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104. Engaging Vocabulary Games: 25 Must-Try Activities for English Language Learners
Episode 1048th December 2023 • Equipping ELLs • Beth Vaucher, ELL, ESL Teachers
00:00:00 00:31:39

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Discover the magic of vocabulary development through GAMES!

On episode 104 of the Equipping ELLs podcast we are exploring 25 engaging games designed to supercharge vocabulary learning among your ELLs. Uncover the educational benefits games offer, from sharpening concentration and problem-solving skills to improving memory, speaking, and reading abilities. In this episode, Beth shares 25 games, categorized by language proficiency level. The list includes a new spin on classic favorites like Bingo and Pictionary and strategic challenges like Scategories and Upwords. And listen in for Beth's list of no-prep games that you can play any time with ZERO supplies or preparation!

Playing games not only enhances vocabulary development but also fosters a fun learning environment for your students. Trust us, your students will want you to listen to this one! ;)



Hey there. And welcome to another episode of the equipping eel

Podcast. We have been in the middle of a vocabulary series. And I

cannot wait to dive into today's topic because this is something

that I absolutely love, and I think is one of those must do. Ways

to develop fun and engagement and vocabulary development with your

ells. And that is through Games. Games really are one of the most

powerful ways for our students to learn new vocabulary easily and

in a fun way. They're also a big win for you because many times

once you get these game set up, you can reuse them throughout the

year or when you have that extra five minutes, you can throw them

in or on a Friday when everyone's just going a little bit crazy,

pull out the games. So I really want to encourage you. I'm going

to be sharing 25 different. Games that you can use. I try to put

them into categories, so it's a little bit easier to hear a game

that will work for you. But I really want you to make space for

games because our students need to see the fun of learning a new

language. And that happens so easily and naturally with games.

Students talk and they ask questions. And they get excited. All

through a simple game. So if you're not currently, if you're

feeling the pressure of testing and getting them to speed and all

these different things that Administration puts on us. I really

want you to just take a breath and see how you can incorporate

games more frequently into your lessons into your classroom so

that your students can increase their engagement and increase

their excitement for language learning. Now, before we jump in, I

want to share why games really have so many different benefits for

your El students. The first reason is because it boosts your kids

ability to concentrate and focus on learning. This is just such a

natural thing that happens when they're playing these different

games. And it's something that is a win all around for our

students if they're boosting their ability to concentrate. Another

thing is it helps cultivate problem solving skills. So as kids

learn to approach problems logically and come up with solutions to

help them win a game. Let's say or work in a team or whatever it

is. This can help them to really focus. And not even realize that

they're working in problem solving skills, but they're doing it

naturally because they're having fun in this game. It also

increases vocabulary and memory, which is the reason why I wanted

to highlight this episode and share different games with you.

Because we want to find natural ways for our students to practice

the vocabulary that they've been learning and to apply it. And

then the memory piece is also super crucial, even more so, I think

for our students today. To do activities that specifically work on

increasing memory skills with our students. Depending on the game,

it can also improve selling and reading skills. And playing games

just makes kids happy. That's reason enough, right? It's just.

Perfect. Opportunity for them to socialize talk with peers to get

excited about the topics that they're doing, to speak without even

realizing because they're so excited about the game. So. Let's

talk about let's dive into the games. We have 25 to cover. But it

will be good. I hope that you get some that you can take away

with. So I'm randomize these in different categories. The first

category. Are great games that you can use with newcomers and some

of these. I know that you're familiar with, but I wanted to put

them on the list because sometimes it's just a good reminder. So

the first one is bingo. This is kind of the basic place to start

when you're working with newcomers is bingo. And there's a few

different ways, though you can differentiate this one. You could

just have a blank bingo chart and have students make their own

bin. Bingo boards. This is a great way to have students take on

some of that responsibility. You could have picture words on there

and you say the word and they define it, or you could do the

opposite. Maybe you have the word on their board and you show the

picture and they have to find the word. So the thing that I want

you to think about with these aims are how can you maybe

differentiate them depending on the group you're working with,

because then you're able to reuse them with multiple. Groups and

multiple language levels. That's where the beauty comes in of

having these things set up and ready to go. So bingo is one of

those things that you can approach it in a few different ways.

