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by Erica Fischer on Feb 9, 2015

Use Games to Build Language Proficiency

Ultra Blitztastic Memory Game by TikTik, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  TikTik 

Last week, #langchat was a flurry of activity! Langchatters discussed useful games for vocabulary practice, interactive communication practice, writing skills, and review, while also sharing other favorites. Participants were left dazed and confused, exclaiming, “My #langchat head is spinning!,” (@ShaneBraverman), “I’m gonna need more RAM just for all my #langchat tabs!” (IndwellingLang), and “I’m getting vertigo!! So much great information!” (@Narralakes). Even our seasoned moderators struggled to keep up. @KrisClimer wrote, “My Tweetdeck feed is moving so fast with good #langchat ideas, I can NOT favorite before they’ve disappeared!!!! #LuckyProblem.” Thank you to everyone who contributed to a truly rapid-fire #langchat! We would also like to thank our moderators, Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Kris (@KrisClimer), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), and Laura (@SraSpanglish), for leading the chat.

Question 1: What games do you use for vocabulary practice?

Participants’ suggestions for vocabulary games focused on activities that get students moving and circumlocuting!

Vocabulary games involving movement:

  • Simon Says: @Mr_Fernie suggested this “oldie but a goodie – Simon Says with the [total physical response] actions we come up with for new [vocabulary] words.”
  • ¡Matamoscas! (Kill the flies!): A few participants mentioned this game, which @ldpricha described: “[Pictures are] hung on [the] board [or] on [the] projector. [The instructor says a word or phrase] in [the target language]. [The first student] to hit [the correct picture with a] flyswatter gets a point.”
  • Charades: @RLavrencic suggested this as another way to set vocabulary practice in motion: “My senior French students play charades with pronominal verbs. Then as [an] extension, students write [or] say what action just occurred.”
  • Hot potato: @Profe_Taylor recommended a version of hot potato, Pásale Bob: “It’s like hot potato but with a stuffed animal. When the music stops I ask [a vocabulary question to the student holding Bob].”

Vocabulary games involving circumlocution:

    • $20,000 pyramid: @tiesamgraf wrote, “I like circumlocution games – like $20,000 pyramid (though [it’s probably] worth more with inflation…:-)).”
    • Name that word! Definitions in the target language: @RLavrencic has students define new vocabulary words in the target language for homework. The next day, they read their definitions, and the class guesses the word.
    • 20 Questions: @doriecp wrote that 20 Questions is “[perfect] for circumlocution.” “[A student] picks [a vocabulary] word [and] other students ask yes/no [questions] until they figure out the word.”
    • Bingo – Circumlocution style!: @spanishplans said, “If I play Bingo, I make the clues descriptions of the word, not just the word. [This requires higher] thinking and [students] have to understand.”

<li>Hedbanz: @doriecp plays ‘hedbanz’ in class: “[A] student wears [a] headband [with a vocabulary] word, [and] other students describe [the word] until [the] student guesses [it].”

  • Jeopardy!: @MadameKurtz has her students write “[target language] definitions as clues one day (circumlocution) [and] play [the] game [the] next day.”


Additionally, participants mentioned applications that can be used for vocabulary review. @Narralakes summarized the main suggestions: “Socrative, Quizlet, [and] Kahoot.” Memrise is also a great tool for independent vocabulary learning.

Question 2: What games do you use for interactive communication practice?

Participants suggested a range of games that require students to ask one another questions.

  • Inside-Outside Circle: @shakejively described how students are configured for this game: “[Students] face one another and [the] outside ‘wheel’ rotates asking inner ‘wheel’ different questions.”
  • Speed Dating: @LauraErinParker recommended this game as a great way to get students talking and asking each other questions: “I did speed dating with my kids (and gave them topic/focus areas) and they loved it!”
  • Ask a famous person… @Tecabrasileira shows students a picture of a famous person. “[Students] write 10 questions to the characters. [They then] play the characters to answer the [questions].”
  • Guess Who? @SrtaRodriguez explained that “names [are written] on index cards [and] taped to [students’] forehead. [Students then] form [a] circle, face each other and provide clues about [a] person [and] ask [questions about their own identity].”
  • Frisbee/Beach ball Q&A: Instructors recommended playing music and having students throw something to each other until the music stops. @espanolsrs said, “[Students can] throw [a] foam frisbee to [a] partner [to] music. [The music] stops and [the student with the] frisbee tells part of [a] story, [answers a question], etc. until [the] music starts again.” @JJMattson described a variation on this idea using a beach ball “with questions on it. [Students] toss it around [in a] circle, students say [a] question, toss it to [another student] and they answer, etc.”
  • Scavenger Hunts: Participants suggested scavenger hunts as a fun source of interactive communication practice. @ShaneBraverman said that students could be prompted to “Find somebody who…” Alternatively, @Narralakes noted that instructors could “use QR codes and get students into teams and create a mystery game around [the] school using.” @CoLeeSensei replied that it’s “[even] better [when] using ‘verbal QR’ codes – [Students] listen to a clue to follow.” She shared a link to make audio codes:

