 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.

Even more outdoor activities (to enjoy that great weather!)

When spring rolls around you can practically hear everyone's better mood. Warmer, longer days make for happier people overall - and classtime is as good as any to take advantage of great weather. Following on from our introduction to outdoor activities for the EFL classroom, we've rounded up a few more of our favorite outdoor classroom ideas.

1. Conversation starters

Away from their everyday classroom surroundings you may be surprised how much more your class gets into speaking activities. This discussion activity is a little different, as it lets students propose topics and lead conversations. To prepare, ask each student to think of three things they would like to talk about or get their classmates' opinions on (current affairs, controversial topics where appropriate, or "ordinary" topics are all acceptable) and write them on slips of paper. Mix the slips of paper in a bag or container. Now, demonstrate the activity by picking out a topic at random and acting as conversation moderator: Ask questions, allow students to give opinions, and give your own. Then, have students take turns to pull out a topic and do the same. This activity can be completed as a whole class or in smaller groups.

2. Free-writing and reading

What's more relaxing than reading under a tree or while lying on the grass? Give your students time to enjoy this bliss with a free-reading session in which they can read a chosen English novel, short stories, or set class text. If reading is not your current focus, take their creative minds outdoors for a free-writing class, allowing them to write on the topic at hand. To bring nature into their writing, ask them to write about environmental topics. (Topics for beginners through to advanced learners may include animals, the weather, the environment, what they can see around them, favorite landscapes, endangered species, and thoughts on current environmental policy or affairs.)

3. The sound of silence & hellip;

Calm a rowdy class or engage students in a touch of mindfulness by asking them to sit silently for five minutes and simply write a list of sounds they hear. (Get more grammar for your buck by asking for sentences in the present continuous.) Later, students compare lists in pairs. You'll be surprised by the different sounds your class will have heard.

4. Bring me a _________

Prepare a list of riddle style instructions describing items you would like your young learners or teens to bring you. ("I'm a tree's feather; not yellow, not blue" is a leaf, "I'm brown and sticky" is a stick). Give them a set time limit to decipher the clues and bring as many items as possible.

5. Blindfold walk

Students lead their blindfolded partner around a short obstacle course or by using the natural surroundings at your school or nearby park (benches, trash cans, trees, low plants, and stepping stones). This activity gives students higher stakes practice when giving directions.

Tip: do this activity the day after revising expressions they'll need (such as turn left/right, go straight ahead, take _______ small/large steps, crawl, crouch down, duck your head etc).

6. Treasure map

This activity requires a longer preparation time investment, but is really enjoyed by students of all ages. Prepare a series of questions related to your current unit of study and hide them around your school. To find these questions, pairs must solve a treasure map of clues that tell them where to go.

For example (adapt clues according to level, ability, your school's layout, and include other staff members if this is possible/appropriate):

  • "Where would you go if you needed to wash your hands? Look for the next clue there."
  • "Search for Question 2 between the two tallest trees."
  • "Mrs. Walsh at reception has the next clue - answer correctly to receive Question 6."

Once they are at the correct place, they will find an English question taped there to answer. Students must answer all questions before bringing them to you. Correct as an open class. The pair with the fastest time/most correct answers wins.

Seven games to play with your teens (that they'll actually love)

While teenagers have a talent for looking at the adults in their lives with keen suspicion, it's a sure bet that suggesting a game in class will turn those frowns upside down. After all, when teaching teens, laughter goes a long way to generating a relaxed energy, as well as getting them out of their heads. Here are six of our favorite teen-safe games to add to your toolkit.

1. A-Z board race

This is the speed and vocabulary of the game. To play, divide the class into two teams and give them a large lexical set for work (food, clothing, countries). Each team is lined up in front of a white board. The first student in each line runs to the blackboard and writes the Word, which belongs to the selected lexical set, which begins with "A". Returning to his team, the second student adds a word starting with "B", and so on, until the winning team completes the entire alphabet or reaches most of the words after a given time.

Tip: If you wish, you can allow teams to leave a limited number of blank letters, or include a limited number of repetitions from the other team.

2. Running dictation

This game manages to practice the four skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) at once. Prepare by printing out a few lines of a story or text and sticking them around the classroom. In pairs, students take turns to run to the papers, memorize as much as they are able to, then run back and dictate it to their partner. (This is far harder than it sounds, as students must articulate clearly despite their rush to win!)

Once student A has written down B's sentence, they run to the next and dictate it to student B, and so forth, until the pair has it the entire text correctly copied. Their next job is to put the sentences in the correct order.

3. Taboo

This is a great way to get students speaking while practicing your current unit of vocabulary. To play, one student communicates a concept or word to their partner without using a specific list of related words. For example, they must make their partner say "cake", yet they are not allowed to use the words "bake", "flour", "oven", "cupcake", "sugar", or "dessert". Once their partner says the word, the students switch roles. To prepare, put together a set of cards with the target vocabulary on the top and the list of "taboo" words below. (Google will quickly help you come up with these taboo words, if you need a hand!)

4. Direct me

This game is perfect for practicing giving directions, and prepositions of place and movement—as well as being a completely unexpected lesson addition. To play, come to class a little earlier (we know, but trust us, it will be worth it!) to rearrange the furniture into a maze of sorts. In pairs, students lead their blindfolded partner through the maze. Instructors must give clear instructions ("Take three steps forward, then crouch down and crawl & hellip";, "Go under", "Walk past", "Step over").

Tip: To limit chaos, admit just one pair at a time.

5. Triple memory

Make the classic version a little more complicated by adding a third word. To prepare, create cards that show three words that "match". (You could use large lexical sets, verb forms, or comparative/superlative adjective forms.)


Tall Taller Tallest
Hockey Tennis Basketball
Go Went Gone
Step mother Niece Great-Grandfather

Shuffle the cards and distrubte them face down on the floor. In pairs or small groups, students take turns to turn over three cards. Points are awarded for choosing three "matching" words.

6. Adverb mime

A light-hearted game and excellent way to practice and review adverbs of manner. Prepare cards with different adverbs on each (be sure to grade them for your class’s level).


  • Quickly, happily, silently, carefully, loudly
  • Suddenly, gently, politely, rudely, beautifully
  • Deliciously, seriously, impatiently, greedily

Playing as a whole class with competing small groups, or within small groups themselves, students take turns to choose a card and mime an action according to the adverb they select. Set a time limit and award points for guessing correctly.

Tip: If you wish, you can create verb cards as well. The resulting combinations can be hilarious! (Think "climb a mountain rudely", or "play the piano deliciously & hellip";)

Teenagers, while they may take a moment to get into the swing of an activity, can just as easily surprise you with their willingness to join in. Having a number of go-to games is a huge help when planning lessons for teens. For more, check out these classic ELT games, and these circle games.

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