This guest post was written by Luke Raymond. You can read below about how he has adapted the game ‘Codenames’ into a vocabulary practice and revision game.

He has only used it with upper intermediate adults and teens so far, but thinks it could be adapted for most levels and ages. Its best use is as a general vocabulary revision.


I have used this game several times over the past few months with an FCE group ranging in age from 14 to 40. We would add new vocabulary to cards throughout the year so we ended up with a stack of mixed vocabulary items, which turned out to be perfect for this game.


To play this game, you need a set of cards with your target vocabulary on them (the yellow cards pictured below). An optional extra is to have definitions on the back of the cards, but this is not necessary.

You also need a teacher’s card (or set of teacher’s cards) which represents the board (the 5×5 grids pictured below).

Before playing, split students into pairs and give each pair a set of the word cards to revise. After a few minutes of revision, each pair choose several words until you have 25 as a class. Ask students to choose words they need more practice with. Then lay the cards down on a flat surface with the words face up in a 5×5 grid.


Once your board is laid out, split the students into two teams, a red team and a blue team, and ask for one volunteer from each group. These students come to the front and look at the teacher’s card. The teacher’s card shows a representation of the 5×5 board with 8 of the cards coloured in blue and 8 coloured in red.

The four teacher cards pictured below have an additional black square which is explained at the end.


How to play

The students who can see the teacher’s card must take it in turns to give a one-word clue for one or more of the words on the cards that match their colour. The student must say how many words their definition applies to. Their team must guess the word or words they have defined.


For example, the word to be guessed might be ‘park’, and the student might give ‘grass’ as a clue and say ‘one’ as the number of cards it is a clue for. Maybe the words the student wants their team to guess are ‘car’ and ‘bus’, in which case the student may give ‘vehicle’ as their clue and ‘two’ for the number of cards.


For the guessing part, it is important that the student’s team decides on which card or cards they are going for before they announce them as otherwise they will suggest some answers and see how their teammate responds. Once they have decided which card or cards they are going for, these cards are turned over, no matter if they are blue, red or blank.

This process continues until one team has turned over all of their cards. Therefore, players must be careful not to give clues which will cause their team to choose the opposition’s cards.


It can be difficult for students to think of one-word clues which apply to more than one word so you may want to remove this option and make it always for one word. You could also allow students to give full definitions rather than one-word clues to make the game easier.

Students also tend to take their time either thinking of clues or deciding which card to choose, so think about introducing time limits if this happens. By making a variety of teacher’s cards, you can play this game again and again and with different sets of vocabulary. Generally, the game took around 15 to 30 minutes to play and my students often wanted to play a second time. At the end of the game you can look through any of the words that the students defined incorrectly or struggled with.


With larger classes you could play the game once with the whole class and then divide the class into groups of 6 once they understand how to play.

If you would like to focus on a smaller set of vocabulary, or play a shorter version of the game, you could play with 3×3 grids, instead of 5×5.

For an added challenge, you can add one black square to each grid. If a team chooses the black card then they lose the game instantly.

Thanks to Luke for writing this guest post. I’m definitely going to be experimenting with this myself when term starts.

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