Odd One Out: a Great ESL Category Game

Odd One Out (also called Odd Man Out) is a great game for ESL classrooms. It can also be played alone or with a friend online.

Picture of fruit: an apple, grapes, a tomato, bananas, & strawberries. text: 'Which is the odd one, & why? (Explain the difference: the tomato isn't sweet; the bananas aren't red.)'

Children or adults, from beginners to advanced students, can all play it. Its difficulty depends on the categories and words used.

In a classroom, divide students into groups of 2-4 or more. Pass out lists of four or five words per set with instructions to choose the word that is different: the “odd one.”

Different Ways to Play It

In the easiest version, players choose which word or thing is different from the others. (See examples below)

The ‘categories’ version gives more thinking-in-English practice. (It requires naming categories or explaining how words are related. In this version it's not enough to just find a difference.)

So, 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, players choose the winner-- the person they agree has the best explanation for his or 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. You could make this into a multiple-answer question by changing ‘achieve’ to ‘swim.’

Then the answer could be as above. It could also be “swim, because the others are connected with studying.” The answer could even be “work, because the others belong in school.” (This would only apply if swimming was an activity in P.E. at that school.)

Remember, it’s only a game!  Helping students think about meanings and relations between words is much more important than getting the most right.

Odd One Out on EnglishHints

Questions usually concern the meanings and uses of academic words. (Most don't involve famous people, kinds of animals, or basic vocabulary.) Often there is only one correct answer, but sometimes more than one is possible.

The important thing is to try to decide-- 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, Vocabulary Exercises: Types of Organizations, the Scientific Words Quiz, and 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  (as well as the Latin roots of the words we use to discuss them), see Roots of Comparison and Contrast.

More ESL Games

title + a matching game & text: 'Can you match these TIME opposites?
brief, eventual, final, ongoing (matched with finished), previous, initial, subsequent, immediate, long.'

Have fun while practicing these important academic adjectives with this & related opposites matching games. Try playing it now!

Question Game: the best way to review vocabulary & yes or no questions. (Picture of one person saying 'I'm thinking of...'&  several students facing him or her and asking 'Is it?' 'Does it have?' etc.

The Question Game ("20 Questions") is a great way to end class or provide a break students will love and learn from.

Print & Play ESL Classroom Games
Picture of 2 irregular-past-tense bingo boards (with words like 'was', 'felt', 'did', 'had', etc.) & green tokens over words that have been called out.

Games are so useful in ESL classes! Get free printable puzzles, vocabulary matching games, and inexpensive packets of games to practice irregular verbs.

homeVocabulary Games> Odd One Out.

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