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So, how do you teach vocabulary words? Having trouble find vocabulary games that your ESL class will actually love?

Isn’t it difficult to make sure all  your students are engaged and loving the class? Don’t worry, today’s post is about exactly that!

Here is the key:

First, your students need to be fully engaged with the class. So, that simply means you need a handful of fun, interesting activities on hand.

Second, activities should be short, 10 to 15 minute spurts.  Even if your students are playing a vocabulary game, you want to keep them on the move.  In fact, I once had a professor at McGill University who said there are three keys:

Laughter, movement, and water.    

 It works so well!  If you have the luxury of a water cooler in your classroom, be sure to have the students use it.  Movement is definitely my favourite of the three.  Every 15 minutes have students move around to try another activity. Setting up stations in your classroom and having students move from one to the next is an excellent way to keep their energy up.  Laughter? That’ll come on it’s own, once your students are having a blast playing the games.

Thirdly, and perhaps obviously, games should have a purpose. Well, what do you mean by a purpose? Set a goal for your class, specifically for the game portion. Games are not simply time-fillers!

For example:

How To Get Students To Speak In English Class

  • All students should participate in every activity
  • Students should add 6 new words to their vocabulary
  • Students should use the words they learned last class at least once


Of course, your goals will depend on your particular class, and the overall class objective. However, even simply having a goal in mind often makes the game run more smoothly!

By the way, you have access to my free printables library, right?      If not, be sure to click the link below and get your free goal setting worksheet. Not only can you set goals for your class, but you can set your own annual goals, too with my trusty goal setting worksheet.  Since I add new worksheets every month, you’ll never be out of teaching ideas!



Free Printables Library


Some people think games can be played in class without a strategy. However, I really believe teachers need to choose games with care, and think about the purpose, outcome and progress their students make.


3 Vocabulary Games Your Students Will Love


1.  Use Story Cubes


So, have your heard of story cubes? In my opinion, these are some of the most fun little items you can keep in your tutoring bag or classroom. Actually, it’s a simple concept.


First, students roll the dice.  Then, they make a story with the images that they get. For example, if they roll a person, a car and an elephant, they have to come up with an interesting tale. You’ll have students (especially kids!) laughing in no time.

Actually, I get so excited to see my students get creative.  It’s a great way to teach vocabulary, practice different verb tenses teach phrasal verbs. You can even get Rory’s story cubes in the  verbs version now!  So this year I plan to use them together with the nouns versions, and have students go wild with their stories.

Think games are just for kids? Think again. Teens and adults have a blast with this, too! You and your students will be laughing in no time 🙂




2.  Black Stories Cards

Well, if you read my email last week, you know I’m super excited to use this game I found in the bookstore a few weeks ago. It’s called Black Stories (sometimes called Dark Stories), and while the concept is simple, it’s so much fun. Originally from Germany, this game is a crime-lovers favourite. As you can imagine, they do deal with crimes like murder, so they may not be suitable for young children. However, some of my teenage tutoring students absolutely love mysteries, so I can’t wait to have them try to solve these ones.

Here’s how it works:


First, one person reads the card, without showing the back to the other players. Each card has a a strange situation, and the “solution” to the situation is on the back.

For example:

A woman dies from talking on her phone too long.   A simple clue, right?  Well, now have players guess how that happened, using questions that require more than a yes or no answer. This way, everyone is speaking. In fact, you could make your goal for students to use a particular verb tense or mode, like the conditional.  It’s so much easier to remember how to use a verb tense when you’ve invented stories using it!   (The solution for this particular story was that she was talking on the phone in the car and crashed into a tree).

Play the game, and let me know in the comments what you think!



3.  Boggle 

Finally, this is a classic, easy to play game that will keep students on their toes, trying to find words within the board in the limited time they have. If you haven’t played Boggle before, don’t worry.

It’s simple:

Put the dice in the grid, cover the grid, and shake it up!  Then, set the timer to 3 minutes (or use an hourglass).

Next, students have to find words using letters that are adjacent to each other (horizotally, vertically or diagonally).  Use the letters to make words.  The longer the word, the more points you get. Easy, right?  Grab your copy here

Whether you’re using them as a warm-up game to wake up your class, or to energize them before the end, vocabulary games can add a whole lot of fun to an ESL lesson. In fact, I keep a few games in my resources closet (you’ve read my post on 6 simple ways to organize your resources, right?), and a few more in my tutoring bag at all times.

Want more ideas? Be sure you take a look at my post on ESL Tips for Teaching Speaking Classes  and my original post on 5 Super Fun Ways To Teach ESL Vocabulary. 

What is your favourite vocabulary game?  Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you and I answer every comment.





P.S. The photo in today’s post (and poster) is one I took in Cinque Terre, Italy in the summer of 2015.

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