A Journal of Teaching English Language and Literature

ISSN Print : 2229-6557, Online: 2394-9244

Common Language Games for Effective Vocabulary Building


The following Language exercise is conceptualized on the same paradigm as the ‘builder’s exercise’ discussed by Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations. According to this exercise, bare minimum, ‘primitive’ form of language is used between a builder and his assistant. For them to be able to achieve their work, they need only nouns like ‘block’, ‘pillar,’ or ‘beam.’ The builder calls for these things and the assistant understands that he needs to give them to the builder. The next stage is the introduction of words like ‘there’, ‘here’ etc. This, Wittgenstein calls primitive language and according to him,represents one of the simpler forms of language activity in which language users participate.The basic relationship of signification and representation are established in this manner. These include gestures as well, which are semiotic practices additional to ‘language’ as well as focus on grammar, which is the conceptual framework which lays down the rules of how these signs should be used.

The following is a game which is based on the socially shared space within which the signs and the process of signification exist. Simply put, the students are able to understand the various words in the game because they share the process and values of signification.

Dumb charades

This is an easy enough game and the best part is that most of the students are already aware of itsbasic principles. It is usually played using the names of slightly unusual movie names but the game is versatile enough to be used as a tool for enhancing vocabulary in an English language classroom for young adults.

Level: Beginner and/or intermediate (depending on the words which are used)

Time required: 30–45 minutes

Objectives: To help students express and define various objects which range from the commonplace to those which are specific to a particular context.

Skills required: Speaking and listening.

Preparation required: Think of the names of a couple of objects which the students would definitely know of. These should be things which would need some explanation. A good example might be a ‘bus ticket’.

Pre-activity discussion: Ask the students common ways and parameters of defining things. These can include shape, size, location where different objects are found, the kind of people who use them or the various uses any object is put to.

 Procedure:Divide the students in small teams. To begin with, have a couple of words ready on small chits of paper. Once the students understand what they have to do, they will be able to come up with words on their own but in the beginning they may need help.

Important: Some basics should be written down on the board for easy access and reference. For example

  1. Noun (Every time they get a word which is a noun, they can just show the number one to their team mates so that they know that they have to guess words which are nouns)
  2. Verb
  3. Adjectives

Step 1:One person from each team will come to the front of the class and will be given a word by the teacher. S/he will have to explain the word to the other team members only through actions.

Step 2: The team members get points for guessing the correct word within the given time, which could range from 30 seconds to about 2 minutes depending on the level of the vocabulary as well as the level of proficiency of the students.  

Step 3: Once the students understand what they have to do, they can suggest words for the other teams in a circular fashion. For example, if there are four teams, A, B, C and D. A can suggest a word for B, B for C and so on.

Whichever team scores the highest after three rounds will win the game.

There can be theme-based variations to this game as well. The students can be asked to suggest and guess words which cater to a particular theme under discussion like travel, health, professions etc. This will help students think about the associated vocabulary as well.

Another variation to this activity can be more writing-oriented.

Level: Beginner and/or intermediate

Time required: 20 minutes

Objectives: To help students practice their writing skills.

Skills required: Writing.

Preparation required: The students should be made aware of this exercise before they do the previous exercise so that they can focus and try to remember the various developments of the dumb charades game. If need be, they can take notes as well.

 Procedure:Depending on the proficiency of the students, this activity can be carried out either in groups or individually.

  1. Step 1: If working in groups, divide the students and ask them to write a diary entry about the activity Dumb Charades in class. Give the students the proper grammatical parameters for writing the diary entry like it should be addressed to the diary in the second person. (This will be a good place to revise the verb formations with second person.)
  2. Step 2: The students should finish the entry in about 20 minutes. 
  3. Step 3a (optional): The evaluation can be done later by the instructor or it can be made a peer-evaluated exercise.This way, the aspect of reading can also be incorporated in the game. 
  4. Step 3b (optional): The diary entries can also be read in class thus including reading as part of the exercise or as a post exercise activity.


Tarika has taught language and literature at various national and international organizations including various colleges in the University of Delhi and University of California, Davis.