Word association games
Here are some fun activities that can be used as warmers, fillers, and also more involved speaking exercises. Some of these word association games require no preparation at all. Others require some printouts but everything you need is available for free here at ESL Vault.
The word association games are all about using words that are related in some way and are perfect for practising vocabulary. If you are not familiar with these kinds of activities read on and you will be!.
1 – Word Association circle
This is the most commonly know word association game that almost everyone has played at some point. To play this game, get your students to form a circle. Going around the circle students must say a word related to the previous word. An example might be as follows – Water – Drink – Coffee – Black – Night – Stars etc.
If they cannot think of one within 5 seconds, they are out of the game. The winner is the last person remaining in the game. If there is any dispute that a word is not associated let the whole class vote on whether it is a reasonable answer or not. If your class is too big to form a circle just get the students to stand up to play and sit down if they are eliminated from the game.
2 – Word association gameshow
This is quite similar to the game above. Instead of putting the class in a circle, break the class up into teams. Have 1 player from each team come to the front of the class and sit in a chair.
Give these chosen players a category, let’s say fruit for an example. The students take turns to come up with the name of a fruit within 5 seconds. So they might say this – student 1 “apple”, student 2 “banana”, student 3 “watermelon”. If a player cannot think of a word or repeats one that has already been used they are out. Continue until 1 player is remaining, that player is the winner and earns a point for their team.
Next, get the teams to send new players to the chairs and play and repeat the activity. Play several rounds and tally up the points at the end to find the winning team.
3 – Taboo
This word association game requires players to guess a target word from clues. The catch is that the clues cannot use certain words which are “taboo words”. One student must try to explain the target word while the rest of the class tries to guess what it is.
For complete instructions and free printable game cards gave a look here.
4 – Word association point scoring
For this, you need premade word cards that have a target word and 4 associated words. You can also print out the free taboo cards from the link in the previous game.
The game can be played 1 on 1, or in groups. First, a player or team chooses a random card and reads aloud the target word at the top. The opposing team must say 4 words they think are associated. For every match on the card, they get a point for their team. The next team takes a card and repeats the process. At the end of the game, the team with the most points wins.
For a variation on this activity, you can get teams to move pieces around a board game and race to the finish. One point gives them 1 move forward.
You can also set a target number of points. For example, the first team to amass 25 points is the winner.
5 – Things that go together game
In this activity, students must match things that are associated and go together. With sets of words or pictures ask your students to match the objects or words that belong together. For example – bat and ball, moon and stars, shoes and socks. These are all pairs of words that belong together.
You can create word or picture cards yourself if you have target vocabulary that you want to revise. The easiest thing to do is to download and print the things that go together cards here on ESL Vault. This is one of the word association games that is also suitable for younger learners.
6 – Word association sentences
For this activity you need groups of associated words with a target word to play, 3 associated words is a good number. A group may look like this – MILK, cow, baby, white. Again you can use the taboo cards that are linked above in game 3.
One player at a time comes to the front of the class and must construct a sentence that includes the 3 words. The idea is to get the rest of the class to guess the preassigned target word.
For Example, the target word is milk, the associated words are – cow, baby, and white. The student could make the sentence – “The white cow had a baby”. The student who correctly guesses the word milk gets a point as does the player who made the sentence.
7 – Guess your partner’s word association
This game requires you to download one of the word association worksheets here on ESL Vault.
To play the students must try to guess what words their partners will write to associate with certain words/pictures. To make it even more fun the class can try to guess what their teacher will associate with the words. The student that gets the most correct guesses is the winner!
8 – Word association chain
To play this game you start with a noun. For example, “a tiger”. The first student must add an adjective to the noun such as “a fast tiger”. The next student adds another adjective and recites all the previous words as well – a white, fast, tiger. Continue in this fashion until your class can no longer think of a word to add. If a student cannot add a word they are out of the game. The winner is the last remaining player.
You can either get students to write their words on the board, but it is more fun to get them to say the words aloud and have them try to remember all the previous adjectives. It gets very difficult when the chains are over 10 words long!
Variations of this game start using sentences such as ”I am going on holiday and in my suitcase there is ….”, or “Yesterday, I went to the supermarket and bought…”. In this version of the game, students will be adding nouns.
9 – Family Feud
This is a popular TV game show where contestants try to match a list of responses to a question. In the adapted classroom version, a category is given instead and students have to match associated words.
Of all the word association games, this one is my favorite as it works for most levels and always gets a great response from the class. For full instructions and printable category and answer cards check the Family Feud for the classroom article.