If you’re looking for some ESL games and activities for word categories, then you’re certainly in the right place. Keep on reading for the top 15 that are engaging, interactive and student-centred and can be used for vocabulary categories (jobs, animals, etc.) or various kinds of grammar (past tense verbs, adjectives, etc.).
Word Category Activities and Games
Let’s get into the best word categories games to use with English learners.
#1: Word Categories Volleyball
Divide the class up into two teams and put a row of desks down the middle. Using a balloon, students take turns hitting it back and forth between the two teams. The person hitting it has to say a word belonging to the category (animals, past tense verbs, adjectives, etc.). No word can be repeated.
If the balloon hits the floor or someone doesn’t say a word, the other team gets a point. Keep playing until a certain number of points is reached.
#2: Word Category Board Race
Divide the class up into teams (2-4, depending on the size of class and space on the whiteboard) and have each team line up in front of the whiteboard with one marker per team. Call out a category (animals, food, verbs, etc.) and the first student has to write a word from that category. Then, they pass the marker to the next student who has to do the same and they return to the back of the line. Continue the game for 1-2 minutes and the winner is the team with the most correct words.
#3: A to Z Alphabet Words Categories Game
Unless you teach absolute beginners, it’s likely that your students already know a bunch of words in any given category. In this case, consider using this as a warmer activity to help students activate their prior knowledge about a topic. Or, use it as a review at the end of class.
The way it works is that in pairs or small groups, students have to write down the alphabet on a piece of paper. Then, students have to write down a word that starts with each letter belonging to that certain category. For example jobs.
B = baseball player
D = doctor
F = fisherman
The team with the most words at the end of the allotted time is the winner. Check it out:
#4: Flyswatter Game
This is a nice game for creating some serious excitement in the classroom! If the word categories are related to vocabulary (jobs for example), then fill the board with a bunch of those. One student from each team comes to the whiteboard and takes a flyswatter. Give some hints about the world and the first student to slap the correct one gets a point for their team. Erase the word and add a new one.
If you’re focusing on categories of words related to grammar and building sentences, then fill the board with nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Tell students to find a verb. The first student to slap one gets a chance to make a sentence with that word and if they do, they get a point for their team. Find out more:
#5: Word Category Concentration
This is a challenging memory game that works well for categories of words. Make up a bunch of matching cards that have a general category and then a specific item. Around 16 is a good number. For example:
Then, put students into groups of 3-4 and give each group a set of cards and it essentially becomes a vocabulary and matching memory game. Learn how to do it:
#6: Pass the Marker
#7: Word Association
Unless students are absolute beginners, it’s likely that they already know a good amount of vocabulary from a lot of different word categories (animals, jobs, clothing, food, adverbs, adjectives, etc.). If this is the case, doing something like this word association activity can be quite helpful for helping student activate their prior knowledge before jumping into the new stuff.
It’s basically a brainstorming exercise. More advanced, older students can do it in pairs while younger beginners can do it together as a class. Have a look here:
#8: Memory Circle Word Categories Game
This is a fun memory game that works well for kids. Call out a certain category (jobs) and the first student has to say a word (doctor). The second student says doctor and then adds their own word (truck driver). And so on it continues until someone misses or can’t add their own word. They sit down and are out of the game. Continue until time is up or until 1-2 people are left standing.
#9: Odd One Out
This is a nice word category game to try out with beginners. It can be used for vocabulary or grammatical concepts. Write down groups of four words, one of which doesn’t match:
- doctor, truck driver, hockey, teacher
- go, teach, eat, walked
In this first case, hockey doesn’t fit because it’s not a job. In the second case, walked because it’s a past tense verb. Multiple answers may be possible which I accept as long as students are able to support it with a reason. Check it out:
#10: Word Categories Survey
Just ask my students and they’ll tell you how much I love doing surveys in my classes! They cover a range of skills, get students out of their seats and moving around the classroom and can be used for almost any topic, grammar point or vocabulary set. Of course, it’s possible to use them for any word category (jobs, travel, sports, hobbies, etc.).
The better news is that it’s easy to make your own in just a few minutes once you get some practice with it. Find out how:
#11: Ball Toss Word Categories Game
Try out this fun game with kids. Write down a bunch of categories (job, food, city, etc.) using a marker on the beach ball. Then, students toss the ball around the classroom. Whoever catches the ball has to say a word from the category that their right thumb is touching. My rule is that no word can be repeated. Check it out:
#12: Listening for One Specific Word Category
Teaching listening skills can be a bit challenging. However, a way to make it a bit easier for our students is to get them to listen for one specific thing. In this case, it could be to take notes on all the jobs that they hear mentioned. Or, all the examples of past tense verbs. Base it on whatever category of words you’re teaching. More details here:
#13: Pass the Clap Vocabulary Games
This is a challenging listening activity for more advanced level students. Find (or write) a passage that contains lots of words from the target category. Then put students into pairs and read it out at a faster than normal pace. Students have to take notes and try to recreate what they just heard.
Read it out again quickly and students do the same thing. Finally, they can compare what they have with the original version. The teacher can highlight the words from a certain category (with the students’ help of course). Check it out:
#15: Name 5 Things in a Word Category
This is a fast-paced warm-up game that’s ideal for word categories. In groups, students have to write down 5 things that belong to a certain category. Some easy ones are food, animals, things they can see in the classroom, etc. More advanced students can do things like things are good for the environment, things they can see that are yellow, habits that may cause cancer, etc.
The team that finishes first puts up their hands and that round is done.
Did you like these Word Categories Games?
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 148 Pages - 03/09/2016 (Publication Date)
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Pick up a copy to keep on the bookshelf in your office to use as a handy reference guide. Or, take the digital version with you on any device to your favourite coffee shop for some lesson planning on the go. Finally, consider listening to the audio version while commuting to work for a serious dose of inspiration for teaching.
Whatever the case, pick up a copy of the book today and get ready some ESL teaching awesome in your life. Head over to Amazon to find out more:
Have your say about Words Categories Games and Activities
What’s your top pick for word categories games? Is it one of the options from this list or do you have another one that you’d like to recommend? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
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Last update on 2021-04-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API