Tic-Tac-Toe for vocabulary revision

Sasan Baleghizadeh Shahid Beheshti University, G.C., Tehran, Iran; Golnar Ghaffarie Khatam University, Tehran, Iran


Quick guide

  • Key words:Vocabulary, recycling, vocabox, tic-tac-toe game
  • Learner English level:Elementary and above
  • Learner maturity level:All
  • Preparation time:5 minutes
  • Activity time:15 minutes
  • Materials:Vocabulary cards, whiteboard, marker



Language learners are faced with the task of acquiring and retaining new vocabulary on a daily basis. One of the main tasks of a language teacher, then, is to help students develop a sufficiently large vocabulary. Nevertheless, some language teachers ignore this fundamental fact, assuming that the vocabulary will take care of itself through repeated exposure and classroom activities. As Nation notes in Teaching and Learning Vocabulary (1990), developing a principled and systematic approach to teaching, as well as learning, vocabulary can be a valuable use of class time.

One of the most important aids to memory retention is recycling. The learner needs to meet the lexical item several times, preferably in different contexts. There is a greater probability of this happening incidentally if learners read and listen extensively. As Nation (1990) has rightly argued, real vocabulary learning comes through both receptive and productive use.

The teacher also needs to help the students to recycle recently learned lexis in subsequent lessons. It is especially important to do this the day after it has been taught as we have seen how much we forget in the first twenty-four hours after initial learning. If you keep a class Vocabox, this is much easier to do, as you have all the recently taught lexical items at hand.

We are suggesting a game using the students' Vocabox, which could be used for revising the vocabulary students have already learnt and also for presenting the main vocabulary of listening and reading texts as a pre-listening or pre-reading activity.This activity is based on the game tic-tac-toe, which most students are familiar with.



Step 1:Write the words which you and the class find useful in terms of practicality and frequency on pieces of colored paper or card. Each card could contain only the lexical item or some of the other information about it such as the definition, phonetic form, and parts of speech.

Step 2: Keep the cards in a box in the classroom so it is accessible to everybody in the class.



Step 1:Divide students into two groups. Call one group X and the other O.

Step 2:Draw a tic-tac-toe box on the board and number each of the boxes from 1 to 9 as in the figure below.













Step 3:Choose nine cards from the Vocabox and place them facedown on a table in the same three-row, three-column formation.

Step 4:Ask Group X to choose a number at random. Have one person from the group come to the table, pick the card which has the same number, and try to explain the meaning of the word to the students in his/her group or provide a synonym without using the exact word itself in his/her example. Put the group sign,i.e. X, on the box which the group has chosen, if the group guesses the word correctly. If incorrect,replace the card with another. After that, ask a student from Group O to come to the table and follow the same procedure.

The group which manages to complete a line first with their group sign horizontally, vertically, or diagonally is the winner.



This activity attempts to introduce an effective and systematic way for students to record, retain, and review their vocabulary. As mentioned earlier, this activity could be used for reviewing the vocabulary which has been taught and also for introducing vocabulary before a reading or listening activity. We have found this activity quite interesting, challenging, and competitive. Students try their best to win the game.



Nation, I. S. P. (1990). Teaching and learning vocabulary. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.