Teaching (and learning) new vocabulary through games is my favourite way to expand vocabulary in little learners’ minds! Currently I’m at the intermediate level in my German studies and I wish someone would play vocabulary games with me!

For teaching new vocabulary to my little English students I most often use games. I make a lot of them from free printable I find on line. For very young children who are just beginning in English, animals are great first words.  Buggy and Buddy has some wonderful animal cards that are totally free, you don’t even have to give an email! Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 13.54.01Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 13.37.34

You can use a set of vocabulary cards for many different games. I like to start out with the game Memory to introduce new vocabulary. Every time a child turns over a card I say the word, and I encourage them to say it as well, but I don’t require them to speak on the first introduction to the words. Once I think they can remember the word when I says it, then it’s time to move on to a game that requires them to pull the word from their own head and pronounce it.

Memory Game Rules

Charades is perfect for this, because the children don’t have to use any sentences, just say the word in English. If they say it in a different language then it doesn’t count. Charades also brings in movement for those of us (like myself) that need physical, tactile kind of memory support.

Charades Game Rules

After I feel like they have the new vocabulary words memorised then it’s time to use them in a sentence.  I move on to games that require the children to use the word in a sentence, that is of course, if they are old enough to form a complete sentence. If you are teaching two year olds, for example, and they can’t form sentences in their first language, then expecting them to do so in a second language is ridiculous. My favourite game for forming a complete sentence with new vocabulary is Go Fish. “Do you have a lion?”  “No I don’t, go fish” (draw a card). What is good about Go Fish is that if a child can’t remember a word they can show the card to the group and get some help remembering the word.

Tip: For children that can read or mixed age groups, I use cards without the words printed underneath. Some children won’t be diligent enough to memorise the word when they can just read it! ;-D

Go Fish Fame Rules

Another good game for forming sentences with the new vocabulary is “I’m going on a trip and in my backpack I’m taking…” This game works best with children that are at least five, because they have to remember a growing list of vocabulary as the game progresses. I looked all over on line for the official game rules and couldn’t find them, but we used to play it when I was a child on road trips … perhaps we made it up ;-D. Here is how I play it with my English students.

Lay out the vocabulary cards face up on a table or floor. The youngest child starts, they say “I’m going on a trip and in my backpack I’m taking ___________.” The child must use one of the vocabulary words. I usually allow them to pick  up the actual vocabulary card and hold it in their hand so that the other players can’t see it and must remember which item they are holding. The next player then repeats the same sentence “I’m going on a trip and in my backpack I’m taking ___________ and ____________.” The second child must remember what the first child said, and then add their own item to the list by picking up a card of their own. The game continues on, with each player reciting what the previous players have picked up and then adding their own item. The first player to forget one of the items ends the game (or you can play until there is only one player left).

Have fun!


Hape Animals Wooden Memory Game” Wooden Memory Game on Amazon

MasterPieces Animal Planet – Matching Game

2 thoughts on “Teaching vocabulary through games

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