This post is the second in a series of blog posts about vocabulary revision. In this one, I’m going to list my five favourite games. For a handy list of principles that can guide you to choose the best activities to revise vocabulary, check out my previous post.
What makes a successful vocabulary revision game?
Let’s have a look at some engaging games that also tick all the boxes above:
Game no. 1: Word blurt
Have you ever seen an episode of the Jimmy Fallon show? Jimmy invites celebrities and he does not only have conversations with them but also plays lots of games, sings with them, etc.
If I see a game, I immediately think about whether there is a way I can use it with my students. One of the best games from the show that you can also use for vocabulary revision is ‘Word blurt’. Here’s a snippet of Jimmy Fallon playing the game with Kristen Steward:
If you want to see the full video, you can find it here.
As you can see, this game is about associations. Students look at a word (in their Quizlet sets, on the board where the teacher writes them or in a breakout room, chosen by the third person in the group) and the players both have to say the first thing that comes to mind. Then, they talk about why they said that particular word. This game can lead to lots of interesting and funny conversations which can make the items much more memorable in the long run.
Game no. 2: Information gap crosswords
Information gap crosswords are often featured in teachers’ resource books and are a great way to get students to work with vocabulary. Students get the same crosswords but they have different boxes filled in. They have to hide their crosswords from each other and ask questions to find the missing words. This is an example from one of my upper-intermediate groups:
Student 1: ‘What’s 16 across?
Student 2: It’s an adjective which can describe a person, a place or even piece of clothing. For example I really don’t like going to -BEEP- parties because I don’t like dressing up.
Student 1: Elegant?
Student 2: It’s similar! It’s also a verb, which means ‘like’ or ‘would like’. For example, I can ask you: ‘Do you -BEEP- a beer?’
Student 1: Ah, fancy!
You can create your customized gapped crosswords on this website.
All you have to do is type the words that you want to revise and select ‘Information gap puzzle’. Then just click on make puzzle at the bottom of the page and your game is ready to be printed or sent out!
Game no. 3: Categories
This game can be played in groups and in a one-to-one setup as well. The reason I like this game is because it’s very personalized, and it’s very different every time we play it. The rules are the following:
Students are given the vocabulary items (on pieces of paper or in a digital format, which I will talk about later) and they have to arrange them into categories based on their meanings. I usually give them 3 rules
- one category has to be minimum 2, maximum 5 words (of course, feel free to change these numbers)
- the categorization can’t be based on the part of speech (e.g. verbs) or the spelling (they all start with the letter b) – it needs to be meaning-based
- You need to explain why you put certain words in a category (either to your teacher or to the other students in your group)
Here’s an example from a lesson when we were reviewing vocabulary related to the environment:
Here comes the hardest part: we (teachers) need to take a step back! 🙂 Of course, if students are struggling with some expressions because they don’t remember them, you can jump in. However, you can also use this opportunity to train your students to be better at working out the meaning (from the root, how the word sounds, etc) and even to use monolingual dictionaries.
If you want to give this game a spin, you can then ask one or more team members to go to another team (or move them between the breakout rooms). When they go to the new team, the students who stayed there have to explain their rules for creating the categories. The newcomers have the task to criticize it! They ask questions and try to look for mistakes. This way, students can practise debating and explaining words, too.
If you teach online, you can use GoogleJamboard or Flippity for this game (in Flippity, look for ‘Manipulatives). All you have to do is prepare the words and share the link with your students. On Jamboard, as you can see above, students can also use different colours for the categories. You will have to duplicate the slide and have one for each team. If you are too lazy to do that (or want to train your students to select the vocabulary items that are most relevant to them ;)), you can get them to create word lists for other teams, too.
Game no. 4: Tell me about yourself
This game is very simple and actually requires no preparation whatsoever. Students look at the vocab item (I usually just get them to open one of their Quizlet sets and shuffle the words in ‘Flashcards’ mode) and say a sentence about themselves. The others (or the teacher, in a one-to-one setup) have to decide whether this statement is true or false. Before they do so, I always get them to check whether the sentence is grammatically correct and if the vocabulary item is used correctly.
For example, here is a vocab item that I revised with one of my students last week:
So my sentence was: I find it very easy to strike a balance between work and life, I always prioritize my well-being and family over work.
–» This is false, it’s actually pretty hard for me. It’s a good sentence because it’s a compound one (which I usually urge my students to do, too, depending on the level) and it can open a conversation, too. It’s also a good way to establish that in a one-to-one setup the student should also be asking questions, in order to become a better communicator.
Game no. 5: Noughts and crosses
Noughts and crosses is the simplest game ever and it doesn’t require any preparation. All you need is a chart and a word in each cell. Of course, this could be created by your students, too.
Here’s an example with animals:
When you are playing the game, students work in two teams or in breakout rooms in pairs (or threes if you want to include a person who checks the sentences and monitors the game – which I highly recommend if you are teaching teenagers). One student chooses a word and has to create a sentence. Of course, in order to be able to choose a word, you have to know the meaning, you can’t really bluff here.
Make sure that students know that the sentence has to be a compound one and of course grammatically correct. If they come up with a correct sentence, they can draw their sign (a nought or a cross – use a marker or the annotation tool for this).
When I’m teaching one-to-one, I am the opponent, but to make it fair, I have to come up with a sentence that is true about the student. If it isn’t true, I don’t get to draw my sign.
I hope you liked these games and try them in one of your lessons. As you can see, none of them requires much, if any preparation, and they all tick the boxes of what makes a vocabulary revision task successful.
Happy revising! 🙂