Where depending on the group that you're working with, you might

choose a different style of bingo over another one. But I think

one of the easiest things is to just have bi. Bingo blank bingo

boards ready in your classroom. You could even laminate them if

you want. And then whatever vocabulary you are working on, you can

give the students the opportunity to make their own bingo board.

And then 20 minutes playing bingo on a Friday, working on

vocabulary. That's a great use of time. Number two Word Searches

Word Searches again, are classic, but they're also really helpful.

Now some tips with this word searches can be really overwhelming

for students, especially students that are learning English for

the first time. So be very mindful of how many words. Are in the

Word Search. What does the font look like? How many letters are in

the Word searches? All those things can be very overwhelming for

that students. You want them to find success. Maybe your word

search has pictures, and they have to go and look for the word in

a word search. You can differentiate it in different ways so that

you're kind of expanding what they're knowing and seeing. If they

see a picture and then find the word and spell it correctly. And

then they write the word underneath the picture. There's a variety

of ways you can do it. That's just one option of how you can make.

It differentiated for those newcomers. The next game is Headbands.

Headbands is a great. Fun game that you could make yourself. You

don't have to go buy it if you don't want to. But essentially what

you do is the students will put a picture on their head. And if

you buy the headbands game, it comes with a headband that you can

put on. And they stick the picture inside. But you could also

create your own way to do it. They could just tape it on or put a

post to it, whatever it looks like for you in your classroom. But

they'll have a vocabulary picture on their forehead and the other.

Students are trying to get that person to guess what that word is

on their forehead. So it's a super fun way. To have them. Use.

Speaking skills. Work on describing work on coming up with

different ways. To get that student to guess that word in their

head. And you could make this just new words that they're

learning. So maybe if you have newcomers, you're going to just

work on vocabulary that they've been working on. So maybe it's

desk or pencil or teacher. And if you have older students, or if

you have students who are at different language levels, then maybe

it's more content. Book how they've been. Working on or some tier

two words that they've been working on. So this is a really

interactive and silly way to work on headbands. Now you can always

go and find the game itself and she has a lot of random words so

that might be fun to play as well and just have in your classroom.

Now I always recommend I do talk about games a lot and I always

recommend to go. Check out. Your local resale Shops before you go

and purchase new versions of these. I have found. Some incredible

gains at the local goodwill for 299 or less. So start there

because they have a ton of games available at different resale

shops. Hopefully they're sent by you and you can go see which kind

of games you can find. All right, number four is a game pop. Now

we have a version of this and I'm actually going to give you a few

of the sets for free because I want you to get set up with some

really fun games so you can see how quickly your students will

engage and respond to this style. Top is a really fun game because

what you do is you put. A bunch of words. Or they could do

vocabulary words. Or if they're working on letters, whatever it is

you put them all into a bag or some sort of container that they

can't see now mixed in with those is a card or a few cards that

will say Pop. And what happens is the students will just sit

around and they'll. Pull out one card at a time and they'll say

the card. Or maybe they have to use the word in a sentence. Maybe.

They have to sound out the word, or maybe they come up with a

synonym for it. There's so many different ways you could use one

game and really hit on different targets of what the students are

working with. So the key passing around, they say the word that

they pull out or they use it in a sentence. But if they get the

word pop, they put all their cards back. So adding in that one

little. Piece of suspense if they're going to get the pop card.

