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.


One Before You Go

This simple activity is hugely popular with all my learners.

  1. At the end of the lesson (1-2 minutes before it ends) announce: Please tell me one new word you learned and then you can leave.
  2. The first person to raise their hand and say a new word can leave.
  3. If the group is small enough and if you have time, I sometimes ask them for the translation or an example definition as well.
  4. The person who gave the word can now leave (and the rest remain until they can give a word).

As they realize they can not leave until they say a new word for them. I do this very often and they get quite good at it.

1-1: For 1-1 I usually ask for 3 words instead.

One-Word Stories

This one is a little like “Fortunately, Unfortunately” in that the learners construct a story together. It’s not a specific use of vocabulary but can be used especially well for the past tense. Reviewing linking words could help. It really focuses on listening and syntax.

  1. Explain that the group is going to create a story and that each person will add one part (best if in a circle). Each person’s addition is to consist of just one word. Start the story yourself, e.g. Yesterday/Unexpectedly/In etc.
  2. The next person adds just one word to the story and it continues.
  3. You may choose to limit the story by saying the sentence should not end (hence the use of linking words). Or you can allow a sentence to end, but the person must use “period” to end the sentence.

1-1: This can also be used in 1-1 lessons as described above.

Word Tag

Word tag

This simple activity is good as a very fast warm-up.

  1. explain you are going to do some vocabulary brainstorming. You are going to start the chain by saying a word, for example “cat”.
  2. The next person in the circle must use the last letter of your word to create a new word such as “today”.
  3. The game continues in this way for a round or two.

Variation 1

Instead of going in a circle, use a ball/bean bag/crumpled piece of paper that they throw to the next person.

Variation 2

Set a time limit of 15 seconds (or more) to give an answer. If someone is stumped, they are “out”. Start again and play until there is one winner. You could also stipulate that words may not be repeated.

Variation 3

For more advanced groups you could stipulate the topic, for example, “finance”. A possible chain might be “cash-hedge fund-dividend”. Because this is much more challenging, you might allow them a longer time period, to work in pairs and or use the internet on their smart phones for help.

1-1: This works for 1-1 lessons.