5 Easy Vocabulary Games to Fill Extra Class Time (No prep)

It happens to every teacher.

Horror of horrors, you have finished your lesson and the practice and the students are getting antsy. The promise of cafeteria Jamaican patties and French fries make your students jittery.

With 10 minutes left in class, what is to be done?

On the rare occasion that your run out of things for students to do in class, you want to have something ready to throw at your students– something fun, educational, and no-prep.

All of these games are useful in almost any subject at the start of class to review yesterday’s lesson, at the end of class to check for understanding, or for test review.

1.Last Man or Woman Standing 

Materials needed: None

Prep time: None

How to play:  Explain to your students that you’re going to play a game where the last man or woman standing in class is the winner. During the game, you will have all of your students stand with their eyes closed. Each student’s eyes must remain shut during the whole game. Opening of eyes warrants disqualification.

As your students stand  in class with their eyes closed, you will make a series of statements that are true or false  (e.g. “The word ‘dance’ is a verb”), and give your students 10 seconds (which you count aloud) to think of their answers. After the ten seconds are up, students must raise one of their hands up (indicating that they believe the statement to be true) or one of their hands down (indicating that they believe the statement to be false).

The rule: Hand up= true; Hand down= false.

Once you see all the students have chosen their answers, state the correct answer (e.g. “That statement was true. ‘Dance’ is a verb.  All of you with your hands up may remain standing.”) Have all the students with incorrect answers sit down.

Keep going through true/false statements until you have your winner, the last man or woman standing!

Variation: To keep students who were disqualified engaged, try asking especially difficult challenge questions to the students sitting down. The student who can answer an especially difficult question can stand up and compete in the game again.

The benefits of the Last Man or Woman Standing game include giving students the much needed chance to stretch and to move.

2. The Hot Seat

Materials needed: Whiteboard, Google images

Prep Time: None

How to play: Have the students organize themselves into pairs. Ask them to move their desks so that the desks are touching and the student pairs are seated facing one another. One of the desks must be facing away from the board.

Explain to your students that in their pairs they will be swapping seats periodically during the game. The student who is in the chair facing away from the board is in the hot seat. He or she faces the challenge of guessing the word that you write (or show) on the board.

The student in the hot seat can never look behind him or herself to see the word (that is cheating), but must rely exclusively on the hints given by his or her partner. The partner cannot give hints that break any of the following rules:

  • cannot give hints of words that rhyme with the word on the board (e.g. “Rhymes with seat”= disqualification)
  • cannot spell the word on the board, fully or partially (e.g. “It starts with the letter “r”= disqualification)
  • cannot provide examples of this word (you can remove this rule)  (e.g. “Here’s an example…”= disqualification)
  • cannot point to this object in the room (e.g. “It’s over there!”)

Have students put up their hands if their pair guessed the correct answer and keep a tally of the scores on the board. Ask the students to switch every couple of words to give each student in each pair a chance to be in the hot seat.

Variation: To prevent cheating, have students group themselves in groups of three. Have the third student be the “judge” who ensures that no cheating takes place (e.g. The judge tells you if a pair should be disqualified). Alternatively, have 3-4 judges circulating the room checking for breaches of the rules.

Tip:  Great for ESL students/visual learners– look up the Google image word to provide students with a clear visual of the word. Also, this game is best used when you have a lot of vocabulary words to work with.

The Hot Seat Game is a huge hit with students and great for visual learners.

3. WORDO (Word Bingo) (no prep)

Materials needed: Printed WORDO game sheets (download here–> Wordo Template pdf)

Prep time:  None. Just the time it takes to write 16 words on the board.

WORDO, or Word Bingo, is a great game for reviewing a list of academic vocabulary. The only prep involves making a 16 square WORDO sheet, and I have attached it below!

Make sure you have one WORDO sheet for each student or pair of students. Then, write a list of 16-20 course words on the board. Instruct your students to choose 16 of those words and write them in any box they choose (each WORDO game card box must contain a different word from your list).

Once the students are ready, explain that you will be playing BINGO, but with words. Tell your students that you will give definitions or hints each time you choose a different word, and their task is to connect your definition to a word, cross off the word on their game sheet, and say “WORDO!” when they have crossed off 4 words diagonally, vertically, or horizontally.

If a student yells “WORDO!,” you will check if he/she has crossed off four words that you have hinted at. If he/ she chose the correct words, he/ she needs to do a few things before they win the game:

a) Say each word out loud and pronounce it correctly

b) Define each of the four words using complete sentences

c) Give an example of each word (or two, or three…)

Once you have a first place WORDO winner, most students will want to keep going for a second place, third place, and even fourth place winner!

