Three Games for Teaching Vocabulary and Idioms

This week’s post comes from Kate Maloney, who taught Advanced Plus conversation last summer and is teaching level 4B on weeknights this fall. What games have you used in your classrooms to teach vocabulary? Send them to Alyssa or Denis, and we’ll post them on the blog!

By Kate Maloney

Nothing gets students excited for class like competition. In the final week of the summer term, my co-teacher Karen Feagin and I hosted a successful games workshop for the Advanced Plus class. We divided the students into three teams and awarded points for each of the following activities. The games are easy to adapt for all levels, so consider spicing up your class with some friendly competition!

All three games are good for teaching new vocabulary. The theme of the Advanced Plus summer session was idioms, so we focused on those. Levels below Advanced can use the games to teach new words and simple expressions instead.

What Can You Do with a Brick?

To get students warmed up and thinking creatively, we challenged them to list as many uses as they could think of for a brick. Responses varied from the concrete (“build a church”) to the creative (“throw through a window to rob a store”). We awarded points for the number of responses and the originality of responses.


Liars’ Club

This is a fun activity for introducing new vocabulary or expressions. We gave each team a new idiom and its meaning, such as “to buy the farm,” meaning to die. The team had to invent two fake but plausible-sounding alternative definitions, such as “it means to move to the countryside.” The team then selected three representatives to read the definitions aloud, the real one and the two bogus ones. The other teams had to decide which definition was the real one. Their poker faces were hilarious, and there were some good liars in the class!

This game could be adapted for lower levels by using new vocabulary words instead of idioms.

Liar's Club

Idiom Auction

This is a good game for practicing numbers and writing. Teams were given a certain amount of money to “bid” on idioms, which a teacher then auctioned off. Teams had to strategize by bidding more on the idioms that they knew well and risking less on the idioms that were unfamiliar. After “winning” their idioms, the teams had to write a sentence with each expression. They received one point for using the expression correctly and one point for correct grammar.

This activity can be varied by having students bid on new vocabulary words they have to use in a sentence, or on sentences with incorrect grammar that students must correct.

Idiom Auction

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