Vocabulary & Language Games

This is not a particularly deep or insightful post. I have been doing some planning for my upcoming school year and was thinking about how I wanted to approach vocabulary through the year. It reminded me of a few games I have enjoyed using with students in the past. All three of these take a little time to explain, but can be a fun way of reviewing vocabulary or practicing language skills, especially with English language learners.

Spyfall & Spyfall 2

This game supports language practice, but not academic vocabulary. Essentially, students are playing a simple social deduction game that involves asking and answering questions. One student is the spy and is trying to determine the group’s location and the other students are trying to figure out who’s the spy. Questions they ask each other cannot be repeated, and the purpose of the game rewards subtlety in both questions and answers. Depending on the student’s language skills the game can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 15.

I like to use Spyfall if there is some extra time after an assessment or at the start of the year for class-building. Once the students understand the game and have played it a few times, you can have some fun with them by secretly making them all the spy and seeing how long till they figure it out…

The original Spyfall plays up to eight and Spyfall 2 plays up to eleven or twelve. However, its easy to run multiple games simultaneously with either version.


I love a large group game of Codenames. The original game itself can be fun for language practice with students, however for more specific academic application you can make your own word cards using classroom vocabulary.

If you have never played Codenames, its a team game based around the idea of making connections between different words on the table. Each team has a clue giver who is responsible for creating single-word hints that help their team guess which words belong to their team. Play this a few times and your class will develop some good inside jokes.

This game will force students to think about the different meanings of their vocab and look for creative ways to make connections between concepts. When you create your word deck, I recommend a mixture of tier 2 and tier 3 words. If the entire table is super specific it will be harder to get into a good game flow. The exception is a deck full of historical individuals. Having students think about those connections is fun and rewarding.


This one is a super simple game for words or concepts. I have also heard teachers refer to is as fishbowl.

The game is played over three rounds using the same set of vocabulary words and students are divided into two teams. In round one students describe the word using characteristics in order to get their team to guess it (Taboo style). In round two students are limited to a single word hint to get their teams to guess. Round three is just charades.

By using the same vocab set each round it forces students to think about the vocabulary in slightly different ways. Every time I have played with students there have been some non-academic ways of describing certain words, but it adds to the fun. Like the other games, this can be done very quickly during a review session.

Like Codenames, the actual game Monikers will not help with your vocabulary. Just take the concept and create your own set of words.

I am a big fan of games and simulations in the classroom. Escape rooms can be a fun way to teach critical thinking within established content guidelines. Likewise, I have been able to use historical based computer games like EU4 or Civilization as enrichment projects for some students.

One other game I like that did not make the cut for the list is Concept. It’s a great game, but just takes too long to be used regularly. If you’re interested though, check it out.

Good luck with your planning as we all get ready to start another school year!

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