Board games are a great way for students to explore new vocab words, put to use vocabulary they already know, and practice spelling and pronouncing those words. (By the way ‘board games’ means that objects are included in the gameplay; not all of these have actual boards.) To play these games, students may need to be able to describe, explain, categorize, or give examples of words.
Keep in mind that the core concepts here are the gameplay, not the products. Once you know the purpose and mechanics of a game, you may be able to create your own version of the game, which will allow you to customize the words involved and the difficulty level. If you do choose to purchase a game, know that some of them have multiple editions, so look for the one that best matches the tone, interest, age range, and difficulty level relevant to your class. Finally, feel free to work in pairs or groups instead of as individuals.
Here are several games I recommend.
In every round in Scattergories, players are presented with a letter and several categories. Each player must write down a word for each category that starts with that letter (for example, if the letter is ‘P’ and the categories are ‘fruit’, ‘clothes’, and ‘animals’, a student might write down ‘plum’, ‘pants’, and ‘panther’). When I do my own version, I typically reverse the prompts in a round: I give one category with several letters. It’s easy to include topics you’ve covered with your class previously. If you’d like to make it more challenging, then students only get points if no other student/team gave the same answer.
Apples to Apples is about matching nouns to adjectives. In the classic gameplay, students have noun cards in their hand and must submit one that best matches the given adjective card for that round. The judge decides which answer is the best. Start with some straightforward examples, but the game often turns silly as players suggest ridiculous pairings, which may end up winning the round depending on the judge.
We have a full post on how to create customized Apples-to-Apples for your classroom, so be sure to read that.
In Codenames, an array of cards are laid out, each with one word on it. About a third of the cards are designated for your team, and the other team has the same. On each team, one player gives clues as to which cards/words are theirs, and the other members of the team have to select the correct words. In this game, teams can do multiple words in a round. For example, if three of my team’s remaining words are ‘package’ ‘boat’, and ‘UFO’, I can give the clue ‘ship’ for all three. Be careful not to select the other team’s cards, and especially not to select the one card that causes you to lose the game immediately. The first team to collect all their cards wins!
Scrabble / Bananagrams
Scrabble seems to be an old favorite. What words can you create given seven letters or less plus at least one more letter that’s already on the board? This can be tricky to do well, so I don’t recommend it for beginners. The best scrabble players use short words because where you place your tiles often gives you more points than the number of tiles you place. Therefore, if you’re going to do this with your students, it’s great to review short, common words like auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns first. That said, you should play with them and make some longer words (not necessarily trying to get lots of points) to increase the play area and grant the others more opportunities for word placement.
Bananagrams is essentially the same as scrabble except that there are no boundaries (it’s not on a board) and players don’t take turns (so speed is crucial).
Boggle is like the reverse of Scrabble. It also includes individual letters forming words, but this time players have to identify words already in place instead of creating them. It’s like a randomized word-search. Much like with Scrabble, many of the words in Boggle will be little words lie prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, and auxiliaries, though certainly not all of them. To get the most out of Boggle, have your students focus on common letter combinations like ‘st’, ‘er’, ‘on’, and so forth.
Half of Dixit is about identifying the correct picture based on a verbal clue. The other half of Dixit is selecting an alternate picture that might fit the clue. The picture you select will be used to mislead other players as you try to determine the original picture that inspired the clue. The player giving the clue shouldn’t make it too difficult (because it’s not good if no one guesses correctly) or too easy (because it’s not good if everyone guesses correctly, either). This is a great game for creative minds but can be trickier for younger children because both the pictures and the clues are rather abstract. For that same reason, the possibilities are endless.
With guessing games, one player typically gives clues about a word or phrase, and their teammates have to guess the correct word/phrase before time runs out. I’ve put them into groups based on the way the clues are presented. If you choose, you can have an unbiased player present the clues and let both teams (or all the teams) guess at the same time instead of taking turns.
Taboo / Password / Catch Phrase! / Hedbandz
These three games are about explaining a word or phrase using other words. Catch Phrase! is probably the most straightforward. With Taboo, you’re given a list of related words you’re not allowed to use. With Password, you can only use one single word as a clue, and if your team doesn’t guess correctly, the other team gets a shot. Hedbandz isn’t about teams, but instead everyone is helping each other all at the same time, and each person has their own word to guess.
In Pictionary, the clues must be drawn; the player giving the clues cannot speak or write.
Guesstures / Charades
Everyone knows Charades. One player gives clues by acting them out. Again, they cannot speak. Guesstures is essentially the same but faster and the classic symbols of Charades are less important.
Cranium / Activity
With both Cranium and Activity, player tokens progress along a board, and the space they land on in a given round determines whether the clue needs to be spoken, drawn, acted out, or other.