Adds in so much excitement, I have played this game with

kindergartners to fifth graders, and they all get so excited to

think that they might be the ones getting caught and to play

against their friends, or if the teacher plays, they love when the

teacher gets popped. So this is a super engaging way that you

could cover so many different vocabulary. Words or grammar skills

or just you name it, put it on cards, put it in a container and

then add in some words, pop and you are set and ready to go with

whatever skills that you are working on. Like I said, we are going

to be sharing. We'll put a link in the show notes. Of a sample

pack that you can use with your students so you can see how

quickly and fun this is to throw in when you have an extra five to

ten minutes. All right, let's move on. The number five game for

newcomers is pictionary. And pictionary is a super fun way. You

could give the students whiteboards. You could have them work in

small groups. You could do this as a class. But essentially,

they're going to see a word. They have to draw it and their

student, the peers, have to guess what that word is. This is a

great one for newcomers because they are able to draw, they don't

have to do a lot of talking with it. And so it's a fun way that

they can work on vocabulary and use their skills at the same time.

Number six is memory. Memory is I was such a fanatic for Memory,

and I really love that game. But I do think memory is an awesome

game to play because. There are so many different ways that you

can change up the game depending on skill and. Just focusing and

remembering is such a skill that we all need in the days we're

living in. So memory is one you could do picture to picture,

they're finding the words you could do picture to word. You could

do word to a sentence, and the sentence has the word removed. So

they flip one out and they flip two parts over. They're trying to

find the word that fits in with that sentence. There's a variety

of different ways that you could really take it and go deeper on

memories, depending on the work that the group that you're working

with. So don't underestimate how powerful. Memory is and again,

once you get that set up, you're now going to have that set

available and ready. So those Friday afternoons, get those games

out. Let them play. If you've already taught them to the students

how to play them, it's going to be quick for them to get into it,

to get it set up and to start playing. These are not wasted

opportunities. These are really practical. And purposeful

activities that you are doing with your students, where they're

going to have high engagement and they're going to be really

working on skills that are so needed for language development.

Number seven is domino's. Now this is something that will take a

little bit of prep work. But essentially what you would do is you

would create domino's. And maybe. On the top. Is let's say if you

want to create dominoes for homophones, on the top is one picture.

On the bottom is another picture. And then on a different domino

would be the homophone that matches that first one. Okay, let's

see the domino will say, Start underneath that first domino that

says Start. So there's two parts to each domino. The second part

of the domino, let's say would have. A picture of the. Sea, and

then on another domino would be, if we're talking about

homophones, then. It would be maybe a picture of an eye. So C and

C they would match up those dominoes so they would find the

partner, and then they would make a long train of the domino. So

then they find the next homophone and match it up. We have a set

of this insider newcomers unit. So if you are somebody that has a

newcomers unit, you can find. That in Unit Six, I believe. I can

look back to that to see if that's correct. But essentially,

you're just going to create dominoes that they are going to find

the pairs and put them in order.

Number eight and last for our newcomers, is the game, the classic

game, tic tac Toe. And I wanted to bring this one up because

TikTok is a great game that you could play in the moment without a

lot of prep. But there's also a lot of ways that you can go deeper

in this game or just add in variety. If you're purposeful in your

planning so tictactoe you could do. You have pictures on a

tictactoe board. They're going to play in partners. One maybe says

the name of the picture. So pencil they put their X or their O on

it. The other student says, backpack. Or their o on that they're

trying to get three in a row. That's one way to play it. You could

also play where they have to pick up a card. And it has a

sentence. And that sentence has the vocabulary word removed. So it

might say. I use a blank to write. And they would have to look at

the board find. The space on the board that has a pencil. And

that's where they would then cover up the pencil with their X or

their O. So again, I wanted to give you ideas of how you can

change up some of these classic games and really. Cater to the

students that you're working with and the skills and the needs

that they have. So always be thinking, how can I go one step

deeper with this? How can we take. This for example, Pop, you're

going to see if you download our free sample. Many times the games

are just you pick a word, you read it if you get poppy skin back.

