ESL Vocabulary Activity: Guess the word

This is my favourite vocabulary activity. It’s perfect as a warmer, to introduce new vocabulary, or revision. It’s also simple to set up and students love it because they see it as a type of ‘game,’ which, in a way, it is. Plus there’s a real feel good factor when they guess the word.

Feel good playing this vocab game in class. Photo by Josh Montague

The main reason I love it is because you’re teaching them real life skills. If they ever find themselves in an English speaking country in need of explaining a word to a native speaker who doesn’t speak their language, then this is exactly what they’ll have to do.

Here’s how you set it up.

Prepare a list of between 8 and 10 words from a vocabulary lesson, either in the coursebook or one of your own. You may also want to revise vocabulary, or just check students know the meaning of certain words.

You can use ebeam, or powerpoint, to write the topic of vocabulary as a title, plus two lists, one for student A, and one for student B, with about 4 words each.

Here’s one I did this week with my B2 students.

Shopping Vocabulary











Get the students to decide who is A and B. A is up first, so get B to look away while A copies the words you have on the board.

This is the tricky bit, as some may not know the words, especially if you are introducing vocabulary. I normally either write synonyms next to the word, use gestures, or even write it in Spanish. If you don’t know the word in their language, then either look it up before, or whip up wordreference.

Once all A’s have copied the words and understand the meaning, then get them to explain the words to B, who have to guess it. I’d normally do an example first, just so they know what to do.

I make sure they explain words in a sporadic order, otherwise they will hear each other calling out the answers.

Listen in and check they really understand the words. I normally let students tell each other if they don’t know the word in English but do in their own language.

Once all the B’s have guessed the words, have a quick check that everyone has understood them.

Then repeat with B.

I normally do this in pairs sitting down, or as a class mingling activity where each student has one word to explain to the rest of the class. To set this up, all students need is a list of student’s names. This is also a super activity because each person is expaining their word a few times, so they’ll never forget it, plus they’ll get better each time.

As I said before, it’s great for a warmer before a vocabulary lesson. Try to pick a mix of words you think they know and won’t know. By the end of the activity most students will have learnt a couple of new words at least, and be in tune for the rest of your class. Simple, but effective.

What’s your best vocabulary activity?

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