Question 3: What games do you use to target writing skills?

Langchatters had lots of ideas about how to turn writing practice into fun and engaging games!

  • Collective storytelling: Participants shared a variety of ways for students to collaboratively write stories. @CatherineKY72 offered one suggestion: “[Students] have 5 [to] 10 [minutes] to come up [with a] story. [The class] votes on [the] best/funniest/darkest.” @MmeLohse provided another option: “[It’s not] exactly a game, but [students] write a ‘shared’ story, alternating back [and] forth with every line. [They are usually] very funny [and] creative.” Finally, @crwmsteach suggested that instructors provide students with the last sentence of a story and have teams write a story.
  • Madlibs: This was a very popular suggestion among Langchatters! @doriecp wrote, “Madlibs!!! I loved doing them as a kid and my [students] love them now.” @Mr_Fernie wrote that instructors could use student-created Madlibs: “[Students] write stories, then take out the nouns and hand [them] off to others to fill [them] in.” @magisterb480 added, “I did Latin Madlibs before. It works well with Latin because of not only verb tenses but all the noun case uses.”
  • Live Sentences: @ShaneBraverman recommended having students become sentences: “I like live sentences. I write sentences with extra words [or] conjugations. [Students] choose a card and stand in order.”
  • Hangman: @RLavrencic mentioned this classic, noting that it’s “[easy] to reinforce vocabulary and spelling.”
  • Snowball fight: @SenorGrayNVD described how instructors organize this game: “[Write questions] on [pieces of] paper (enough for each kid in [the] class to have [a] paper) [and] have [a] fight [with] paper balls for 1 [minute]. Then [each student answers the] question [on his or her paper] and [writes] a new one.”
  • Apples to Apples, Bananagrams… @lovemysummer wrote that instructors could use these ready-made games in the classroom for fun writing practice.
  • Spelling Bee: @SECottrell mentioned a spelling bee as another option for vocabulary practice, adding, “[It] might be especially helpful for heritage learners needing to refine skills.”

Throughout, instructors frequently recommended using small white boards in games focusing on writing practice, noting their popularity among students.

Question 4: What games do you use for review?

Next, Langchatters shared their go-to games for review! @KrisClimer wrote, “[It’s been] said here before, but Kahoot is a Ka-HIT!” @StaKuonen agreed, writing, “Kahoot! It is ALWAYS requested!” Alternatively, @MmeLohse said, “Duolingo is great for general review. Now there’s a version for classroom use.” Jeopardy! was again recommended (@crwmsteach), and @magisterb480 said, “I play ‘Periculum’ (Latin Jeopardy) to review for tests. [Students] get varied amounts of denarii (Roman ‘money’) for right answers.”

Question 5: What are your OTHER favorite games and what skills do they help?

As an action-packed hour came to a close, Langchatters shared their favorite games.
A couple of participants mentioned games with songs. @ProfeCochran said, “We play all kinds of games with our song of the week. Today we sorted the lines from the song. [The first] team to finish wins.” @legenda0815 shared another idea, writing that “charades [is] good for verbs [for] oral or writing review.” @shakejively provided yet another option: “[Students] loved improv-groups [with] 6 [to] 8 [students] in front of the class. [Students] build a sentence with one word at a time or story one sentence at a time.”


#Langchat participants has PLENTY of ideas about how to use games in the classroom for different purposes. @CoLeeSensei wrote, “Can I just cite the entire hour of #langchat as my takeaway????” In case you are in search of even more ideas, @SECottrell shared links to previous #langchat posts on gaming in the classroom: and

Thank You!

Thank you to all of our participants for helping #langchat thrive and continue to be such an invaluable resource! You can find us on Twitter every Thursday night for the weekly chat. *Reminder*: In case you can’t join us at that time, now you can also #langchat on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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