7 ESL Vocabulary Games To Get Your Students Thinking


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.

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!

Earn up to $22 an Hour Teaching English from Home



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here