Spelling Battleship

Philip Olson, Seikei University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Active learning, competition, vocabulary.
  • Learner English level: Any level
  • Learner maturity level: Any level
  • Preparation time: Minimal.
  • Activity time: 40 minutes (including set up time)
  • Materials: White/blackboard and any vocabulary list

There is virtually no teacher prep time required to do this activity, and it can utilize and reinforce students’ learning of any vocabulary taught in a unit or chapter that you are teaching. It is a variation of the Spelling Bee competition in which a more interactive approach is applied. The preparation is done by the students for this activity, as they must study and remember the spelling and pronunciation, as well as the list of words. Students are not allowed to see their vocabulary lists during the game. Students do a repetition drill for correct pronunciation practice, and time is given for remembering the spelling of the words.


Step 1: Explain that this is a vocabulary competition game called “Spelling Battleship” because teams will be attacking each other with the unit vocabulary words.

Step 2: Divide your class into at least three roughly equally sized teams.

Step 3: After the teams have been made, students stand up in straight lines in their teams, lining up according to their team number on the board, where the points are scored.

Step 4: Explain to the class that you will announce a countdown from three to start: “3…2...1… GO!”

Step 5: After announcing “GO!”, any student from any team can raise their hand if they can remember a word from the vocabulary list (they cannot look at their word lists at this point!).

Step 6: Team one attacks team two, team two attacks three, team three attacks team four, and team four attacks team one, so, if a student from team two raises his/her hand first and says: “collect”, then the members of team three must spell that word, letter by letter: student 1: “C”, student 2: “O”, student 3: “L”, student 4: “L”… and so on.

Step 7: After “GO!”, a team scores one point for saying a word first with correct pronunciation, and one point is scored for this team for each mistake made by the “attacked” team. For example, in step 6, if student 3 from team three says “R” instead of “L”, then team two scores a point. A team scores two points if they spell the word correctly.

Step 8: After a team finishes spelling, the teacher begins a new round with the countdown again: “3…2…1… GO!”


For higher level classes I sometimes have the students attack not just with a word, but with the word used in a sentence. To make it more difficult, the student says a definition of the word only. I also use variations in the scoring scheme to suit class needs, such as awarding two points for saying a word first, as it becomes more difficult to remember words as the game progresses. I also become stricter in higher level classes, encouraging not only the correct spelling, but also the correct pronunciation of the word.


I use this game regularly throughout the semester in university classes, and it is an exciting break from the usual class routine. It works very well to wake up a class and keep them focused on learning vocabulary during class time. Also, as mentioned in the Variations section above, the game is easily adjusted to make it more challenging for higher level classes, and for when you continue using it throughout the school year.