ESL vocabulary game

Photo of Find the Pairs game

This ESL vocabulary game is called Find the Pairs Memory Game. It’s also known as Pelmanism, Match Match, Match Up, Memory, Shinkei-suijaku, and Pexeso.

Use this game in small groups or for one-to-one to consolidate vocabulary, questions, or short phrases. It’s a classic game, and I used to love playing it as a kid with lovely animal pictures. I still love it today, so adult learners enjoy it too.


This ESL vocabulary game requires pairs of small images. So you either need two sets of identical pictures. Or, if the pictures are not the same, then you still need pairs. So, for example, you could pair a knife with a fork and water with a glass.

If you have plenty of time, you can have fun drawing a set with your child or cutting pictures out of magazines. However, to save time, you can also buy sets in toy stores. In addition, I have hundreds of flashcards for sale, including a small size, which is easy to print and just what you need for this game. Here are examples from my transport collection:

Flashcards by Shelley Ann Vernon

How to play

Spread the cards out in a grid and take it in turns to turn over two cards, trying to remember where they are in the grid. (Some people play with the cards spread randomly, but that is harder.) The idea is to turn up a pair, and the player who does that keeps it and takes another turn. If you find you are much better at this game than your pupil, make a rule where you do not get another turn even if you find a pair. So, of course, that makes it harder for you to win.

Language ideas

When turning over the cards, players name the vocabulary on the picture. That’s the simplest method and is best for when you are drilling new words. You might also do singular and plural, for example, one horse, two horses.


However, this ESL vocabulary game is helpful to drill short phrases, sentences, and grammar. Use vocabulary students already know for this variant and combine it with a new grammatical structure.


Keep the sentences short, or the game will be laborious.

Insist on absolute accuracy. This ESL vocabulary game is a drill, not a general conversation. Therefore, accuracy is critical, so pupils learn the correct structure and become fluent in using it.

If it becomes too easy for your pupil, change to a different sentence mid-game.

Suppose you use my small-sized flashcards (or prepare your own); you need to print them on 220-gram card. Either that or stick them on a card before cutting up the A4 sheet. Otherwise, you will be able to perceive the pictures through the paper, even when face down.

Watch the ESL vocabulary game demo

In the demo on this link, fast forward to 1 minute 40 seconds. There, you will see Julie and me drilling word order for adjectives, such as a big brown lion and two orange tigers.

One could use those same animal pictures for any verb tense and a whole host of phrases or sentences. For example: “At the zoo, I saw (turn over the first picture) a tiger and (turn over the second picture) a bear.” Alternatively, for the future tense, “Tomorrow, we will see a tiger and a bear.” Or, for a more advanced student, “If I could see any animal in the world right now, then I’d like to see a tiger and a bear.”

Basically, it’s up to you what language you use with this game. Your imagination is the limit! If you need help, please ask me in the comments below, and I’ll be glad to come up with something for you.

Spelling skills

Of course, one can play this ESL vocabulary game with words instead of pictures, which is good for spelling. One idea is to combine a lion picture with the written word to make a pair. So you’ll need to write the words on card and cut them up the same size as the pictures, or it’ll be too easy!

One to one games book for more games like this

So do watch this game on the demo if you have not already seen it, and think about getting the whole book of 140 games because you can see two hours of lessons demonstrated and how to teach English through games.

Don’t wait any longer – get going right away with the complete downloadable resource.

Also available in paperback on this link. Your child is getting older by the week, so get started now!

Enjoy the game!

All the best

Shelley Ann Vernon

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