Once you have explained the above rules of the game, you choose random words from your list and give definitions, examples, or hints at what your word must be.

Examples of WORDO hints:

“This is a literary device using exaggeration for effect” (Answer: hyperbole)

“This part of speech is always found before a noun. It has three types.” (Answer: articles- a, an, and the)

“Examples of this part of speech include ‘river,’ ‘city,’ and ‘love,'” (Answer: nouns)

Now just wait for the WORDO winners!

WORDO is an easy Bingo-style game to play when left with extra time.

Download the WORDO  (Word Bingo) –> Wordo Template pdf

4. Flashcard Mania (some prep)

Materials needed: 32-35 index cards (One per student)

Prep time: 1-3 hours (use it throughout the year; laminate to use this game each year)

This is a great game to play if you have a set of around 30 vocabulary words your students must learn in a year. It is especially useful as a final exam prep activity that you do throughout the year.

To prepare this game, you will need one index card per student in your class (most of my classes have 32 students) and an idea of 32 key terms (and their definitions)  your students must know by the end of the year.

After you have a list of the 32 terms, write one term on each index card.

Next, flip over the index cards and write the definitions of the words in RANDOM order (e.g. the definition of the term ‘simile’ could be on any card, such as the index card for ‘metaphor’ or ‘hyperbole.’) The key is to  write the definition of a word on an index card that does NOT have that word on the front.

Now that you have 32 index cards with scrambled definitions, you are ready to play Flashcard Mania.

Put up a timer for three minutes on the board. Explain that as a class your challenge is to get through all the index cards within three minutes. To get through the cards, as a class, you must do the following:

  1. Start with a random student reading the word on the front of his/her card (e.g. “metaphor”).
  2. Wait until the student with the matching definition reads it out loud (e.g. “a metaphor is a comparison between two unlike objects without using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’).
  3. The student who read the definition must supply an example of the term (e.g. the student who read the definition of metaphor must think of an example of metaphor- “All the world’s a stage– Shakespeare”).
  4. The student who read the definition and successfully gave an example then flips over his or her index card and reads the word on front (e.g. “simile”)
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 as above until the game is over and you have reviewed all the terms as a class!
  6. The challenge is to do it all under three minutes within the year! Perhaps candy for the fastest class will be in order!
  7. Tip: If a student gets stuck on a definition/providing an example, you may want to institute a “call a friend” out.
Flashcard Mania is a simple game that involves the whole class. All you need is a set of index cards and a pen to get started!

5. Quiz- Quiz- Trade Review (some prep- Kagan strategy)

Materials needed: 1 scrap of paper/index card per student (32-35 scraps)

Prep time: None. 5-7 minutes in class for students to make.

If you have 10-15 minutes at the end of class and you want to check for understanding and get the students moving, a variation of Quiz-Quiz-Trade is the answer.

Hand out a scrap of paper to each student. Tell the students that they will be making Quiz-Quiz-Trade cards to use as a class review.

This means that they will need to think of a question based on the day’s lesson, write it on the front of the scrap of paper, and then write the answer with explanation on the back (I circle the room during this 5-7 minute process to see the answers and correct wrong ones).

Once each student has a scrap of paper with a question on the front and answer on the back, I explain the rules of Quiz-Quiz-Trade:

  1. When I say “go” and I play music,  all students will stand and mill around the room (away from friends).
  2. When the music stops, students must find the person closest to them and stand back to back.
  3. When I say “go” they will turn to their partner and the tallest (or shortest) student will read his/her question to his/her partner and wait for an answer. After giving three hints if needed, he/she will show the correct answer and read it to his/her partner regardless if they were wrong or right. (Quiz)
  4. Next, the other partner shares his/her question, waits for an answer, gives three hints if needed, and reads aloud his answer. (Quiz)
  5. The partners have both quizzed each other, so now they trade scraps of paper, put up one of their hands, and look for another partner with his/her hand up to Quiz- Quiz- Trade with.
  6. I set a timer, and we do this Quiz-Quiz- Trade process for 5-10 minutes, or I ask students to Quiz-Quiz-Trade with 5-10 people and sit down.

Here’s an example of a teacher running Quiz-Quiz-Trade in his classroom:

So, there you have it, the vocabulary games I just can’t live without.

Do you know any other easy games? Don’t be shy. Share with us in the comments below!

To your teaching success,