There are many useful free word games for practicing English and building vocabulary. They can be great fun in class or with friends.
Besides being free, the games below re simpler for English learners. (Commercial board games like Scrabble and Apples to Apples are designed for native English speakers and very difficult for many non-native speakers.)
Team Word games are great fun. In addition, they are excellent ways for an ESL class (or two classes of the same level, competing against each other) or a group of friends to practice their English.
In Charades, a player from one team acts out a word or idea while his or her teammates try to guess it as quickly as possible.
In Taboo the player uses words to describe the word to be guessed-- but is not allowed to use certain “taboo” words-- the words that would be the simplest ways to describe it. For example, if the word is 'pharmacist,' the taboo words might be 'pharmacy' and 'drugstore.'
Teacher-made board games can be customized for the needs and level of a class from beginners up. Students roll dice, advance around the board the number of spaces shown, and then perform the action required on that space. The action might be to ask or answer a certain type of question (Where do you live? What is your favorite book?), or to name something in a category, such as 'apple' if the space says “Name a fruit,” etc.
See the bottom of this page for two sites with free game board templates and lots of ideas for all kinds of other games as well.
In games like Jeopardy, teams take turns choosing a level and type of question to answer for a certain number of points. (The harder the question, the more points they win if they answer correctly.) The team with the most points at the end wins.
Before class, the teacher has prepared a series of small tasks, the same for each team. The teams stand in equal lines. The first player from each team runs to the front of the class, completes his task, then tags the next player on his team and runs to the back of the line. Whichever team correctly completes all their tasks first wins.
An example of a relay is Eraser Tag. The teacher has written categories on the board. She names a word, and the first player to reach the board and hit the right category wins a point for his or her team. Both (or if three teams all three) players then return to the back of their lines after passing the erasers to the next players on their teams. The teacher announces another word and the second set of players race to the board and find the category...
Other relays can involve the runners racing to the front, reading a short section of text, and repeating it to their team’s recorder. When all the runners have recited their pieces of text, the recorders of each team read aloud the text they have. The team with text closest to the original wins.
I really like the relay, error correction, Last Student Standing, and other games suggested for practicing 'make' and 'do' by a fellow ESL teacher on ELT Connect. Several of the games could be re-used for many other grammar points as well.
One of the best classroom game resources I have seen-- for board games, guessing games,and other free word games-- is a downloadable games pdf by the U.S. Department of State. It's packed with game ideas, as well as game board templates. Don't miss it!
Another site that also provides free game board templates, as well as many engaging online word games, is eslgamesplus.
Besides these free word games for teams and the classroom, many online games can be played by several friends at once. Try some of the memory games on this site, for example. On the other hand, if you don’t have anyone else to play with you can compete against the clock, or try to get your best score ever on a challenging online word game! There are lots of ways to have fun while strengthening your English!
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