If you want to find out how to play taboo in the classroom, you’re in the right place! Keep on reading for all the details you need to know about taboo activities for ESL or EFL students.
Many of us probably know that popular (and often hilarious) party game Taboo. You can check it out on Amazon here: Taboo Party Game. Remember the one with the buzzer for saying a word that’s on your list? It also makes a nice describing game for English learners. Keep on reading to find out more about my taboo ESL game.
An Introduction to ESL Taboo
Taboo, if you adapt it is an excellent English-speaking game for kids or adults to review vocabulary words at the end of a unit. It’s also ideal for students to practice using synonyms, common/proper nouns, or to work on ESL prepositions.
This kind of replicates real life when students may not remember a certain vocabulary word. However, they can still continue the conversation if they’re able to use some other words to explain what they mean.
This game is just a fun way to learn a language, so try it out today. Your students will love it and it’s a great review activity.
Not for Absolute Beginners
This game works well for high beginners to advanced students. It’s educational, and fun and your students will be reviewing new words without even knowing it!
Absolute beginners may struggle with this game because they likely only know a single vocabulary word for a specific thing. For example, they may know the word, “rain” but not know the related words you might use such as, “water, sky, umbrella, weather.”
Of course, as the teacher, you can consider the words you choose carefully to assist lower-level students with playing this.
Here’s How to Set Up Taboo for the Classroom
Make up a list of around 20-40 words (nouns are better than verbs for example), depending on how long you want to play. Lower-level students will often take a longer time with each word as compared to advanced students so you’ll probably need fewer of them.
Of course, you should use words that you’ve been studying in class recently if you want this to be a useful review activity.
Put the words on a grid/table and cut them out, one set per group of 4. I usually put them into a separate envelope for each group and collect them after the game in order to reuse them.
If you teach the same class over and over again, it may be worthwhile to laminate the cards so you can use them forever.
How the Students Play ESL Taboo
Put students in groups of 4 and give them one set of words. The first student selects the first word (they are face-down and hidden) and has to describe the word, but cannot say it.
This is different from the real Taboo game in which you need to describe your target word, but cannot use words from a list of related ones. The top team is the one who guesses the most words.
I make a point to show students how to hide the word with their hands from the other students. Or, to take a quick look and put the paper back down on the desk.
The other three students can guess what the word is. An incorrect answer means that that person is out for the rest of the round. A correct answer means that the student takes the paper, gets one point and is the next person to select the next paper. This is useful in evening out the scores among group members.
The incorrect guess thing prevents the most dominant person in each group from making a million and one random guesses!
In this version of Taboo, adapted for ESL/EFL students, it’s more of a challenge for the people to guess instead of the person describing the word. The winner is the student with the most correct guesses or points.
FAQs about How to Play Taboo in the Classroom
There are a number of common questions that people have about how to use this game in the classroom. Here are the answers to some of the most common ones.
What is the Taboo game in the classroom?
Taboo is a word-guessing game where players describe a word without using specific related words.
How do you play Taboo?
Players take turns describing a target word without saying certain “taboo” words listed on the card.
What’s the goal of Taboo?
The goal is to help teammates guess the target word while avoiding the banned words in a limited time.
Why use Taboo in the classroom?
This game improves vocabulary, and communication skills, and encourages creative thinking in a fun way.
What skills does Taboo enhance?
Taboo enhances speaking, listening, critical thinking, and word association skills.
Can Taboo be used for different subjects?
Yes, you can adapt Taboo to various subjects by using subject-specific vocabulary.
How can Taboo be modified for ESL learners?
Simplify the vocabulary, allow more time, and encourage the use of synonyms to make it accessible for ESL learners.
What’s the role of teamwork in Taboo?
Teamwork is crucial as players work together to guess words and provide effective descriptions.
Can Taboo be adjusted for different proficiency levels?
Absolutely, adjust the difficulty of words and rules to match the proficiency level of your students.
What’s a tip for effective moderation in Taboo?
The moderator can keep time, ensure fairness, and provide hints if needed to keep the game engaging and educational.
Taboo Word List for Kids
Here’s a simple Taboo word list suitable for kids:
Words: pet, bark, tail, animal, woof
Words: dessert, birthday, sweet, candles, celebration
Words: sky, bright, day, star, shine
Words: sea, water, waves, beach, swim
Words: read, pages, story, library, novel
Words: drive, vehicle, road, fast, transport
Words: fruit, yellow, peel, tropical, healthy
Words: colors, sky, after rain, arc, colorful
Words: big, trunk, gray, animal, Africa
Words: cheese, toppings, round, food, delicious
Taboo Game Word List for Adults
Here’s a word list for adult English learners.
Words: Travel, Relax, Holiday, Trip, Getaway
Words: Computer, Smartphone, Internet, Device, Innovation
Words: Sweet, Dessert, Cocoa, Candy, Confectionery
Words: Workout, Fitness, Gym, Physical activity, Training
Words: Song, Melody, Rhythm, Instrument, Tune
Words: Eatery, Dining, Food place, Café, Bistro
Words: TV, Broadcast, Show, Channel, Entertainment
Words: Brew, Caffeine, Beverage, Drink, Espresso
Words: Companionship, Relationship, Bond, Pal, Connection
Words: Journey, Thrill, Exploration, Excitement, Quest
Have your say about this Taboo Game for English Learners
What are your thoughts about how to play Taboo in the classroom? Love it? Or, do you have another ESL vocabulary review game that you like to play? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget to share this on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself find this useful resource.
p.s. This makes an excellent party game for a holiday-themed class. More details here: Thanksgiving Activities for ESL Students.