But what if we take it? That next step. And that's what we've done

now when the game is done so you can make it. When a student gets

five, that person wins. Now what we've done is you have a game

board in front of you and you're going to sort your words. So

maybe it's uppercase, lowercase letters, maybe it's down verbs and

adjectives. The students are going to sort their words that they

picked up. And now they're going to use two or three of those

words to write a sentence. So do you see how you can take one very

simple game. Like pop and you can extend it just a little bit and

then maybe extend it just a little bit more. And you're really

pulling in some key language development skills. But it's through

a game. So you're going to get good output. All right. If you're

confused about what I'm talking about, it's kind of hard to

explain it. You can go and check out the freebie and see our pop

games and how we step this up. All right, let's move on to. Great

Games for intermediate.

All right. One of my most beloved games is apples. Apples. I loved

playing it growing up. My students always love playing it. And

this is a fantastic game for your intermediate students because

they're going to begin to expand on those really awesome

adjectives that they use the game. And then they can really kind

of work on explaining. Why they choose this word for that

adjective. So it's a fun way to really encourage conversations

with the students and explanation skills and agreeing or

disagreeing. And it's all done through a card game. Now apples to

apples also has. And this is something I found at goodwill. They

have a version called apples, apples Big Picture. And this has

been awesome to play because there's no reading involved. Besides

the adjective that's pulsed. Now I was told that that is out of or

out of I don't think they make it anymore. And people were finding

it on Amazon for like $50. So don't spend 50. Dollars on it, but

if you find it at your goodwill, be on the lookout for apples to

apples pictures, either one for intermediaries. They should be

able to read a lot of the words you might want to go through, and

either maybe do the Junior version or. Kind of look through at

some of the words that you're going to be using because I know in

the adult version. There are a variety of movies or movie stars,

or just topics that maybe are not Super. Appropriate for your

students, so you will want to go through and pull out the cards

that work best, or you can make your own version of apples to

apples as well. Another great game for intermediate is Guests

intent. And you can find this one on Amazon. And this is where you

have a topic and usually you categorize them. So they have one

that's like for countries, for animals, for sports, whatever it

is. And you're going to have that in your mind. And they're going

to ask you questions to try to. Get. What you have on your card.

And so again, these are fantastic ways that you could bring this

with you while you're waiting. For a teacher to come and get their

students, or while you're walking down the hall, you could just

come up with this on your own. You didn't mean to go buy the game,

but you could say, okay, guess my word intent. And as you begin to

develop these types of activities in your classroom. Your students

question skills are going to increase. They're going to understand

the concept of the game. They're going to understand what

questions to start with, how to narrow it down. There's a lot

that's happening in their brains when they're working on games

like this. So something like guests like Guest and Ten is a great

activity to do that's based on the vocabulary you've been working

on or just based on a category that you've been going deeper in

and then pass it on to your students. Have another student have

the one that they think of a word and the students are going to

ask them. So it's a good way to pass it on and have your other

students involved. In that.

All right, the next game. And this is one of my childhood

favorites. Was categories. So categories is where your students

will have a list. Of. Places or food or drinks or sports. A whole

list of these eight things and a paper to write things down and

you will roll the dice and see what letter comes up. This is a

fantastic way for students to work on pulling out vocabulary and

seeing how they can think about a topic and see if they can come

up with a word that begins with that letter. So let's say you

rolled the letter S and you give your students three minutes to

write down the words they can come up with for each of those

categories. And then you share. It out. So again categories is not

something you have to go purchase. You can create. Your own

version of it easily and it's a really good check in. For just

challenging your students. To think about categories, to think

about the words they know to think about beginning sounds. All of

that is easily done when. You're doing this type of game. And like

I said, it doesn't have to be something that you have to purchase

the game. You can just say, all right, we're going to place

categories. Get out your notebook. And the letter is T. And here

are your topics.

Another great game for Intermediate is Guess who. And guess who's

a great game, because then you can even make your own version.

