Vocabulary Memory Games for ESL Students

Do you want to have a bit of fun in your ESL/EFL classes while helping your students remember vocabulary words? Then you’ll need to check out these vocabulary memory games. Keep on reading for our top picks!

1.A – Z race

A great vocabulary revision game. Divide the class into two teams each standing in line at the board. Give them a topic like food and drink, sports, countries etc (they must be very large lexical sets). The student at the front on each line runs to the board and must write a word in this lexical set beginning with A on the board. She then hands the chalk or pen to the next person in the row (and runs to the back of the line), who adds a word beginning with B until they reach Z. If they cannot think of a word beginning with a particular letter they can leave a space, but the team with most words at the end is the winner.

2. Brainstorm round a word

Take a word the class has recently learnt, and ask the students to suggest all the words they associate with it. Write each suggestion the board with a line joining it to the original word, in a circle, so that you can get a ‘sunray’ effect. If the original was ‘clothes’ for example, you might get: dress, scarf, skirt, coat, shirt, hat, socks, jeans

3. Adjectives and nouns

Students suggest adjective-noun phrases, for example, ‘an angry cat’, ‘an expert doctor’. Contribute some yourself. As the phrases are suggested, write the adjectives in a column down the left-hand side of the board, and the nouns on the right-hand side. Then they volunteer ideas for different combinations, for example ‘ an angry doctor’ or ‘an expert cat’. See how many the class can make it. If someone suggests a strange combination, he/she has to justify it.

4. Guess the word 

Choose five words relating to recent conversational themes. Write sets of clues to help students guess the words. Play with whole class or teams. Use one word per lesson over five lessons or use all words in one session as a longer game. 

Example clues: I am a noun but I am very important. I begin with the letter ‘f’. People in prison have lost it and want it back. People demand it when it is taken away by dictators. It is related to speech. (Puzzle word = Freedom)

5. Words out of…

Write up a selection of about ten disconnected letters scattered on the board, and ask students to use them to make words. Each letter may be used only once in each word. Make sure there are two or three vowels among them! For example: r, a, n, s, e, j, I, b, d, w, y, g. Students might suggest words like: grain, beg, angry, yes, begin. They can suggest the words directly to you to be written up immediately, or spend two or three minutes thinking of suggestions (individually, or in pairs or small groups) before pooling.

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