A Lively Vocabulary Game

Rickford Grant, Clark College, Vancouver, Washington

Quick Guide

Key Words: Vocabulary, Games
Learner English Level: All Learner
Maturity Level: All
Preparation Time: About ten to fifteen minutes the first time; almost nothing after that
Activity Time: Fifteen to twenty-five minutes

Television has been a source of many games for the ESL/EFL classroom: game shows such as Password, Concentration, and even the Dating Game continue to live in their classroom incarnations. If you think back a few years, quite a few in fact, you may remember another American television game show by the name of the $10,000 Pyramid. If so you may already know how to play a classroom vocabulary/speaking game that is useful, easy to set up, and flexible enough to be used at different levels and can accommodate new vocabulary. It is also fun. The game consists of two rounds during which the students are placed into small groups of four consisting of one "guesser" seated facing three "hinters." The guessers and hinters rotate after each set of words. Round One In round one, all of the students, including the guessers, are told the category of the set about to be played, such as "things that are brown" or "things that you wear." The hinters are then all given a list of five to seven words that fall into that category. Each round consists of a number of sets equal to the number of students in a group. This ensures that each student gets the chance to be the guesser. The categories and words for each set can be chosen to match the level and knowledge of the class. The following four sets, for example, would constitute one round for four-member groups:


Things that are red
1. cherries
2. apples
3. roses
4. blood
5. strawberry
6. lip stick
7. cars
Things that you drink
1. cola
2. beer
3. tea
4. coffee
5. water
6. milk
7. wine


Things that are white
1. snow
2. rice
3. bread
4. milk
5. mice (mouse)
6. hair
7. paper
Things that you ride
1. horse
2. bicycle
3. roller coaster (jet coaster)
4. bus
5. taxi
6. elephant
7. train


After the hinters have had the chance to review the set and check any unknown vocabulary, play is ready to commence. When the teacher gives the signal, all of the groups start shouting out clues to their guessers. You may wish to have the students in a group take turns giving clues, but, since the object Of the game is to guess all the items in the set before the other groups do you will find the atmosphere much more exciting and rapid-fire if you let the students give clues at will. The clues can be sentences, phrases, or words, but cannot contain the word itself. Clues in Japanese, "sounds like bla bla" or "not bla bla" clues are also not permissible. The students must also not use their hands.

Hints are given until the guesser correctly guesses the word in play. The hinters then go on to the next item on the list. If a word is particularly difficult, the hinters can pass the word temporarily and come back to it later. After the group has gotten through all of the words on the list, they must announce it to the teacher. This usually takes the form of the group screaming 'finished' while waving their hands wildly in the air. The remaining groups play for second place after which play stops for that set. Students then rotate within their groups so that there are new guessers all around. The new category is then announced and the new sets are distributed to the hinters. This process round continues until all of the sets have been completed .

Round Two

Round two is slightly different in that, rather than being given the category and then guessing the words within it, the guessers must guess a series of categories. Continuing with the rotation started in the first round, hinters must now give one-word clues to the guesser. Hints must fall within the same guidelines as for the first round, and must be limited to one and only one word. Japanese proper nouns are permissible only as they relate to a category, as in "Japanese baseball teams" or "boys names," etc. Examples of some sets follow below:


1. cities in America
2. Japanese baseball teams
3. kinds of fruit
4. things that are yellow
5. kinds of birds
1. islands
2. Japanese cars
3. beer companies
4. singers
5. clothes


1. Australian things
2. singers
3. pets
4. countries in Europe
5. girls names
1. airlines
2. countries in Asia
3. boys names
4. cities in Japan
5. department stores



It isn't really necessary to keep score, but if you want to keep up the game metaphor you can do so. l usually give the team which finishes first one point for each of the words in the set plus one bonus point. The group that comes in second gets one point less than the total number of words in the set, while the other groups get one point for each of the words they had correctly guessed by the time play was stopped. Thus, with seen words in the set, the first place finishers would get eight points, second place six points, and the others less than that. Of course, you can use any scoring scheme that makes sense to you.