Where you have the students in your classroom. That's who the

guess who is. But I love this game. With intermediate students

because they really have to work on looking at detail, describing,

asking questions, analyzing, putting their people down. That it

didn't work with. I've also seen guests wear at some goodwills,

and that is awesome, because that's something that they're looking

at places in the house. And so they're working on. Locations,

prepositions all those types of things. So both of those are

really fantastic games to use with your dll students. Guess who

and guess where.

All right. And one last game for our intermediate ells is called.

Alert lurt is an excellent game to build vocabulary. It's a brain

boosting game that really helps develop auditory comprehension,

word recall, and vocabulary. So what happens is someone will read

a definition. Or a clue, and then the first person who can blurt

out. What they're talking about gets to move ahead on the game

board. So for an example, one of the cards that was read might be

what word means a partially dried grape. So the first person to

shout out raisin, they get to move forward. So it's a really fun

way to kind of flip it and challenge your students on listening.

And understanding, and then recalling the word that fits with that

definition. That one is called blurt.

All right, let's move on. We're halfway done, and we're going to

keep going. Let's move into great games for advanced ells. The

first one is taboo, and this was a game we always played growing

up with my family. And this is a super fun one. It gave us a lot

of laughs because taboo is something where you're trying to get

your peers. To guess a word that's on the card. But it also comes

with I think, five words that you cannot use to get them to guess

that word. So let's say that the word is. Tree. Well, I can't say

things like. Plant or Christmas, or it gives you five common words

that you would use to associate with that. So you really have to

think about other ways to get the students to guess this word. And

you have to be careful that. You don't use one of those words on

the card, otherwise you get beeped out. So it's a really fun game

that causes a lot of laugh with your students. Another game is

catchphrase and catchphrase is again one of those games you can

just tab in your classroom, pull it out when you have an extra few

minutes. And what you do is you pass around the catchphrase little

disc thing. And the person who has it in front of them reads the

word and then tries to get everybody else to guess it. When it's

guessed, they pass it to the next person and keeps going around in

the circle until time runs out. So it's one of those just super

fast moving games gets people thinking, talking all without really

feeling that pressure of talking in front of peers. Or anything

like that. So it's just a really fun way that you can spend an

extra five or ten minutes when you have the time doing something

that's really purposeful and intentional.

Another great game for. Advanced ells is called Tribod, and this

one I do see a lot at Goodwill. Maybe people don't like this game,

but it is a really awesome challenging game for our students. So

Tribon, what it is. Is they are trying to find. What these three

things have in common. So each card has three things and they are

going to try to guess or they're going to try to think about it

and figure out. What it has in common. And so this one's really

awesome, because. There's a lot of deep thinking that has to

happen to fear out the connections of. These three words that are

given. And this might be one that you want to work in groups and

let them work together and really kind of discuss and go back and

forth. So then you're adding in that conversation piece when you

play this game. The next game is. Upwards, upwards, is life

scrubble. But you lay your words down and then you can add letters

on top of it. So let's say I have the word.

Let's say somebody puts the word B down, B E now, if it's my turn,

I can put an S on top of that word, and it makes it. C. So that's

the way this is a really cool game over scrabble to me for ells

because it's really playing around with words and they're working

on spelling skills. So that to me is a win, very easy to do. It

takes a little bit longer to get set up and get going. But again,

one of those classroom games that you will love having. And then

the last one for Dance dlls is banana grams banan. Banana scrabble

tile game. And the beauty of this one is it's fast moving, so it's

really just helping kids to get out of their head. Start putting

words on the table. Start playing around with letters and see what

they can come up with. So again, this one, I would say, is

probably better for advanced ells because they are going to be

doing spelling, putting letters together, which can get a little

overwhelming, sometimes. For our lower language learners, but

higher intermediate and advanced blouse would really love that

game. All right. We are almost done. I hope that you have heard of

some new games that you can try and some old ones that you want to

bring back. I want to finish up with some great games that you can

go through or that you can teach and use without doing any prep.

