Taboo: an ESL Speaking Game for Kids and Adults

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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?

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’ also ideal for students to practice using synonyms.

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.

Taboo is just a fun way to learn a language, so try it out today.

Not for Absolute Beginners

The Taboo game works well for high beginners to advanced students. It’s educational, 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

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 guessing instead of the person describing the word. The winner is the student with the most correct guesses or points.

Need More Ideas for your ESL Classroom?

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More Ideas for Using Taboo in your Classroom

Check out this short video about how another teacher uses Taboo for their English students:

Have your Say about this Taboo Game for English Learners

What are your thoughts about ESL Taboo? 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.

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. 

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