Using Games to Build ELLs Vocabulary

Using Games to Build ELLs Vocabulary

Games are a great way to help students practice vocabulary. For newcomers that are just learning English, they are a fun way to practice basic Tier 1 terms. For students at higher language levels and native speakers, they are great ways to practice content-specific vocabulary.

It is important to review vocabulary words with ELLs before they begin playing.  This is particularly important for students with lower language levels and those that are not yet able to read. Games are a great way for them to practice vocabulary terms but, they need to have been exposed to them previously.

Here are some fun games to use with your ELLs:


Write words down on the open spaces. For added practice students can write the words down themselves from a list. Show either pictures or definitions and have students mark off the words. You can also use pre-made bingo boards. I have sets of alphabet bingo boards for the seasons and other topics.

back to school bingo


Students or the teacher write down words. You can also use premade boards with pictures. Here are some specific ESL Tic Tac Toe Ideas.


This is a quick way to review vocabulary words. Students can match related pictures, pictures and words, words or their definitions. Before starting a guided reading book or content area lesson concentration is a quick way to review new vocabulary. Add in some sentence frames to further help ELLs (The ___ and the ___ are a match, _____ is/is not the definition for _____, ____ and _____ are both ______. They are a match.)

File Folder Games

File folders are a simple way to store many small game pieces and are easy to organize. There are many file folder games that target a specific language skill. Students enjoy playing them which helps keep them engaged.

Comparing Adjectives File Folder Game– Put adjectives in order to practice comparative and superlative adjectives. Learn more about this set of games HERE.

comparing adjectives file folder puzzle

Vocabulary File folder matching games– One idea is that students match objects to their location. This can be school vocabulary, objects around town, animals and their habitats, and home vocabulary. Students practice saying the object and basic sentence structure (A tree goes in the backyard.)

home vocabulary file folder game
Idiom Puzzles File Folder Games– Have students match idioms with their meaning.

idiom file folder puzzles



Puzzles are a fun and interactive way to practice new vocabulary words. Students can use large puzzle pieces to quickly review vocabulary. Vocabulary puzzles are also a great activity to include in interactive notebooks.

sight word puzzles notebook Fall sight word puzzles

Store Games

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click on an Amazon link and make a purchase. This does not cost you any extra money.

Zingo– This is a fun way for students to practice Tier 1 vocabulary. Young students enjoy pushing the lever to show the vocabulary tiles. Students match the pictures so even if they do not know what a word is called they can still play the game. There are also versions for sight words and

Scrabble Junior– This version has premade words on the gameboard along with pictures. It is a fun way for students to practice reading and spelling words and the pictures will help them learn the new words. On the back of the board is a game board to play the original version of scrabble for more advanced students. 

For more game ideas to use with your ELLs read about Must Have Games for ELLs.

Using Games to Build ELLs Vocabulary

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