Many of you know this game for native speakers. It can easily be adapted for most levels. Warning: Do not attempt to play the store-bought game with any level other than C2! It is extremely difficult and demotivating. However, customized cards can work well.

  1. Choose about 20-30 recent words from lessons and write them at the top of a slip of paper.
  2. Next, add 2 words that are related, but are “taboo”. For example, if the word at the top is advertising agency the taboo words could be TV and magazine.
  3. Put the learners in groups of 3-5. Explain that you will set the timer for 1 minute and one person in the group will take the first card from the stack and describe it to their group. They are not allowed to use the taboo words (or parts of the word itself). If they use a taboo word, that card is discarded. If the team guesses the word and there is still time, the player takes another card and describes again. NB all the other teams are listening as well but not speaking at this point.
  4. Then the next team plays and so on.
  5. The winning team is the team with the most points.

Alternative: Have the learners themselves create the cards with the taboo words. Don’t worry if there are doubles (i.e. if two learners have the same head word).

1-1: This game can not be adapted for 1-1 lessons.


Lists from Cards

This activity is good for any level.

  1. Divide the class into groups/pairs. If the class is small or if the learners are strong enough, each learner can work alone, but the dynamics are better if they can work in pairs or groups of 3.
  2. Give each group a deck of cards (or photocopies of a deck) and a handout with a list of categories (alternatively, write the categories on the board). The categories should be a review of recently learned items such as: environment, finance, animals, foods etc. There should be 11 categories.
  3. The first person turns over the first card in the deck. They then choose the corresponding number on the worksheet/board. For example, if a learner turns over a 3, they check the list and see that category 3 is (for example) “clothing”. They then need to list 3 items of clothing in English. Team members can challenge them to define a word and the person must defend it. Should the player not be able to list the items, or doesn’t know the word in English, or can not defend a word, they receive a mark (I usually play “horse” meaning if they fail once they earn an “h”, the next time an “o” etc. The first person to collect all the letters of “horse” is out of the game).
  4. Continuing playing as above.
  5. Face cards= skip a turn. The Ace is 1.

Variation: for higher levels you could additionally have the player create sample sentences for the words in their list and their team mates decide if they will accept the sentences based on use of the word and grammar.

1-1: This can work for 1-1 but only if the trainer lists their words inĀ  the learner’s L1 to keep it fair.

Collocation Card Match

Collocations are something I focus on from A1-C2. This is good as a lead in to test what they know or as review to check phrases that have been introduced.

  1. Before the lesson, I select the collocations and type up a word document with a table. Break the phrases in two and type half the phrase in one box and half in the other, e.g. to take / a photo, to go / on vacation, peace / and quiet (usually focused on a theme, here vacations). Print and cut into cards, enough for one set per pair of learners. Tip: You can add a THIRD card with a definition (either in their L1 if monolingual or in easy English).
  2. Explain to the learners that in pairs they will match the cards to create the collocations. If you use the definition card, then that would need to be matched as well. Monitor as they do this. Check as a whole class.
  3. Then ask them to turn over the FIRST card in each pair and quiz each other. For example on the table they will now see the cards XXX a photo, XXX on vacation, XXX and quiet. Then have them turn over just the second card and quiz each other again. If you are using the definition cards, have them turn over both cards of the collocation and try to remember the collocation based on the definition.
  4. Now collect the cards. Redistribute one set of cards among all the learners. Every learner should have at least one card, up to about 5 or 6. Explain that you are going to say the first part of a collocation and the person who thinks they have the second part should shout it out. For example, I say : “peace” and all the learners look at their cards and one shouts “and quiet”. If the class agrees it is a correct match, continue to the next learner.
  5. Once this memorization is complete, you can use the phrases in free practice, such as an interview exercise with Q&A (Where did you go on vacation last year? Did you take a lot of pictures? etc.). Alternatively, use a conversation game like those outlined in other posts here (search VOCABULARY category).

This can be used for 1-1, but the learner must be active in matching and the trainer gives hints.

Go Fish

This classic is good for A1 and A2 levels. It’s perfect to practice structures such as:

Do you have a …? I would like… Have you got… I am looking for… etc.

I need a thing which…/ I am looking for a person who…/ I would like an animal that…

And it can also be used to practice very specific vocabulary. It’s great then for ALL LEVELS of general and technical English (Do you have a wrench? A catalytic converter? A vile of … etc.)

  1. Collect the words you would like to practice and draw pictures or find cc pictures online and paste them into a table with frames so that you can print and cut out cards.
  2. Explain the rules to the learners. In pairs or small groups they receive 5 cards. The rest are placed in the middle. They want to get pairs. If they already have a pair, they put it on the table in front of them. The first player asks another e.g. “Sabine, do you have a bathroom cabinet?”. If she has it, she responds “Yes, I do. Here you are.” If she does not, she responds “No, I don’t. Go fish (or Take a card).”
  3. The game continues until one player is out of cards. Then all the players count their pairs. The one with the most pairs is the winner.

It is great for vocabulary and grammar structure and the learners love it. To mix it up, put objects of different colors/sizes on the cards (a black sink/a small vase etc.). By tweaking this game you can use it again and again and it will always be interesting!

1-1: This game is perfect for 1-1 lessons. The trainer is the partner, play as above.