So the first one is 20 questions. It's kind of like guess and ten

but 20 questions. So when you're working on. A topic or a new

vocabulary award. Give them opportunities. Have that word in your

head. Have them guess, see if they can get it in 20 questions. The

next one is categories. You threw out a category. Let your

students tell you what words fit in that category. This is a great

one for lower language learners because it's really just helping

them to make. Those connections in their brain really see what

words they know. As simple as animals. Okay, let's go around the

circle and keep saying animals until we run out, until we forget

or till we repeat one. It also helps the students to have to

listen to their peers so that they don't repeat one. Charades is

an awesome game where they could take vocabulary words that

they're working on, act them out and have their PE. Peers guess

team vocabulary races. So maybe you have them working. In. Lines.

And they have to run to the board. And they have to write you read

a definition. And they have to write that word on the board as

best they can. Another really fun game that I came across is

called Switching Places. And so this one is where you have two

definitions of the vocabulary words that you are working on. And

you stand in a circle. Each student has one definition. And what

you're going to do is the person in the middle of the circle is

going to yell out the word. Whoever has the definition of that

word is going to switch places. With the other person who has that

definition, the word. But the person who's in the middle of the

circle is also going to try to get into one of those spots. So

then whoever is left out, they will be the next person in the

middle of the circle. I love this one because it gets students up

and moving, but they have to really know their definition. They

have to know the word that that definition stands for and. They

have to listen. Another quick game is more of a strategy, but

inside outside circle, where the students write a word, a

definition on a card. They then stand across from each other.

Share the word and definition and switch up. You could do a

variety of different games like this, where they write their own

vocabulary definition, picture. They walk around, they find

something who has to say more than them or someone who has a

different word. They switch and they keep going. Things like that.

Anything where they're up and moving is really helpful for

vocabulary development and for them to remember the words. And

then our last game. And this again is one you can do without any

prep is vocabulary Role Award. So maybe. They have a list of

vocabulary words that they're working on. And you have number

123456. And next, each number you're going to write synonym.

Antonym. Use the word in a sentence. Define the word. Draw a

picture of the word. Choose any. There's six things they could do.

They would roll the dice and then whatever number they come up

with, that's what they would do with that word. So if they have a

vocabulary word that they're working on. And they roll use it in a

sentence. They would write it in a sentence. So it's helping them

to think about the word in a different way, apply it, but not have

to do a very rote. Here's your word definition picture for all

eight of these words, it's really kind of engaging because there's

a dice involved and there's risk of what they're going to get each

time. So that's a really fun way to increase engagement when

you're working on new vocabulary. I really hope you can see how

with intentional planning of vocabulary, you can provide many

opportunities throughout the day to increase vocabulary

development and how it can be really fun if you are looking for

tech that supports vocabulary, I'm. Going to link one of my

previous episodes in the show notes so that you can listen to that

where I go a little bit more in depth on specifically vocabulary

development and technology. Also, come and join me for the next

two weeks. I'm going to be having some guest episodes that you

will not want to miss that are still based on VOC. Vocabulary but

are really going to be super insightful, especially if you are

teaching upper elementary students and want to get into context

clues and just better vocabulary teaching in general. Now, like I

said, as a big thank you for being a listener to the Cooking Meal

Podcast. I'm going to share with you a few sets of our pop games,

so go check those in the show notes, download them and get those

set up because I promise you your students are going to love it.

If your students do love it, I would absolutely love to see that.

Will you take a picture. Of your students playing the game don't

have to put their faces in it just them playing the game and tag

us on equipping ells on Instagram. We would absolutely love to see

your students in action and see how they are enjoying some

vocabulary games right in your classroom. Thanks for all you do.

To equip your English language learners I will see you at the same

time same place next week.