Guessing Game: a Fun Vocabulary Review Game for ESL Students

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vocabulary review game
Vocab Review Game

Are you looking for a quick, fun vocabulary review game for your classes? Then you’re certainly in the right place. Keep on reading for all the details you need to know about Guessing Game.

Guessing Game: Vocabulary Review Game for ESL Students

Skills: Speaking/listening
Time: 20 minutes
Level: Beginner to Advanced
Materials Required: Flip-chart or flashcards

An Introduction to Guessing Game

The captain sits in a chair at the front of the class facing her team. The teacher stands behind the captain with vocabulary words on a flip-chart or a stack of flashcards. If you use flashcards, make sure they are big enough for everyone to be able to see them, even at the back of the class.

The team has to give hints in English (no gestures) to the captain until she can guess the word. At that point, the team moves on to the next word. Each round is three minutes and you can play 3-4 rounds with different captains. I give each group one pass per round in case there is a word that the captain really doesn’t know.

Teaching Tips for This Vocab Review Game:

One of the ways that students gain fluency is by employing communication strategies such as substitution, which means that when a student can’t remember the specific vocabulary word that they want to use, they’re able to substitute another word, or phrase to get their meaning across. This game is very useful for practicing substitution skills in a fun way.

Make sure you emphasize that this game requires speaking only English. It is simply too easy for students to say the word in the their first language, the captain says it in English and then it’s not a useful speaking activity. I warn students at the beginning of the game that if I hear a word in their first language, that round will immediately finish, even if they are only 5 seconds into it.

One of the cons of this game is that the other team is sitting idly waiting while the other team is playing. A way to alleviate this problem is by keeping the rounds very short so that waiting time is reduced.

You can also mention that any word that a team has “passed” on could come back into play so it’s good to pay attention. Furthermore, elicit the other team’s help to watch for any infractions such as gesturing, miming, or not speaking in English.

Procedure for this Vocabulary Review Activity:

1. Prepare a large flip-chart of flashcards with your target vocabulary. I often use an old notebook.

2. Put the students into teams of 4-8. They choose their captain for the first round.

3. The first team sends their captain to the front of the class who sits in a chair facing their team, while the teacher stands behind them with the flashcards. Give the team 3 minutes to describe as many words as possible, using only English to the captain who must guess them. The teacher keeps track of how many correct words the team got.

4. Continue to play until all teams have played an equal number of rounds, with different captains for each round.

5. The team with the most points at the end of all the rounds is the winner.

Need More ESL Activity Ideas?


Do you like this ESL speaking activity? Then you’re going to love this book: 101 ESL Activities, available on Amazon. It’s the ultimate ESL game and activity book, and contains enough material to get your through the semester in style.

The key to happy, engaged students who are having fun learning English is to mix things up a bit. The book will help you do just that.

101 ESL Activities it well-organized into various sections: speaking, listening, reading, writing, vocabulary, review, 4-skills, warm-ups, etc. So, you should be able to easily find what you’re looking for in under a minute.

You can get it on Amazon in both digital and print formats. Keep a copy on the bookshelf in your office as a handy reference guide. Or, take a copy with you to your favourite coffee shop for lesson planning.

It really is that easy to have awesome English classes.

Sounds like exactly what you might need? Learn more about it here:

—>101 ESL Activities for Teenagers and Adults<—

Even More Ideas for Teaching Vocabulary to Kids or Adults

Check out this short video below for five more ideas:

Have your Say about this ESL Vocabulary Game

Do you think this would work in your ESL classes? Or, do you have another go-to activity or game to help your students remember new English words? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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