ESL Vocabulary Games: 10 Classroom Activities To Make Learning English Fun

ESL Vocabulary Games

If you teach English to kids you probably know that young learners get bored easily. So, how do you get young learners interested in learning vocabulary? The best way is through fun and exciting ESL vocabulary games and activities. That’s why we put together this list of the best ESL vocabulary games to get your students excited about learning English.

For more classroom game ideas, check out our other post, 10 Fun Guessing Games for Young Learners.

Top 10 ESL Vocabulary Games

1: Pass The Ball

This classic classroom game is incredibly fun and a great activity to get your students motivated and energized. It’s also a fun way to introduce or review vocabulary with students. All you need is a soft ball and some flashcards.

How To Play: 

Students will pass the ball around the class and when the music stops, the student with the ball must answer a question from the teacher. For example, if you are teaching vocabulary to do with colors, the teacher might ask ‘What color is it?’.

Another way to play is, when the music stops, the student with the ball can ask the question and all the other students must answer. This way all students get to practice the vocabulary while playing the game.

2: Line Bingo

Small ESL Flashcards

This ESL vocabulary game is a great alternative to regular bingo. Most textbooks these days come with small picture / word cards at that back that students can use for this game. If you don’t have these cards, visit our flashcard page where you can download and print these ‘student cards’ for free.

How To Play: 

Give each student or pair of students one set of vocabulary cards. Ask them to place them in a horizontal line in any order they want. Once students have placed their cards in a line, the game can begin.

The teacher should say one of the words and if that word is on the left end or the right end of the line then students can turn that card over. If the card is in the middle of the line, students cannot turn it over.

For example, if you are teaching the present progressive / continuous tense you can ask students to shout out ‘What are you doing?’. Then the teacher can answer using one of the words on the card (e.g. ‘I am painting.’). Then students should look at their line of cards and check if ‘painting’ is on the left or right end of their line.

The first student / pair of students to turn over all their cards is the winner. To make this vocabulary game more fun, invite your students one by one to the front of the class to choose the next word.

3: Hot Seat

This simple no prep game is a great way to get students to utilize all their existing vocabulary while learning new words at the same time.

How To Play: 

To play this game, you can divide the class into 2/3 teams or you can just play as a whole class. Choose one student to sit in the ‘Hot Seat’. This is a seat at the front of the class facing the other students.

Then from behind the student in the hot seat, show the other students a word from the lesson. The other students must try to describe what the word is without saying the actual word. And the student in the hot seat must guess.

Kids absolutely love this game and it is a great way to review vocabulary that your students have learned that lesson.

4: ‘1 2 3 Go!’ Game

For this vocabulary game you can use flashcards or you can simply write the words on the board.

How To Play: 

Put the flashcards (or write the key words) on the board in a line. 6-8 words is the best. When the teacher says ‘ 1, 2, 3, Go!’ one student must jump up and shout the first word. Then another student must jump up and shout the second word. Then another student must jump up and shout the third word. And so on until all 6/8 words have been called out.

Any student can jump up and say any word at any time, but if 2 students jump up at the same time, then they lose.

This game can be played as a whole class, or if you have a large class, divide the class into teams.

5: Matching Games

PowerPoint Memory Game

These PowerPoint Games will test your students’ memories. Matching games are simple to make and great for reviewing vocabulary.

How To Play: 

Divide the class into 2 teams. The aim of the game is to find two matching words / pictures. The teams will take turns choosing TWO numbers. Click on the square to reveal the word beneath. If the two words are the same, then that team gets a point. If they are different then click on red circle to hide the word again.

The game becomes more and more fun as it progresses because students start to remember where they saw the words. Download ready to use matching games and a blank template here.

6: The 4 Corner Game

This no prep classroom game is great to review vocabulary and as a listening activity.

How To Play: 

Assign a word to the 4 corners of the classroom. Then, choose one student to come to the front and close their eyes. Then the other students have 5 seconds to move to one of the corners of the classroom. After the time is up, the student at the front will choose one of the words while keeping his/her eyes closed. The students standing in the corner with assigned with that word are out, and must sit down.

The game continues like this until one student is left. That student is the winner, and can be the next student to come to the front and close their eyes.

TIP: Many students moving around the class can be quite dangerous. For safety, instruct students not to run and make sure there are no bags, coats, books, etc, on the floor that the student can trip on.

7: Printable Board Games

ESL Printables

Printable board games are easy to prepare and a great way to get kids talking using the vocabulary from that lesson. Download many printable board games and board game templates, and find detailed instructions on how to play them, here.

8: Hangman

If you’re not familiar with hangman, its a game where the teacher would think of a word and then draw a line for each letter of that word. Then students must try to guess what the word is by guessing letters of the alphabet.

In the traditional hangman game, if students guess wrong too many times, then the teacher would draw a man hanging from his neck on the board. Even though it is just a stick figure drawing, the idea seems quite gruesome and maybe not appropriate for children. That is why we made a fun alternative to hangman, ‘Save The Teacher’.

How To Play: 

Think of a word and draw lines on the board corresponding to the letters in that word. Then ask students to guess letters of the alphabet to try to guess what the word is.

If students guess wrong, play the video and the fuse will get closer to the rocket. Pause when you see the pause sign and ask students to guess again. If students guess wrong too many times, then the rocket and the teacher will blast off into space.

Don’t worry, at the end of the video the teacher is okay and just went for a fun ride.

9: Hidden Picture Games

ESL PowerPoint Games

These PowerPoint games are easy to make and a great way to introduce or review vocabulary. Download ready made hidden picture games and an editable template here.

How To Play: 

Click on the color shapes to make them disappear. As the shapes disappear the picture beneath is slowly revealed. When students are ready to guess what it is, they should raise their hand and guess while using the target language.

For example, if you are teaching vocabulary about animals, when the student guesses they should say ‘Is it an (elephant)?.

10: Whisper Game

vocabulary game - whisper

This is a very fun classroom game and all you need is a board and chalk / a pen.

How To Play: 

Write many words from the lesson on the board (at least 10). Then divide the class into two teams and ask them to make two lines in front of the board. Give the student at the front of each line a board eraser.

Next, the teacher should whisper one of the words to the students at the back of the lines. Then those students should quickly whisper the word to the next student in line, and then that student should whisper to the next student, and so on down the line.

When the word is whispered to the student at the front of the line, he/she should quickly run to the board and erase that word. The quickest one to erase that word wins a point for their team. Then change the student at the front and play again.

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