This article was first published in English Teaching Professional Issue 24 July 2002
Spelling and Vocabulary Games
Simon Mumford, Turkey
Simon Mumford teaches EAP at Izmir University of Economics, Turkey. He has written on using stories, visuals, drilling, vocabulary, reading aloud, and is especially interested in the creative teaching of grammar.
Coin tossing vocabulary test
Backward spelling drills
Longest words win
Guess the word
The next letter
Preposition letter hunt
These games will help your class practise vocabulary and spelling- and have some fun at the same time. Their aims are to get students thinking about words, (both meanings and spellings), and get them to interact with each other. They are suitable for most classes, as you can choose words to match your students’ level.
Divide the alphabet into 8 sections as follows:
1 abc 2 def 3 ghi 4 klm 5 mno 6 pqrs 7 tuv 8 wxyz.
Think of a word and write the section for each letter on the board, eg 1,6,6,4,2 is apple. Get the students to decode this word by choosing letters from the appropriate sections. Give some more examples, eg 5,5,5,2,8, is money, then ask them to make up their own examples and test each other in pairs.
Before starting this activity you may need to explain how to toss coins in English. One person tosses a coin in the air, and, before it lands, the other calls out either ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. If the coin lands with the side called out uppermost, the caller wins. If not, the person who tossed the coin wins. (With coins that have an image of a monarch or politician’s head on one side, it is easy to determine which side is ‘heads’ and which is ‘tails’. With coins that do not have this, you will have to decide in advance whic to call heads and which ‘tails’.) You could also teach a few phrases like ‘Bad luck!’, ‘Better luck next time!’ and ‘Lucky you, well done!’.
Each student needs a coin and three pieces of paper. They write a different word on each piece, mingle and form pairs. One student in each pair tosses a coin and the other calls heads or tails. If the caller is right, the other student reads out one word. The caller then tries to spell and/or define this word. If the caller is correct they can take the word. They then change roles. After both students have had a chance to call, they separate and make new pairs with other students. The point of the coin tossing is to bring an element of luck and fun into the game. The person with the most words at the end is the winner.
Choose words that you want to practise and spell them backwards, starting with the last letter, then the last two letters, the last three letters and so on. For tree, this would go ‘E’, ‘EE’, ‘EER’, ‘EERT’. If a student thinks they know the word before you get to the end, they can put their hand up and spell it (in the normal way). After a few examples, let the students continue in pairs or groups, with the student who guesses one word starting the next. ‘Forward spelling’ would be a less challenging variation.
Get half the class sit in a circle facing outwards. They write the first letter of a word on a piece of paper with a line representing each of the other letters. The words should be reasonably long and ones that all the class know. The other students each stand in front of one seated student. They guess one letter of that student’s word. If the letter is in the word, the student writes it in the appropriate place. If not, they write it at the top of the paper, so that it is not chosen again. The standing students then move one place to the right and do the same with the next word. They keep moving round like this until all the words are finished.
This could be played as a team game, with the teams being the sitting students and the standing students, who then change roles. The aim would be to complete all words in the fastest time.
This activity may be suitable for more advanced students. You need three cards for each student, with words of different lengths written on them. These should be words that are easy to describe and that the students are familiar with. Put the students in groups of four and give them the cards, which they deal out. They should not see each other’s cards. The first student asks the second student to give the meaning of the three words on their cards without actually saying the words, and then asks for the word which they guess or know to be the longest, swapping it for their shortest word. They do not say what the word is, just ‘first’, ‘second’ or ‘third’. The second student asks the third, and so on, until all the students in the group have had a turn. At the end they count the total number of letters in the three words they now have in their hand. The one with the most wins. As a variation, have more than one round with the same cards, letting students choose who they want to ask.
This game can be played in larger groups. Each person has letter cards which make a word. They must not show their cards to the others except when asked. Players take turns in asking other players ‘Have you got a ‘G’ or ‘V’? (or any other two letters). The player who is challenged must show these cards, if they have them to the challenger, but the others must not see them, though if both cards are shown, they will know what they are. The challenger can make a note of which cards are shown. If only one is shown, the other players will know it is one or the other of the letters mentioned, and they can make a note of this to help them in their deductions. Players may make a guess at others’ words at any time. When a word is guessed, that player is out. The last person in is the winner.
Give the students the first letter of a word, say B. tell them the next letter is either R or E and ask them to choose one. If they choose the wrong letter they lose a life, and they only have three lives for each word. The game continues like this with a choice of two letters each time, one of which is right. Say they choose R, which is correct. So far the word is BR. The next choice is E or O, they choose E, but it is wrong, so they lose a life. The word is now BRO. Continue until they get the word (BROWN) or lose all their lives. Students can then play in pairs. Obviously, it is better if the wrong letter sounds possible.
You will need 16 letter cards which spell four four-letter words, eg C-O-M-E, W-A-L-L, G-O-O-D, F-I-S-H. Practise the prepositions, eg on, in, under, and in front of. Put the cards around the room, tell the students the aim is to find and note each letter and location, and then when they have found all 16, to make four four-letter words. Give them this clue, tell them that all letters on something are the first letter of a word, all letters in something are the second etc. (Positioning of the letters will need careful planning.) Students play in pairs or groups. They note the letters, compare them and then try to make four words. For variations of this game, change the length and number of words, and the prepositions used.
This helps students to remember each other’s names as well as practising spelling. Write the first letter of each student’s name on the board. Ask students to make words from these letters and write them up (the same letter can be used more than once). Call students in turn to sit at the front, facing the class, and away from the board. Point to words, which the other students spell by raising their hand. For example, if they are spelling fish, a student whose name begins with F will raise their hand, then one whose name begins with I, then S, then H. The student at the front has to guess the word.
Here, playing cards are used to practise opposites. You need a pack of playing cards for every group of four or five students. The pack is dealt and the player with the two of hearts starts by putting the card down and saying an adjective. Anyone who has another two (of any suit) may put the card down and say the opposite. If more than one person has a two, then the person to play their card first, and say the opposite, wins. That person can then play any card, (eg a seven) and say another adjective. Again, anyone who has a seven can play and say the opposite. The game continues like this until someone finishes all their cards. The same format could be used to practise other language, eg synonyms, spelling, collocations, colours, irregular past tenses.
In my experience, the more memorable the activity and the more the students are engaged in it, the more likely they are to remember the words. They can be also working on other things like learning each others names, prepositions, the alphabet, listening and speaking, during these activities. Competition can add an element of excitement, although this can be omitted if not suitable for your students. Vocabulary and spelling are areas that can accommodate many different types of activity and particularly lend themselves to fun, active and interactive work.
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.