Vocabulary games are one of the most effective ways to teach children English vocabulary lists. It may be tempting to use flashcards and just drill vocabulary over and over again. But, in the long run, this will have the detrimental effect of making memorizing vocabulary a chore.
One upside to using games to teach English vocabulary is that you can weave English learning into meaningful playtime with your and your children. It can be hard to find enough time to play with your kids and teach them, so why not try to combine these two things.
Our list of vocabulary games comes from my favorite games I used when teaching my classes. They are mostly aimed at a younger audience, but you can scale them up or down depending on how far along your learner is.
We are also going to link out to some other great websites that have online games for you to use. Online games can be a lot of fun to play, though don’t forget that they can’t replace the teaching a parent can do one on one. So if you want to explore these, make sure you are playing with your child and using these games effectively, and not as a time-filler.
Finally, if you want to help your child expand their vocabulary, we have a couple of resources you may want to explore.
- How to Plan Vocabulary Lessons
- How to Learn Vocabulary More Effectively
- How to Scaffold a Lesson
- Animal Lessons with Flashcards
Finally, if you have more questions, feel free to contact us directly by clicking on the image below.
My Favorite Vocabulary Games for Kids
Here is a list of my favorite games for teaching vocabulary to children. A lot of these games will require more than one student, but you can always get creative.
Don’t forget that you can always scale a game up or down depending on your child’s level. You always want the game to push your child’s English level, but not to be so hard that they get frustrated.
I also recommend that you alter these games to suit your child’s preferences. The goal here is to have fun and to learn English. Fun first, English second. I hope you like playing these games as much as I do.
1. Flashcard Matching Memory Game
A classic memory game that will require two sets of the flashcards that you are trying to teach. Pick out anywhere from 3 to 8 pairs and lay them face down on the floor or table. The backside of these cards should not give away what is underneath, so you may need to cover up the words with another piece of paper.
Once it is set up, your child can pick any two cards at random. You will flip them both face up, and your child should say out loud what they are. If they match, then the cards stay face up, and if they don’t, then they return face down. The game is won when all the cards are face up.
The easiest way to modify this game is to change the number of cards in play. If more than one child is involved, they can go head to head on separate cards. The first one finished wins. If your child likes to move, maybe have them race and touch something and come back before they can guess again. Think about what your child likes, and then change the game accordingly.
2. Hit the Flashcard
‘Hit the Flashcard’ is not really a single game, but a collection of games that all involve hitting flashcards. This game can be changed up in many different ways, but the core concept should remain roughly the same.
Pre-taught flashcards are placed somewhere. On the ground, around a room, on a chalkboard, wherever is convenient. Then, you will call out the flashcard that you want your child (children) to hit. The winner is the one that hits the flashcard and says its name first.
If there is only one player, then you should bring in a timed element to encourage them. Do five cards in 20 seconds, and you win, or something like that.
I like to involve movement in this if I can. So run across the room to hit the correct flashcard. Scatter the flashcards around the room, and then race to the correct one. As long as it is safe and fun, this is a great variation.
Another thing you can do is place the flashcards on the floor and have the children step on the correct flashcard instead of hitting them. This will wear out the card quicker but its also a lot of fun.
3. Target Throw
Somewhat similar to “Hit the Flashcard,” but with a twist. In this game, you are going to need something large to draw on, like a whiteboard or a blackboard. You will need to draw a target with different point values in each of the rings. Outside rings shuld be worth less than inside rings.
Have your child line up a decent distance from the target. You will then show them a flashcard. If they can correctly say the word, then they can move forward one step. Do this three times. After the three questions, you can hand them a ball. I like to use a sticky ball, but any ball will do as long as it won’t damage anything. Crumpled up paper works fine. They will then throw that ball at the target. The number of points they get is equal to which part of the target they hit.
This game is ideally played with two or more players. But it can be done with one if your child enjoys it. I like to play with both negative and positive numbers on the target. I also like to change the numbers depending on what numbers my children are currently learning.
Charades is a classic vocabulary game for a good reason. It is easy, fun, and effective. What more could you want?
Start with a stack of flashcards that you have already taught your children. Ideally, this is being used as a review session for a larger unit.
You will take one child aside and show them the card that they will have to act out. They then have 30 seconds to act out the flashcard. The goal is to have your teammate guess what vocabulary you have.
