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The main point of these games is to revise/ recall vocab in a fun way. Although you can also use gestures, miming and drawing pictures to explain your vocab picks (like in the Activity game), my choice would be to go for oral descriptions to get good speaking practice. 

Whatever format these games will take, there will be two major roles – a describer (a person who describes/ explains a word) and a guesser (a person who tries to guess it). 


1) Preparation. Prepare 20-30 words to revise in advance. If you’re playing online, maybe it makes sense to use just word lists. If offline, it’s more interesting with cards. An interesting idea is to use the alphabet to prepare your words (e.g. a – apprentice, b – blaze, c – capybara, etc.)

2) Setup. Take a time limit of 2 minutes per one person. The first player tries to explain as many words as he/she can during this time, then the players swap. If the other player can’t guess the word, just skip it and put it back to the pile (or put a mark on your list). Have three rounds and see who’s explained the biggest number of words which were guessed correctly. Then adjust the time limit and the number of rounds as you like. 

3) Don’t forget about grammar. Otherwise, you risk switching to pidgin English very quickly) Guessing games actually offer good practice for a variety of structures, e.g:

🔸the use of adjectives including comparative and superlative structures – It’s big, hot, shiny and it’s in the sky. It’s much bigger than our planet but it’s not the biggest thing in the universe. 

🔸 relative clauses – It’s a thing that you use in the kitchen to open bottles of wine. 

🔸 modal verbs – You can hear this sound at home, but also in a cafe. It can be annoying to some people. 

🔸 passive voice – It’s made of cotton and it’s usually coloured. It’s easily washed in a washing machine.🔸 questions – Is it big? Can you use it at home?

4) After the game, do a short analysis

🔸 Which words were easy to describe/ guess? Which weren’t? 

🔸 Which need more revision? Which don’t? ! Look up definitions and examples in a dictionary for the words you failed to explain. 

Let’s look at the variations of the games now. I’d like to offer you three of them.

Game 1 – just describing and guessing

That is the simplest one: the describer chooses a word to describe and does so in a few sentences. Here we mainly focus on the definition, collocations and clear examples or contexts.

E.g. It’s a type of liquid you need in the morning to wake up. – Coffee? – No! – Tea? – No! – Water? – Yes!

This game is especially good for the words you find difficult to remember, those you don’t use much or with which you can’t make your own examples easily, say words for objects or low frequency vocab from C1-C2. 

Game 2 – with some restrictions

The idea is the same, but now there are “banned” words. This variation needs some preparation: decide which 4+ words are key to explaining the main word and ban them. Now you’ll have to be more inventive or creative in your description: 

E.g. Water (don’t use drink, liquid, fresh, ocean, sea, glass/ cup):It’s something you need to wake up in the morning. You can find it in a bottle. 

Or have a look at these photocopiables from Reward Upper Intermediate Resource Pack (below the line are the words that shouldn’t be used in the description):

This game is good for developing creativity and thinking outside the box, especially if you make a long list of banned words and introduce a tough time limit. I’ve heard some very original descriptions of very ordinary objects from my students.

Game 3 – with yes/no questions

Now it’s up to the guesser to ask the right questions. They should be the ones that can only be answered with yes or no. You can agree on a limit of 10 questions.

E.g. Is it an object? – No. But is it a noun? – Yes. Is it something you have in your everyday life? – Yes. Do you often use it? – Yes. Is it related to work? – No. etc… 

Agree in advance on what words you’re going to use (maybe of one topic e.g. travel, or one category e.g. objects in the kitchen, or just a list of words that you make together beforehand), or you’ll play forever. This activity is excellent for practising asking questions. 

With the article I’m attaching a pdf doc with cards (and instruction for teachers) for Game 2. Enjoy!

Would you recommend any other games to revise vocab? Let me know in the comments 😉

Cover Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

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