Taboo ESL game featured image

Taboo ESL game with free printable cards

Taboo ESL game

This is a great English language classroom activity. It is a lot of fun and sometimes can get a bit raucous with students shouting answers and guesses. By playing the Taboo ESL game students get to practice speaking listening and constructing sentences.

This activity is best for upper intermediate level learners and above although there is a variation below that you can also play with beginners and younger students. On this page, we have 3 sheets of printable taboo game cards with a total of 60 cards all up.

How to play the Taboo ESL game

There really isn’t much preparation required for this game it is all very simple. You will only need to print and cut out one or more of the free printable taboo game cards at the bottom of this page. You may want to explain the meaning of the word taboo to your class but that isn’t overly important.

First of all, draw a card on the board that is the same as the printables. Explain that they must explain the underlined word at the top of the card but cannot use the words below it in their explanation. With the example card on the board, elicit some sentences from your class to see if they can explain the word and understand the activity.

Note that they are not allowed to say parts of the word, individual letters and so on.

Now divide your class into teams and ask one student to come to the board to go first. The student must select a card and explain the word without using the taboo words. The first team to guess the correct answer should be awarded a point. Finally, the next student should come forward and repeat the process.

taboo esl game cards 1
Playing the Taboo ESL game with beginners and younger students

The traditional taboo game really isn’t suitable for lower-level language learners. There is, however, an excellent game that you can use free printable Taboo cards for.

Instead of the words below the target word being taboo, make them clues. Tell students that they may use them to explain the top underlined word. Even if your class cannot yet construct sentences, they can just read the 4 words out loud. That will be enough for the rest of your students to be able to guess the target word.

Students may have trouble sometimes with pronunciation or have to repeat the 4 words a second time but you are there to help them. I’ve used this activity many times in children’s classes and students have always enjoyed it!

Just like in the more difficult version of the game, divide your class into teams and award points.

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