Ukrainian available as a home language on FlashAcademy®. Access FREE Ukrainian resources here.
< Back to Blogs

The Best EAL Activities for Building Vocabulary

When teaching pupils with English as an additional language, building vocabulary is key to progressing their level of English in all skills. Games are ideal for expanding EAL learners’ vocabulary, solidifying newly acquired language or revising topics already studied. They are also perfect for engaging pupils in lessons and bringing more hesitant pupils out of their shells – a little healthy competition is a sure-fire way to get pupils talking! Here are six of the best EAL vocabulary activities that can be adapted to just about any topic with minimal preparation.


A classic for a reason, Pictionary™ is infinitely adaptable and is perfect for low-level students, helping to develop confidence and break down barriers to speaking in new-to-English learners. Prepare a set of flashcards (see here for some ready-to-use resources) and put the pupils in small groups. Alternatively, have students brainstorm vocabulary on whatever topic you’ve been studying or words they learnt that week, and write them on pieces of cut-up paper. Pupils take turns to pick a card and draw an image illustrating the target vocabulary. The rest of the group guesses and whoever gets it first keeps the card and wins a point. Take it up a notch by using mini whiteboards or have pupils draw their pictures on the main board.

Board race

This one is ideal for perking up EAL pupils and getting the juices flowing. Use board races to test vocabulary around a specific topic or play rounds on whatever subjects you fancy. Disclaimer! The game can turn competitive quickly, so choose your class wisely. Divide the class in half and have pupils stand in two lines in front of the whiteboard with a line drawn down the centre. Give the leaders of each queue a board pen and announce a category such as countries. Pupils come to the board and write a word in that category. They pass the pen to the next member of their team then hurry to the back of the queue. The teams continue like this until the teacher shouts stop. Teams get two points for each unique word and one point for words mentioned by both teams. Decide how strict you want to be with spelling and conferring, but this is certainly a game of quick thinking!

Want to focus on spelling? Put a different spin on the game by making it a spelling race. Announce a word and have pupils write a letter each and then pass the pen around. If a pupil spots a mistake, they can use their turn to correct it. Points go to the first team with the correctly spelt word.


Another source of delight for EAL groups, Splat makes pupils think on their feet in a race against their partner. Divide the class into two teams – this time all but two of the group can stay seated if preferred. Write a selection of target vocabulary scattered across the whiteboard and have a student from each team stand either side. Choose a word and begin describing it to the pupils, who race not only to work out the answer, but then to locate the word on the board. The first to hit the right label wins a point for their team. Swap and call up the next two contenders. Adjust for lower-level classes by simply reading a word from the board or showing a picture. The game can also be played with printed words or pictures spread out across a table or on the floor.


Once learners have developed a wider range of vocabulary, you can graduate from Pictionary™ to Articulate™. Same principles, but pupils must now describe a word rather than draw it, without saying the word or its variations (i.e. you can’t say snow if the word is snowman). Make the game more difficult by writing two or three words on each flashcard that pupils are also forbidden from saying, for example ‘Snowman: winter, carrot, cold’. This is a great game for developing communication techniques for when learners can’t remember a specific word in day-to-day life. Finding other ways of explaining an idea or expanding vocabulary with synonyms deepens understanding of a concept and reinforces learning. Ideal!


Charades is another popular favourite and a great game for practising verbs in particular. The game can follow the same pattern as Pictionary™ or Articulate™ above or can be played as a whole class activity with one pupil miming at the front (if you have some brave candidates). Use to revise verbs or other target vocabulary learnt that week. Scale it up up for higher levels by asking pupils to mime whole sentences. For example, when studying the present continuous, sentences like “you are watching a football match” or “you are making a cup of tea” can provoke some hilarious performances.

Online games

Why not liven up your class through a medium that pupils grew up surrounded by? Play exciting, interactive games through the FlashAcademy® app and spark heated competition between students with the Live Dashboard projected for all to see! Choose a category in the app and play a wide range of word games to test pupils’ knowledge of target vocabulary. With the soaring popularity of gaming, young people will find the gamified features of the app both familiar and appealing. It’s well known that some of the best and most authentic learning is done when students are having fun. Sneaky! The activities are perfect for engaging the whole class and the live leader board motivates pupils to better their own score, as well as try to beat their classmates. You can find out more about the FlashAcademy® app here.

If you enjoyed this article, check out Top 5 tips to help EAL learners progress in reading or Top 5 resources for EAL learners for more teaching ideas!

Previous: A New EAL Strategy in Sandwell Next: Six Ideas for Getting the Most out of School Resources