How To Play Taboo As An ESL Game

Taboo is a classic card and word game, the purpose of which is to get your teammates to guess the word that you are describing. However, there is a list of “taboo” words that the players cannot say.

As a teacher, you can adapt this as a fun ESL game in your classroom or to teach English online in order to test the language skills of your students. For example, with the help of Taboo games, students can learn to use the synonyms and develop explanation skills. In this article, we will teach you how to play the Taboo game and adapt it to your teaching styles.

How To Play Taboo For An ESL Lesson

taboo games

A classic Taboo word game includes 502 cards and a buzzer to buzz out the taboo words. You can either use the provided cards or create your own cards to include the vocabulary from your lessons. Follow these steps to play the game:

1. Divide your class into teams with an equal number of people per each team. If you have a diverse class, you can try to mix up the beginner players with advanced players and younger players with older players.

2. Hand out the sets of cards with words to the players. The words should be related to the vocabulary and ESL grammar lessons that you have already studied. You can also use pictures instead of words that should be explained. The cards should also contain the taboo words that the players should not mention during the explanation. One player acts as a clue giver and holds the set of cards so their teammates cannot see the content of the cards.

Check out our examples of ESL grammar lessons.

3. Start the timer, for example, an hourglass. The clue giver gets a certain amount of time to have their teammates guess as many words as they can.

4. The clue givers should give their teammates various clues about the word being guessed, avoiding the taboo words. For example, to explain the word “book” avoiding the words “read”, “paper”, and “library”, the player of the ESL game can say something like “An object with pages that you use for studying” or “You obtain knowledge from it.” Remember that when it comes to ESL Taboo, you should give your students the words that are related to the topics of your recent lessons. For example, if you were studying phrasal verbs, then you can arrange Taboo as a phrasal verbs game for ESL students to revise their knowledge of this subject.

5. The teammates must guess the exact word, not its synonym or any of its forms, e.g. abbreviations, tenses, initial letters, spelling, parts of a compound word, etc.

6. If the teammates are close to guessing the word, the clue giver should keep giving them clues until they get it exactly right.

7. The opposing team should watch out for taboo words. When they hear the clue giver say a taboo word, they should discard the card for that round.

– When the teammates guess correctly, the clue giver takes a new card. The players can skip the cards, but they will get minus one point per each skipped card.

8. During each round, you should divide the cards into two piles, one pile for cards that the guessing team got correct and another pile for cards on which the clue giver unintentionally said any of the taboo words. It is important to keep the piles separated for more accurate calculation of points.

9. Calculate the points. You should give the clue giving team one point for each guessed card. The opponents should get one point per each card in the discard pile. You can decide to play either up to a particular score or for a particular amount of rounds.

10. Switch the teams and repeat the taboo word game until each player has been a clue giver once.

Now that you know how to play Taboo as an ESL game, here are some helpful tips that you can give your students before you start playing

how to play taboo game

  1. Use synonyms and antonyms. However, do not say phrases such as “sounds like” or “rhymes with”.
  2. Before you start giving any clues, read the guess word and all of the taboo words to remember the words that you should avoid.
  3. Try to use the words that you have learned to describe the meanings of the words.
  4. Do not use any gestures like in charades. You should use only words in Taboo games.

Taboo for ESL students is an exciting and engaging activity that will level up their language skills. Spend some time to prepare this game, and you will get positive results in the end. Your students will be grateful to you both for the knowledge and for the fun that they will have while playing ESL Taboo games.

Reasons why Taboo is a popular ESL activity

The main reason for Taboo’s popularity as an ESL activity among teachers who Teach English as a Second Language is its simplicity. The game does not have any complex or hard-to-understand rules, which makes it easier for ESL students to grasp the concept of how to play Taboo.

Here are a few other reasons why you should include Taboo in your lessons:

  • It helps build vocabulary – Yes, as we all know each word that students have to guess goes into their vocabulary. But that is not the only way students learn new words. When they sit down to guess the main word, they use and learn many other words that are used as clues. The entire activity is full of different words that all help build your students’ vocabulary.  
  • It helps improve communication and speaking skills – When students try to guess the Taboo word they start to communicate with each other in order to come up with different clues. This activity improves their confidence to communicate in English. Moreover, they also discover the meaning of different words and how to use them in a sentence, which is a great way to improve their English speaking skills.

It can help achieve learning objectives  – Taboo is a fun game, which not only keeps the students interested but also encourages them to participate. This can create a good learning environment for your students. When students have fun doing an activity, they tend to pay more attention to the details. This allows them to retain more information and achieve their learning objectives.    

Have You Ever Tried Taboo as an ESL Learning Tool?

If so, please feel free to add advice in the comments section. If not, please tell us about some of your other favorite games you use to teach English to kids.

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