Vocabulary Games

Suitable for 1:1 and small groups

See also Early Years First Call – Expressive Language

Playing vocabulary games in a small group is very useful because the children can model and reinforce the words for each other and the group activity gives plenty of repetition.


Activities which use a physical item (object, picture, written word) will be easier than activities which just involve the spoken word. This can be a useful staging process in developing children’s skills.

Work from:

  1. Having the items present
  2. To seeing the items before the activity but not actually present for the activity (called “priming” – because they are more easily available having just been seen)
  3. To thinking and remembering words as part of the activity


Use this activity to reinforce the names of items and the categories to which they belong. You can make it more interesting for younger children by hiding items around the room or by placing picture cards face down so the child does not know which one he has selected.

Odd One Out

Use a selection of items from one category and one item from another. Can the child spot the odd one out?
e.g. apple, sock, banana

Word Association Games: finding links

Picture pairse.g.sock/shoe:spade/bucket, sun/moon
Verb linkse.g.swims, drinksfish swims, boy swims, drink juice, drink water
Describing linkse.g.hothot water, hot day, hot sausage

Think a Link

The first person chooses an item and the next person chooses another item to go with it and so on. In the spoken word version of this game each player has to think of a suitable word. Ask the children to explain their link and decide as a group if the link is acceptable. Sometimes children give very bizarre reasons to connect things together!! e.g. hat, head, hair, brush, dog, cat, tree

Explain a Link

An extension of the game above. Prepare some pairs of items for the game.

Making Sentances

Player has to say a short sentence containing the target word. To help children develop flexibility several children could make up a sentence for the word. At the higher levels this could be used to explore words with double meanings.

Silly Sensible

The adult says a short sentence containing the target word. The child or group have to decide whether the sentence is acceptable – SENSIBLE or not – SILLY

To extend this activity, can the children sort out the silly sentences by changing words to make more sense? Again this activity can help children develop flexibility by seeing that a silly sentence can be corrected in more than one place.

e.g. I like to eat worms
Correction I like to eat toast
Correction I like to hold worms

Alphabet Names

Have a sheet with the alphabet listed. Take a category e.g. animals and then think of an animal for each letter of the alphabet. This can be really hard – so involve others – use the opportunity to send a child to another area to ask a teacher if she knows the item you are stuck with.

What Is Is?

Children listen to clues about the item they have to guess. Remember that this game is much easier when the items are physically present.

Give a Clue

Role reversal of the above. Young children find it impossible not to say the name of the item, but with practice, can learn to play this game. As a group you can work together to think about which clues work well and which are not very helpful.

e.g. target word: cat
clue: it says miaow
clue: it has a tail


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Last updated: 21 October 2015

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