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Great New Word Games for the ESL / EFL Classroom



Word games are an almost perfect fit for the language classroom, but I will say that part of me dies a little when I often see five copies of scrabble or boggle gathering dust in the corner of a teachers room. There are so many word games out there that don’t require people to sit down and memorize dictionaries (I do love Scrabble and Boggle but don’t rate them highly as classroom games). These games test players abilities to use and interpret language rather than simple language knowledge. 


In the past few years it has been heartening to see games like Codenames become a staple of ESL / EFL classrooms (I personally think Duets is the best version) but 2018 was an absolutely brilliant year for new word games. Here are five that I think you should think about adding to your school shelf. 


1. Werewords Deluxe Edition - Bezier Games



Okay, so the first is a cheat. Werewords came out in 2017. However, that version of the game only supported 4 to 10 players. Werewords Deluxe smashed this by now allowing from 2 - 20 players. Perfect for a large class or a private lesson. 


Werewords twists the classic 20 questions game by adding a social deduction element. Players have to guess a word by asking “Yes” or “No” questions. However, one player already knows what that word is. This player is the “Werewolf”.  If, at the end of the game, players have guessed the word and identified the werewolf then they win.  The werewolf wins if the word is guessed and they remain undetected. Simple, but there are also other roles with special powers that make sure that each game is exciting and different. 


The game also has a free app that gives you the words to be guessed. You can select different levels of vocabulary based on your class level. 


I would also recommend Insider from Oink Games in 2016, it is a Japanese / English Bi-Lingual version of the game that follows basically the same formula but is more simple overall.


2. Decrypto - Asmodee




In my opinion, Decrypto is the latest challenger for Codenames crown. Played in teams, players are trying to guess which number different hidden words corresponds with on their team while also trying to interpret the hints that the other team is giving each other to decrypt their code. 


For example, if one team needs to indicate the number 2 which is represented by the word ‘crocodile’ then they might say ‘lizard’, ‘green’ and ‘water’ over a series of rounds. However, if the other team works out that these words all refer to the same thing, and therefore the same number then they will win. 


It is a really intense and fun game. Giving good hints takes a lot of thinking to balance communicating effectively and also not giving too much away to the other team. It is definitely one of those games, like Codenames, that is perhaps a little tricky to explain at first but after one play people totally get. 


3. Trapwords - Czech Games Edition




Played Taboo? The game where your partners have to guess a word like ‘school’ by listening to your definition, but you have a list of words you cannot say like ‘student’, ‘teacher’, ‘class’ etc? 


Yes? Well, in Trapwords you get to decide what another team cannot say. Also, they don’t know what they cannot say. They have to describe their word while also avoiding the words you have set as traps. What if someone on the other team has to guess ‘school’ but one of your “trap words” is ‘white board’ and they say it? Then they lose. 


It is very simple to teach and play, although I ended up making my own deck of cards to play with (will share soon) because I found the cards in the box a bit too esoteric for my students. Having said that,  Chech Games are they people behind Codenames and I think they have made another instant classic with Trapwords. 


4. Out of the Loop - Tasty Rook


Out of the Loop


Out of the Loop is an App from Tasty Rook who also made one of my favorite ever social deduction games, Triple Agent. It is a free app (with some in app purchases) that only needs to be downloaded on one device to be played with up to 9 players. 


In the game, everyone will get a turn to look at the phone and see a word like ‘Pizza’. They will then take turns asking each other questions like ‘Would you eat this for breakfast?’. The game is that one person has no idea what the word is. If the other players can identify who this person is then they win. However, if the person who doesn’t know the word can guess what the word is then they can still win. 


It is really fun and challenging because you have to give a good answer so that people know that you know the word, but you also cannot give to much detail because then the word can be guessed. The game is also really easy to set up as all the instructions are presented as you play.  


5. Affinity - Game Flow




Okay, another cheat as this one is still, as of writing, only available in French. Hopefully, an English version will be distributed soon, but until then let me wet your appetite. 


This is a group co-op game in which people have to guess each others emotions. To do this one player takes a secret emotion card which will indicate something like ‘Happy’. That player then has to construct a sentence using a small selection of beginning, middle and end cards that conveys that emotion. If the other players successfully guess the emotion then everyone scores a point. 


I made my own quick version of this in English on index cards and changed a few of the rules around to fit the classroom (putting people in pairs and giving more time to study cards) and it ended up working really well. I am looking forward to grabbing an English copy. 


I highly recommend checking out the rules and videos on these games to see which you think would work in your classroom. Over the next few months I will be sharing some resources and lesson plans I have made for each game. I will also be talking about a few games I am excited about for 2019!




Note: Tanuki Games is not affiliated with any of these companies and has and will not receive any financial compensation for recommending them. These are just are heartfelt recommendations for some games we really enjoyed. 




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