9 Absolutely Essential ESL Games for Vocabulary Review

9 Absolutely Essential ESL Games for Vocabulary Review

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Well, it is that time again. You have finished your unit on (insert topic here) complete with vocabulary, listening, speaking, reading and writing activities, but you are not entirely done. The test is coming up in just a few days, and your students need some review. When vocabulary is on that agenda, try one of these fun games to review the words your students have recently learned!

Try These Fun ESL Vocabulary Review Games and Activities

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    Charades is a fun and lively game for your ESL class to play when reviewing vocabulary. Your students will be energized and enthusiastic when their acting skills are put to the test for their classmates. It is easy to have a charade vocabulary review ready for your class at almost any time and on a moment’s notice with minimal advance preparation. The easiest way to be ready at any time is to keep a collection of vocabulary cards for the words your class has studied. When you are ready to play, divide your class into two teams. Each student will take turns acting out one of the words from the cards that you have prepared. They will choose this card randomly on their turns and will have 2 minutes to get their team to guess the word without using books or notes. The actor cannot use any sounds but must communicate only through actions. The rest of the team should shout out any answers that come to mind. If the team is able to guess the word within the designated time, they score a point. If after two minutes the team has not guessed the word correctly, the other team gets one chance to guess the word. If they are correct, they score a point and then continue with their turn. Continue playing until you run out of time or you run out of words. The team with the higher score at the end of the game wins.

    For a twist try Reverse Charades or Role Play Charades.

  2. 2


    Pictionary is a similar and just as entertaining game to play for vocabulary review. The rules are similar to those of charades except that instead of acting out the word, the clue giver is permitted only to draw on the white board in front of the class. He or she cannot use any symbols, numbers or letters in his or her drawing. Again, give each person two minutes to try to get their team to guess the word. If they are unsuccessful, give the other team a chance to guess. Score the game the same way that you would score charades and announce the winning team at the end of the game. Pictionary is designed to help students remember important vocabulary words and connect terms with concepts.

  3. 3


    How creative are your students? How daring are they? If you think they would have fun with this activity, modify the same general idea that you used in charades and Pictionary with clay or playdough. Again, the rules are generally the same but in this version your students will not be acting or drawing. They will be molding clay to communicate the target word to their teams. Follow the same general rules, but this time you may want to give each person three to five minutes before turning it over to the opposite team for their guess. Scoring is done in the same way.

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    All of the Above

    If you want to energize your students even further, add a little element of chance to the festivities. Using a six-sided die, have your students roll to see whether they will perform a charade, draw a picture or form their clues out of clay. For rolls of one or four, the student will give a charade. For rolls of two or five the student will draw his clues. For rolls of three or six, your students will use clay to give their clues. In all cases, no letters, symbols or numbers are allowed when giving clues. The element of surprise will make the review even more exciting and entertaining for everyone!

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    Bingo is another good game for vocabulary review though perhaps not as lively. Give your students blank bingo boards and ask them to put the review words into the squares randomly. You should have some strategy for choosing the words to call, which your students will mark on the cards. You can choose words randomly from a list, or write the words on cards and choose them randomly from the deck, or simply put small slips of paper into a hat to draw randomly. Whatever method you think works best for you, once you have chosen the word do not read it. Instead, give the definition of the word to your class. Each person must then determine if they have the word that corresponds to the definition on their bingo board. When someone gets five squares in a row, they should shout, “Bingo!” Warn your students not to clear their boards until you have checked the winner’s words to make sure their answer is not incorrect. Give the winner of each round a prize or allow them to call the words for the next round though you may need to supply the definitions.

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    A memory style card game is another effective way for reviewing vocabulary, but you or your class will need to do some advanced preparation before you play. You will need a set of cards for the vocabulary you want to review. For each word, one card should have the target vocabulary word and another card should have the definition of the word. The players should then shuffle the deck and lay all the cards in a grid pattern face down on a large playing surface. Each person turns over two cards each turn trying to find a match. If the cards do not match, they turn them over again and the next person takes a turn. If they do match, they keep the cards and gets an additional turn. The player with the highest number of cards at the end of the game wins.

    You can modify this game to practice matching words with their synonyms or their antonyms, too. For each, instead of using the definition card to match the vocabulary card, use a card with either a synonym or an antonym printed on it. Play continues the same as above. Just be sure you keep the sets of cards separated so you are ready to play at any time.

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    Adding to the list

    Sit your class in a circle. You can have one of your students start the game or you can yourself. Explain that you are going to make a list. For example a shopping list. The first person starts by saying the first thing on the list. For example “I’m making a list of things from the shops and I want to buy bread.” The next student needs to add something to the list and remember what the first person wanted to buy. For example “I’m going to the shops and I want to buy bread and apples. The class must continue adding to the list, repeating all the items as they go, remembering all the things that were previously added.
    You can use other themes for example a list of things for going camping or on vacation.

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    Guess what it is

    Divide your class into two teams. One student from each team must stand in front of the board, facing away from it. Write a word on the board (e.g. tree, a fruit or shoe). Students have to explain to their team members what the item is. For example: “You will see it outdoors, it can be green and tall.” The first student out of the two standing in front of the board to guess the word wins a point for their team.

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    What is my occupation or job?

    In this activity, students have to guess a person’s job or occupation from one or more photograph or illustrations. To make it more fun, you can divide your class into two teams who can take turns as a group to guess the correct answer. Award a point for each right answer. Show picture clues that illustrate a particular job or profession. Students can practice vocabulary expression such as: “He/She is a nurse.” “Is he/she a pilot?” “Does he/she work in a restaurant?” A discussion can follow where students say what their ideal job or profession would be after they have completed their education.

4 Reasons why game-based learning activities are beneficial

    1 They help students to memorize unfamiliar words.
    2 They improve communication skills.
    3 The encourage social interaction in class.
    4. They motivate by making learning more exciting.

    1. They help students to memorize unfamiliar words.

    2. They improve communication skills.

    3. The encourage social interaction in class.
    4. They motivate by making learning more exciting.

Vocabulary is a part of every ESL class, but that does not mean it has to be boring.

These games are both fun and educational and are never boring. The next time you have vocabulary to review, change things up with a game and help your students see that fun can be effective learning, too!

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking one of those sharing buttons below. And if you are interested in more, you should follow our Facebook page where we share more about creative, non-boring ways to teach English.

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