Fun Games to Help EFL/ESL Students Learn Vocabulary Quickly


Studies on children (and adults) learning EFL (English as a Foreign Language) often prove they remember vocabulary easier if they learn it through playing a game. As an EFL teacher in Thailand, I learned over the years that many of the children I taught had an easier time with English vocabulary if I made the classes fun. So, I devised five fun games, which only take a few minutes, but that help children learning EFL to remember and spell vocabulary faster.

How Many Words – Choose 30 words the children have been exposed to in previous classes. Write the 30 words on a large piece of cardboard. Now, split your EFL students into pairs or teams. Put the piece of board at the front of the classroom and tell them they have three minutes to read the words and memorize them. Then, flip the board over so the words are no longer visible.

The children now have five minutes to write down (with correct spellings) the words they can remember. The winning pair or team is the one with the most words remembered and spelled correctly.

This is a great game for vocabulary memorization and spelling. Particularly if you do it several times during a semester, substituting new words here and there, it’s amazing how fast the children can remember the English vocabulary when they’ve had to read it, remember it and write it down.

Bingo – Another fun game to help with remembering and spelling English vocabulary is Bingo. Each student draws a bingo card, four square across and four squares down. Now, using the same card with 30 words written on it, or a new card with new vocabulary, each child must choose 16 out of the 30 words and write one in each square of the card.

Once every child has a full bingo card, start to read out the words, one word at a time. As you read, your students will cross off the words they have on their cards. First child to have four across, four down or four diagonally and shout “Bingo” wins.

You can use this to play 2-3 games in a 15 minute period, thus re-enforcing remembering, spelling and hearing English vocabulary.

Crossword Puzzles – Make a crossword puzzle (there are programs on-line you can use) using vocabulary the children have already learned. Depending on the age of the children and their English level, either give them picture clues or easy word clues. Give the class a limited time to complete the crossword puzzle and the child who finishes first or gets the most words correct, wins.

Flash Card Thieves – One child is the detective, the other children are the thieves, but don’t tell the class who is who just yet. Line up 20-30 flash cards with words the children have been learning. Give all the children 2-3 minutes to memorize the cards. Then, name one child the detective and he/she must leave the room. The other children are the thieves and they have to ‘steal’ three flash cards. The detective then comes back into the room and sees if he/she can remember which cards have been stolen.

If not, they get to ask 10 questions to the class, (example: Is it an animal?) who must answer honestly, to see if they can figure out the missing cards.

Do this several times with different students. The child who discovers which three cards were stolen the fastest is the winner and if the child doesn’t get all three correct, the ‘thieves’ are the winners. You can make this even more fun by giving the detective a hat to wear and the thieves a stocking.

Last Letter First – This fun game is great for spelling and remembering English vocabulary. Starting at the front of the class, the first student has to say an English word. The second student then has to say a word beginning with the last letter of the word the first student said (example: ‘hello’ and ‘older’).

This keeps going all around the room until a student makes a mistake (eg: the word one student may say is ‘label’, the next student thinks it’s spelled ‘lable’ and says ‘elephant’. Wrong spelling), and that student is out.

This continues around the classroom until only one student is left standing. If you place a time limit on how long each student has to think of a word (5 seconds), the game moves quickly and can be finished with an average size class in around 10 minutes.

All five of these EFL games are fun for children to play, they are excellent ways for them to memorize vocabulary and also learn how to spell the English words. Don’t forget, learning EFL doesn’t have to be boring.


Photo – A Grade A Student in Thailand – copyright Hanumann, Creative Commons License