ESL vocabulary games: describe, repeat and review.

vocabulary gamesESL vocabulary games are useful for reinforcing student’s absorption and activation of new lexis. From the names of foodstuffs and colours, technical terms, set phrases for use when emailing, ways of interrupting a conversation to make a point, through to idioms which only a native (and regional) speaker could ever guess at the meaning of. The field of vocabulary learning is vast and these games encompass a wide variety of these different categories of vocabulary.

Vocabulary Games

Comparative adjectives and superlatives 
Using Venn diagrams, students categorize two sets of adjectives before rolling dice to elicit comparisons and superlative forms.

Alphabet and spelling games
Spelling games and activities to help familiarise students with the English alphabet.

Categories game
One of my favourite vocabulary games. Easy to set up and always popular. Teams race against each other to find a word that fits with each vocabulary category.

Guess the sounds
Can your students identify and name different sounds?

One of the best ESL vocabulary games ever created. Great for giving students a nice send-off at the end of the course or before the holiday break. Here’s my own take on the game as well as some questions to get you started.

Kim’s game
Test students’ memories, add useful vocabulary and practise there is and there are, all by collecting some random household junk before you go out.

Number bingo!
A fun game to improve number comprehension.

Number quiz
General knowledge questions with numerical answers to give students practice using an increased range of numbers.

Pass the bomb
The greatest investment I have ever made as an ESL teacher. The bomb never fails to inject life and excitement into the most tired and sluggish classrooms.

Phrasal Verb Match-Up
An ESL game to practice recognising phrasal verbs.

Picture taboo
A less boisterous version of Taboo, students describe objects for their classmates to guess.

Scatter Sheets: a fun way to improve vocabulary and fluency
A simple but effective activity to increase students’ vocabulary and speaking confidence. Also available as a handy, easy to photocopy book.

Scavenger hunt
Fed up of being stuck in the classroom on a sunny afternoon? Send your students out on a scavenger hunt.

This very popular and reliable ESL game gets students competing to define words for their teammates. A great way to review vocabulary.

The recipe game
Students get to show off their culinary creativity with this fun recipe creating game.

What’s in your fridge?
A game to practice using countable and uncountable nouns and quantifiers– there is, there are, some, any, much, many etc.

Who lives in a house like this?
Students look at photographs of their classmates’ homes and decide which photo belongs to whom.

Puzzles and worksheets

Collaborative Crosswords are a vocabulary learning exercise designed to introduce sets of related vocabulary and have learners describe these new words to each other, write them down and in doing so help fix them in memory. Perfect as a lead-in to your next activity.

Crosswords and half-crosswords are a great way to review vocabulary or introduce a theme. Here’s a quick guide to creating them easily as well as some example to download and go.

Mixed up idioms
Printable idiom worksheets to learn and practise popular English expressions.

Telling the time
Here you will find some worksheets to help students get used to asking and giving the time.


If you like these ESL vocabulary games, make sure to check out our page of ESL grammar games too.