Odd One Out: a Great ESL Category Game

Odd One Out (also called Odd Man Out) is a great game for ESL classrooms, though it can also be played alone or with a friend online. It can be played by children or adults, from beginners to advanced students, depending on the categories and words used. In a classroom, divide students into groups of 2-4 or more, and distribute sheets with lists of four or five words per set and instructions to choose the word that is different, the “odd one.”

In the easiest version, players simply choose which word or thing (or person, country, etc.) is different from the others.

The ‘categories’ version gives more thinking-in-English practice. (It requires naming categories or explaining how words are related, not just recognizing that there is a difference.) In it, players not only choose the odd or different one, but also explain why it is different. Depending on the things named, there may be more than one right answer. In this case the winner is the one his or her fellow players agree has the best explanation for his/her choice.


Which is the odd one out?


A. a strawberry,

B. an apple,

C. a tomato,  

D. a banana



A. Alexander the Great,

B. Columbus,

C. Charlemagne,

D. Winston Churchill,

E. George Washington

Possible answers:

1. a player could say the O.O.O. is the tomato, because the others are sweet. Another player might choose the banana, because the others are red.

2. Columbus, because the others were great leaders, or

George Washington, because the others were European, or

Alexander the Great, because the others were A.D.


In some versions of Odd Man Out, there is only one correct answer, although it shouldn’t be too obvious. For example, which of these words is the odd one?

A. study

B. work

C. books

D. achieve


(Answer: books; the others are/can be verbs-- things a student DOES, not what he uses.)

As you can see, such answers could be debated. (This could be made into a multiple-answer question by changing ‘achieve’ to ‘swim.’ Then the answer could be as above, or it could be “swim, because the others are connected with studying” OR (if the school offers swimming as part of P.E.) “work is the odd one, because the others are connected with school”...

Remember, it’s only a game!  Helping students think about meanings and relations between words is more important than the number “correct.”

Odd One Out on EnglishHints

Questions usually concern the meanings and uses of academic words, not famous people, kinds of animals, or other more basic vocabulary. Often there is only one correct answer, but sometimes more than one is possible. (The important thing is to try to explain-- at least in your own mind, and in English, as much as possible-- WHY you chose the one you did. If you disagree with the answer/s given, feel free to send me a note on the Contact Me page. I will consider your answer and explanation, and add it to the official answers if you give a good reason. I’ll even give you credit for it, if you would like.)

Besides the game below, other pages with some O.O.O. questions include Vocabulary for Achievement and Vocabulary Exercises: Types of Organizationsand Scientific Words Quiz, as well as the pdf Assistance Vocabulary Quiz.


Which is the Odd One Out (and why)?

(Correct answers give a smiley face and the reason why the OOO is different. A few of these have more than one possible answer. In those cases, the 2nd correct answer you choose will not give a smiley face but will still give the explanation. Incorrect answers have no explanations. Try to think of the reasons, and other possible answers, before you check your answer.)


For a discussion of similarities and differences and the ways we talk and write about them in English (as well as the Latin roots of those words), see Roots of Comparison and Contrast.

Return from Odd One Out to Vocabulary Games.

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