Online vocabulary games

student learning vocabulary online through games

From my A-mazing book of Online vocabulary Games available here: ESL Online Games

Advanced online vocabulary game – spelling challenge

Here’s an advanced vocabulary game to play in an online class and also face-to-face. Students can work in pairs or small groups, so use breakout rooms if you are online. Also, allow dictionaries because this game requires rich vocabulary knowledge. Through dictionaries students are likely to discover new words as they go along.

In this game, students start with one word and must transform it into another, one letter at a time. So, beginning with CAT and finishing with DOG, that might look like this: CAT – COT – DOT – DOG. On the other hand, you might get this sequence: CAT – SAT – SAG – DAG – DOG. A dag is something that hangs off the back end of a sheep! Not many ESL students will have occasion to know that word unless they have lived on a sheep farm – hence allowing the use of the dictionary.

The following example turned out to be short! PIG to WIN – PIG – PIN – WIN.

Here is another example, transforming DESK to VEST. DESK – DUSK – DUST – BUST – BEST – VEST.

Try the game where adding or taking away a letter is also allowed, for example CAP – CAPE – CAGE – PAGE.

How about making a long word short by removing or changing one or more letters each time? Let’s try ! Computer – commuter – commute -mute – mut – mud – me.

And try the other way around, make a short word into a long one: I – it – italy – italian – italianesque.


Another advanced vocabulary game to play online or face-to-face is Mastermind! You may check out the Wikipedia page for Mastermind here. To use it as a vocabulary game, use words instead of colours and change one letter at a time! However, unlike the spelling game above, with Mastermind, you don’t have to have a valid word each time. Instead, students swap any letter they like with the aim of finding the hidden word before they reach the end of the board. In my online games book, I explain how to play Mastermind as a vocabulary game in detail and provide a game template for online classes.

Online vocabulary game tips

Give a time limit or make it a race to add an edge to the activity. Alternatively, award points for each word that is transformed. On the other hand, if competition does not work for you as a teacher, then use the game as a cooperative activity. Instead of groups competing against each other, have the class compete against itself to hit a higher target in round two.

My book of ESL Online activities has about 350 games. Sometimes it’s like browsing a recipe book and not being able to decide what to make because there is so much to choose from. Therefore my top tip is to open the book on a random page and force yourself to try the game there! You will discover new ideas that you might not have dared to try. And the worst that can happen is that the activity is a flop! No big deal, have another one up your sleeve just in case.

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