Vocabulary Games for ESL Students

Minds in Bloom is thrilled to welcome Ilinca from the blog Grumpy Dumpling! She’s sharing a fantastic list of vocabulary games for ESL students. Be sure to comment and let us know which ones you play!

These vocabulary games for ESL students provide a fun way to practice target vocabulary words. Some games are best for individual students, some games are collaborative, and some games are competitive. Regardless, your students are sure to have fun and be engaged while playing these vocabulary games!

Teaching English or any other foreign language to kids should be all about fun! Apart from songs and stories, games are the perfect way to make your lessons fun and engaging. Children will take an active role in games, which will ensure that they will remember what they have learnt.

The first step to teaching a second or a foreign language is to get the children exposed to and interested in the language and its basic vocabulary. At first they will acquire vocabulary, and after that, depending on every child’s individual traits, it will take some time for them to start forming their own sentences to express their likes, wants, and needs.

Once they have learnt basic words, you can encourage the children to talk about themselves and listen to what the others have to say. Choosing familiar subjects and themes for the games and stories will help the children build their vocabulary that they will use later.

Building up children’s vocabulary can be easy when you use games and other engaging activities. Here are some ideas you could use with young learners:

The Fly Swatter Game

These vocabulary games for ESL students provide a fun way to practice target vocabulary words. Some games are best for individual students, some games are collaborative, and some games are competitive. Regardless, your students are sure to have fun and be engaged while playing these vocabulary games!

You will need: fly swatters (2-3); large flashcards with the vocabulary you want to teach

How to play the game: Place the flashcards throughout the room. Practice the words before you start the game to make sure the children are familiar with them. Have 2-3 children stand on the starting line, with the fly swatters prepared. When you call out a word on one of the flash cards, they have to run and swat the card. Repeat this as long as the children are having fun.

Word Twister

You will need: flashcards with the words that you want to teach (text and/or images, depending on the age of the children)

How to play the game: This game is played by one child at a time, so it’s perfect for small groups. The teacher or one of the children (who knows the words well) will give instructions similar to Twister. For example: “Put your right foot on strawberry,” or “Put your left hand on banana.” If you have very young learners, then you can simplify the instructions: “Foot on banana,” or “Hand on strawberry.” The kids can play one after another or all at the same time. The purpose of the game is to review vocabulary and improve gross motor skills.

Hop on It

These vocabulary games for ESL students provide a fun way to practice target vocabulary words. Some games are best for individual students, some games are collaborative, and some games are competitive. Regardless, your students are sure to have fun and be engaged while playing these vocabulary games!

You will need: flashcards with the words that you want to teach (text and/or images, depending on the age of the children)

How to play the game: This game is played by two people at a time, so it’s perfect for small groups. Place the flashcards on the floor, close to one another. The teacher or one of the children (who knows the words well) says a word and claps his/her hands. Whenever he hears a word, the other child has to jump on that flashcard. Then, repeat the process on the next word and so on.

The Tower of Words

These vocabulary games for ESL students provide a fun way to practice target vocabulary words. Some games are best for individual students, some games are collaborative, and some games are competitive. Regardless, your students are sure to have fun and be engaged while playing these vocabulary games!

You will need: a set of flashcards or any cards from a memory game; cups

How to play the game: The first child has to say the word she has on the card and then place a cup on top. Then, the next child takes another card, says the word, and then places a cup over the tower. It’s a fun collaborative game. For more advanced learners, you can use full sentences or descriptions of the images.

Can You Find a Circle?

You will need: shapes of different sizes and colours (you can take some plastic shapes from board games or just cut some out from construction paper)

How to play the game: Hide the shapes throughout the room. While singing the Shape song from Super Simple Learning (replace the word “make” with “find”), let the children go and find them and then bring them to you.

What Are You?

These vocabulary games for ESL students provide a fun way to practice target vocabulary words. Some games are best for individual students, some games are collaborative, and some games are competitive. Regardless, your students are sure to have fun and be engaged while playing these vocabulary games!

You will need: some flashcards with animals; a chair (optional)

How to play the game: The kids gather in a semicircle. Take 5-6 animal flashcards at a time and say the words in the pictures. Then, place them all in a bag. Have a child come to the front and sit on a chair. Take one flashcard from the bag and place it at his back so that the others can see it. The others have to give clues to help the child guess the animal. With very young learners, it can be the teacher who gives clues, or the kids can use just one-word clues (big, orange, bark, etc.).

Game with a Magnetic Wand

These vocabulary games for ESL students provide a fun way to practice target vocabulary words. Some games are best for individual students, some games are collaborative, and some games are competitive. Regardless, your students are sure to have fun and be engaged while playing these vocabulary games!

You will need: flashcards with the target vocabulary; magnetic wand and coins

How to play the game: This game can be played in pairs. Place some flashcards on the table and some coins on them. One of the kids says a word, and the other child has to take the coin from that flash card with the magnetic wand. They should take turns in taking the coins.


I am a kindergarten and English teacher in Helsinki, Finland. I’ve been teaching kindergarten for six years, and I’m absolutely crazy about it! I enjoy creating teaching resources, printables, and songs, and blogging about fun activities. If you want to read more about my activities, please stop by my blog.

10 fun writing activities

1 thought on “Vocabulary Games for ESL Students”

  1. These are great activities. We also have a piece of thick plastic and tape smaller pieces on the back to make pockets to place any pictures, blends, phonemes or words (or mix ) and the kids have to crawl and as they put their hands on they say the name, sound or word. This is great for visual tracking, crossing midline and vocab/phonics practice. crawling is also great for a pre-writing activity. Put Velcro dots on the back to keep it from moving on carpet!

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