A correct guess is a point for that team. If you are short on numbers, you can give a point to individual students for each correct guess.
If your child has never played this game before, I would recommend starting with animal vocabulary as it easy for children to act these out. We have animal flashcards and lessons found here if you are interested.
5. 5-Second Drawing
5-Second Drawing is one of my favorite games. It is super silly and works with any age group, even adults. Two players will come up to the board or get a piece of paper each. You will then count down 3,2,1 and yell out the vocabulary. At this point, the two players only have 5 seconds to draw that vocabulary.
The winner is decided by a classroom vote, or if there are not enough people for that, then you get to be the judge.
This game lends itself to more physical vocabulary, but it can be used with some other words as well. If the vocabulary you are using is more difficult, then it may be appropriate to give them ten seconds, but I generally find five seconds to be enough to get some silly drawings.
6. Board Games
Board games are fun for everyone, not just children. That’s why I find myself coming back to board games time and time again in my classroom.
With board games, you can use your family’s favorite games or make your own. To learn more about how you can use board games effectively and to download a pre-made board game for free, take a look at our board game post.
7. Alien Invasion
I forget where I first saw this game, but ever since it has been a staple in my teaching arsenal. This game requires a dice, some flashcards, and a playing board. The playing board can be drawn easily on a piece of paper, a blackboard, or a whiteboard. Or you can download it below.
There are two teams, and each team has one spaceship and six houses labeled 1-6. Teams will take turns rolling the dice. If you roll a 2, then your spaceship will “destroy” the other team’s house #2. If that house is already destroyed, then the “shot” misses.
Each house will be associated with one flashcard, so teams will have to identify the flashcard before their “weapon” fires.
I like to add sound effects and crazy shooting patterns for each shot. These shots can be loops, or zigzags or dots. Kids like when they see each house scratched out in crazy ways.
If you would like to download our Alien Invasion board game, just click on the picture below.
8. English Vocabulary Bingo
The rules of Bingo are simple. Each child gets a bingo sheet with all of the squares filled in with different vocabulary. You will randomly call out the vocabulary, and if a child has that vocabulary, they can mark off that square. When one child has 5 squares in a row, they can yell Bingo and win!
Bingo can be played with any vocabulary, and you can customize the game as you see fit to make it work with your lesson. To help you out, we have added a blank Bingo game board you can use. Download it by clicking on the link below.
9. Vocabulary-Specific Activities and Outings
This is not a game, but I feel like I need to mention it as well. One of the best fun things you can do with your child when practicing vocabulary is to do a specific activity or outing that directly relates to that vocab. These kinds of experiences are not only great bonding opportunities and memories but also a great way to practice vocabulary naturally.
It can be difficult to give specific examples because it depends on what you are teaching, but here are some ideas.
- If you are teaching animal vocabulary, you could go to the zoo
- If you are teaching foods, you could cook or do taste tests
- If you are learning about places in your town, you could draw a map of your town and do a treasure hunt
- If you are learning sports, you could do a Sports Day
These are just a couple of basic ideas that you could use. Games are great because they give your child a chance to use the vocabulary that they have learned. But unfortunately, these learning opportunities can feel forced. Activities that directly relate to what you have learned can show your child the relevance of learning this vocabulary. It can also be a way of making truly special memories with your young ones.
Vocabulary Games Online
There are a ton of online games to practice vocabulary. Here are just a few that you can play with your child. While playing, it is important that you are involved. This is not a substitute for actual teaching.
Other Great Vocabulary Game Resources
Here is a list of other great vocabulary games that you can play with your child. We aren’t the only ones with good ideas on the web, so if you are still looking for more ideas, why not take a look here.
Vocabulary can feel like a chore sometimes for students and teachers alike. But, I think its important to remember that it doesn’t have to be boring or tedious. There are lots of fun ways to learn vocabulary.
We hope that this list of vocabulary games not only gave you some good ideas but also inspired you to add more game time into your teaching. Vocabulary can be so much more than bad worksheets and endless drilling. It’s not only more fun that way, but it is also going to be more effective in the long run.
In the end, the important thing is that you can help form these wonderful memories with your child while helping them gain a skill that will help them throughout their lives. If you have any questions on vocabulary games or how to play them, send us a message by commenting on this post or clicking on the image below.