Playing Games or Being Serious?

<![CDATA[Most learners enjoy playing games; most teachers use games convinced of their value for language learning.  This short, post aims to give you ideas for games which deal with subject matter which  is usually considered ‘ heavy’ or ‘ very serious’ and not usually dealt with in such a light-hearted way! The games below are not all original; some will be familiar to the readers, others are adaptations of well-known games.

In the same way, I hope you will be inspired to create your own games or adaptations of games.

1 Call my Bluff

This is a variation of the original game which is popular in various countries in which the players listen to definitions or explanations of words, some of which can be very funny but also quite longwinded. Here is an example if you are not familiar with the show.


Why:  To revise vocabulary; to encourage using it in a sentence  to develop lookup dictionary skills  (upper levels)

Materials needed – dictionaries, pen, paper or alternatives

How:  Each group is given 5-6 words and a dictionary or access to online dictionaries & thesauruses; they are encouraged  to look up the words and write four (or three, or two, up to the teacher) sentences all of which contain the word, three used incorrectly. When the groups are ready for the ‘ confrontation’ stage, each students reads out one of the four sentences and the opposing groups have to pick out the one who has read the correct sentence.

Players try to trick opposing team into selecting sentence in which the vocabulary in used inappropriately or inaccurately and collect points for one’s team or group.

Note – this game also develops awareness of syntax and develops creative thinking needed to make incorrect sentences plausible!

You can ask your students to use definitions too, as in the original game, but try to keep them relatively short, as this can be quite a time consuming game.

2 Snap

Why: to revise grammatical categories e.g. phrasal/ multiword verbs followed by gerund or infinitive, irregular verbs, plurals/ adjectives etc. or to revise lexical areas such as collocation, derivatives etc.

Materials are sets of cards with possible match ups depending on focus, e.g. if practising phrasal verbs, make cards with lots of verbs and prepositions.

How: The cards are dealt out equally to the members of the group. Each player puts down a card. If the next player has a card that matches the top card on the table, s/he must shout “Snap!”  to get that card and make a pair. To win you must try to collect as many pairs as possible and be left without any cards

Note – this can be quite a noisy game but it’s lots of fun!

Grammar Consequences

Why: to practise the parts of speech; to make even younger learners aware of them in a ‘ painless’ way; to practise editing & correcting

How: The teacher writes an example sentence on the board as well what part of speech it is like this:


For Older learners

For Young Learners

The old Adjective What kind?
lady Noun Person, animal, thing
gave Verb Action
the little Adjective What kind ?
boy Noun Person, animal, thing
a funny Adjective What kind?
smile Noun Person, animal, thing

Then the class plays a game of consequences; each student writes a word called out by the teacher, folds the paper over, passes it on to the next student, then the teacher calls out another word category, etc. When the sentence is finished all open papers, look, edit, correct their sentences and the funniest ones are read out.

Note – The editing stage is a good time to go round and help fix the grammar, e.g. articles, prepositions, auxiliaries, verb tenses.

4 Noughts & Crosses (or Tic Tac Toe)

Why: to revise areas of vocabulary or different aspects  of words; or to revise areas of grammar or anything else you like!!!

Materials Board

How: The teacher nominates the squares / boxes as desired in a Noughts & Crosses grid (e.g. if practicing phrasal verbs, each square is filled with a preposition) and teams call out the category they want to do. The teacher then asks a question which must be answered for the team to get their X or O in that position.


Here is an example with various phrasal verbs with  ‘off’ (or other preposition);  the teacher or opposing team can call out the meaning.

To win, each team must put their three X’s or O’s across, down or diagonally.

This is a good game to get the students to write the questions for the other team.



5 Taboo

Taboo Game

Taboo Game

Why: Taboo is a commercially produced game which exercises verbal skills of paraphrasing, circomlocuting, as well as flexible & quick thinking; if you have one, you may try to use it, but you can also make your own taboo cards which will focus on vocabulary areas you have covered.

Materials: Sets of cards  with target word& words to avoid using in defining target word

How: Cards are placed face down. One member of each team is asked to pick a card and describe the target word to his team without mentioning any of the other words listed on the card.

Taboo sample card

Points are won for words guessed within time limit.

The winning team is the one with the highest number of points at the end the game.

The opposing team acts as referee to check that words listed are are not used while a player is trying to describe the word to their team.

Note This is quite a demanding game, even for native speakers but well worth investing some time to give the learners some useful language for paraphrasing or describing.

A very nice way of creating a more  ’rounded’ lesson with this material, might be to record yourself and a colleague playing a few rounds, and using this as a listening, to get the students to ‘notice’ what type of language was used in trying to avoid particular words.

6. Proficiency Pursuit

This is a great game which I described in a post a couple of months ago and is based on the well known Trivial Pursuit game

If you would like to read about how to use with your classes, click on the link below to read the post.

TEFL Pursuits


Other games which fall in with “serious fun”

My Visual Delights and Spike Milligan post is in very much the same vein, although some people might object to that particular activity having anything to do with ‘heavy’ or ‘boring’ language areas…. but I don’t know… I think it’s up to the teacher to turn an activity this way or that and make it do whatever it is they want it to do.

The other post which is also related, is my “Yes, and… “ post to which similar comments apply as for the activity in my Visual Delights post.

I hope you can find some games you can use in this listing, and if you have any great ideas, I would love to hear about them!

Have some serious fun!]]>

7 replies

  1. I love the idea of creating false definitions!!
    “call my bluff”! I wonder what we would say in French… the “taboo” game is quite famous in my school, in fact with the intermediate learners I make them do the taboo game as a homework(they write a few words on cards with three of four taboo words each)and when they come to class I quickly check them up and we play!I found that when they actually write the taboo words, the game goes more smoothly, as everybody is bound to know the meaning of the words, if the students have the same level of French.

  2. There is a paradox here. Especially teenagers and younger learners love it when their responses involves lies and exaggeration!

    Excellent idea to get them to prepare the cards as homework, Alice. This means they are revising in a motivated way and, therefore, more likely to remember some of the vocabulary.

    Marisa 🙂

  3. Dear Marisa,
    Thank you for sharing these great games.They are all times favourites. I like games in my class.Soon I’ll try the grammar cathegories as you explained.Tic tac toe is also a great revision game. I prepare cards and write the target language or the vocab we have been doing. We play taboo in the class. Sometimes I team them and ask them to prepare their own taboo cards for their opponents. They come up with great ideas.Although they are all related with the language we have been studying they like playing and compete to win.

  4. LOVE taboo in class. Just as I love popping a ‘post-it’ on students’ foreheads and having them guess which ‘celebrity’ they are. Too much fun. I try to start every class with a warmer in this direction. Get the spirits up and moving in a positive direction from the get-go.

    Hadn’t heard of proficiency pursuit. Merci 4 the tip. -Brad

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