7 ESL Vocabulary Games To Get Your Students Thinking

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One of the best ways to spark more student interest in your lesson is to implement fun ESL games and activities into your lessons, and that should include some ESL vocabulary games.

In previous posts, we’ve covered games for learning subjects like pronouns and prepositions, and have even highlighted speaking activities and English vocabulary games for TEFL students. But in those posts we’ll zero in on ESL vocabulary practice games for kids.

Here Are Some Engaging ESL Vocabulary Game Ideas

ESL Vocabulary Tic Tac Toe

To play this ESL vocabulary game in your classroom, do the following:

  1. Draw or print a playing field for the tic tac toe game.
  2. Place flash cards with words from the previous lesson on each square. The flash cards should be turned upside down. If you draw a field on the board, you can use sticky notes instead of flash cards.
  3. The students start playing the traditional tic tac toe game. However, before drawing a symbol in the square, they should compose a sentence with a word on a flashcard from this square.

Fictional Word Definitions

For this ESL vocabulary game, you should follow these steps:

  1. Take a dictionary and choose an unusual word that your students do not know yet.
  2. Spell the word or write it down on the board.
  3. Each student should come up with a fictional definition for the word and write it on a card.
  4. You should write the actual definition on a card.
  5. Collect and mix the cards, including your card with an actual definition.
  6. Read all of the definitions one by one.
  7. The students should guess which definition is the real one.

Word Presentations

The rules are as follows:

  1. Write down or print the new vocabulary words on pieces of paper.
  2. Mix up the papers in a box or a basket.
  3. Carry the box or basket around the class and ask each student to take a piece of paper.
  4. Then each student should “present” their word to the class. They should describe its meaning, say which part of speech it is, and come up with a sentence including this word.

Odd One Out

Here are the rules for this vocabulary word game:

  1. Write three or four words on the board.
  2. The students should choose the odd one out (e.g. cat – dog – butterfly – horse).
  3. Encourage students to work in teams and come up with their own odd one out words to write on the board.

Grab the Word

Follow these steps to play this vocabulary practice game:

  1. Write the new words on sticky notes and stick them to the board.
  2. Divide the students into two teams.
  3. Read the word definition.
  4. Two students from each of the teams should run to the board and grab the word the definition of which you have read.
  5. Read another definition, have another two students run to the board, and repeat this activity.
  6. The winning team should have more “grabbed” words than the other team.

Word Pyramid ESL Vocabulary Games

To play the word pyramid game, do the following:

  1. Choose an alphabet letter. Avoid complex letters, such as x, y, z, and so on.
  2. Ask the students to form words beginning with this letter, but in a pyramid style: first a two letter word, then a three letter word, after that a four letter word, and finally a five letter word.
  3. The first student to finish calls out, and the game stops.

Here is an example word pyramid: do, dog, date, dizzy.

Newspaper Detective

For this ESL vocabulary game, you will need some newspapers or magazines and scissors. Here are the rules:

  1. Hand at least one page of a newspaper or magazine to each student.
  2. The students find pictures or articles that relate to the studied vocabulary and cut them out.
  3. After the students have found the words, ask them to explain to the class why their picture or article relates to this word of choice.

An alternative version of this game would be to cut the vocabulary words out of newspaper or magazine headings.

Hidden Items Word Games for Students

  1. Show your students several physical items and give them a couple of minutes to look at the items.
  2. Hide the items, e.g. cover them with a cloth.
  3. Have your students write down the names of the items.
  4. The winner is the one who remembers most items.

Crossword Puzzles

The idea is simple – create crossword puzzles with the words that your students have learned and have them guess those puzzles. To make the task more challenging, ask the students to work in teams and create their own crossword puzzles with solutions. Then the teams should exchange the puzzles with each other and try to guess them.

Benefits of Vocabulary Games

Vocabulary games are being used as an effective teaching tool by ESL teachers all over the world. The reason is their ability to connect with both younger and adult students. If you choose the right games, they can be both engaging and informative.

Here are a few other major benefits of using English vocabulary games:

  • They add an element of fun – As we know games can be quite engaging and interesting, which can add an element of fun to your lesson. When students start to have fun during the lesson they tend to pay more attention, which can result in better concentration, improved learning and satisfactory results.
  • Games are interactive – There is nothing more boring than a lesson where the teacher stands and delivers the lecture and the students do not get to participate at all. Unfortunately, this is a very common problem in classrooms. However, with games you can make your lesson more interactive and interesting. Games cannot be played with just one person, therefore, students have to participate and do their share. As a teacher, you get quick responses from your students that can help you see how well they are progressing.
  • They teach more in less time – Games can help you pack more information in your lesson than simple text. When students are having fun they can retain more information, which can help them learn faster. Vocabulary games are usually short and simple, therefore, they can help you teach your students more in a relatively shorter period of time. This allows them to move from lesson to lesson faster as compared to the progress they can achieve through conventional teaching methods.

How to choose the right vocabulary games for your classroom?

Sure, vocabulary games can be interesting, fun and helpful in getting faster results but only when you chose the right game. If you do not know how to choose informative games, then you will not only waste your own time but also the time and money of your students.

Here are a few things that you should consider before picking a vocabulary game for your next class:

  • Games should be relevant – No matter how fun the game is, if it is not relevant to your lesson it will not achieve any results or meet any teaching/ learning targets. An irrelevant game will not only waste time, but it will also confuse your students. The purpose of playing vocabulary games is to reinforce what you teach and if your game does not contain that information then it will be an ineffective teaching tool.
  • Games should not be too complicated – A game that has too many rules or levels will become extremely difficult for your students to understand. Remember, your students’ primary language is not English, therefore, you cannot expect them to understand complicated rules. And if they do not understand the game they are playing they will not learn anything from it. Keep your games short and simple.
  • Games should be interactive – The purpose of using games is to introduce a fun element so that students can pay more attention and learn more. And students can only have fun when they not only understand what they are doing but also participate in the activity. Therefore, you must pick games that encourage maximum involvement of your students.

Why are ESL vocabulary games important?

ESL vocabulary games have become an important tool for ESL teachers. These games not only add an element of fun to the lesson but they also help students learn and retain more information.

Here are a few other major reasons why including ESL vocabulary games in your lesson should be considered an important element of teaching:

  • They help students understand more – It is quite common for ESL students to not know the English language at all, which makes it slightly more difficult for the teacher to communicate with the students and teach them. However, with the help of vocabulary games, you can use different objects, physical activity or gestures to convey the meaning of the words you want the students to learn. This is a great way to build their basic vocabulary.
  • They can be used as warmup activities – Vocabulary games are a great way to get the class into a comfort zone. These games can be used as icebreakers or even interactive activities that can give your students the confidence to participate in the class more and take a better interest in your lessons.
  • They can help improve your students’ communication skill – Vocabulary games can not only help build vocabulary but they can also play a major role in improving your student’s communication skills. These games can encourage the students to communicate with the teacher and other students, which can help them use the words practically and learn different ways to include them in their sentences. This can give them the confidence to communicate in English more fluently.

What ESL Vocabulary Games Do You Play?

We hope you can use these games to learn vocabulary and have fun at the same time, as is the goal of all fun ESL games. But we want to hear from you to find out what we missed. Whether you teach in a classroom or you teach English online, we want to know what games you’re implementing to engage students during your lessons.

Please leave your favorite games in the comments!


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