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Four Vocabulary Games Using the SIOP Model for ESL Learning

By Audrey Alleyne

The key to playing vocabulary games for English language learners using SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) is to follow the concepts of this instruction model.


In keeping with the concepts of SIOP, vocabulary games for English Language learners using SIOP, should follow the teaching of vocabulary within the student’s knowledge, capabilities and background before moving on to new vocabulary. Once you are certain that the student knows and understands certain words and definitions, thy can move on to playing these games.

Find Your Partner

This is a good game to start with. Use index cards to write some of the most commonly used words and an equal number of cards to write the definition of these words. High quality SIOP lessons are designed to provide frequent opportunities for interaction. This game will also encourage communication among students as they go around the classroom (or you can have them perform this game on a playground), looking for the partner who has the definition of their word. This can be quite a fun game.

Vocabulary Picture Puzzles

Students can also have fun cutting out magazine pictures involving words they know and sticking to the back of squares of poster board or also index cards. They can work in pairs or teams .After pasting their pictures they exchange pictures with other pairs or teams who are expected to write on the other side of the card all the words which represent the picture. For example, on a picture of a kitchen, on the other side they would write words which they would most probably have seen such as fridge, sink, stove, cupboards, broom etc.

Go Fish

Teachers can design their own Go Fish game. Once again, have cards with pictures pasted on one side, and some other cards with the words representing these pictures. Divide the students into equal teams, shuffle the cards deal six for example out to the students and place the others on the table. Students play the game until they find either the correct matching word or the correct matching picture to the cards they have in hand. Once again, this game encourages a lot of interaction.

Word Mix

To test your students understanding of nouns verbs and adjectives for example, allow them the pleasure of going to the board, each in turn, and writing at least four words on the board. One of the words must not belong, and the other students have to identify that word ands say what part of speech it is. The student can point to any student he wants to. For example, one student writes:


He points to a student and the student identifies the word money and states that it is a noun and the others are verbs.

Another student writes: pretty/ cold/speak/wet

He points to a student who identifies the word speak as the odd word; it is a verb and the others are adjectives. If the student cannot answer, the student at the board chooses another student to answer. Here the students are completely in control of their interactions, with the teacher acting as monitor if needed.

These games all incorporate the principles of SIOP. There is interaction through grouping. Groups should be formed by means of cooperative groups, buddies, pairs and large and small groups. These vocabulary games for English language learners using SIOP also integrate all the language skills of listening, speaking, reading ad writing.