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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Call My Bluff

A fun way of revising vocabulary that gets students thinking about the meaning of the words AND using lots of English is the game Call My Bluff, which comes from a British TV show from the 80s where teams of celebrity contestants had to provide definitions of an obscure word and guess which was the correct definition.

This game must surely appear in some teacher's resource books, and many of you will have played it at some point. I think it is a good idea, however, to recap on some of the games and activities we have used in the past, as they may be new to some teachers, and often we try out so many new activities that we forget some of the older ones.

I decided to play this game with my elementary/Pre-Int adult class last night. I gave them all a copy of the unit one wordlist which appears in the teacher's book. In pairs, the students had to choose three words and write three definitions for each one, including the real definition. The wordlist includes definitions for each item of vocabulary, but I asked the students to use their own words so as not to give the game away. (The definitions were not of the language production level of the students). They could use dictionaries to check meanings and to look up words they would need for their definitions.

We then played the game. One student from each pair read out their word and the three definitions. Each pair chose A, B or C and was the given the correct answer. You can build up the atmosphere here if you wish by slapping the desk to create a drumroll.

I think the activity was very useful for this level, since they were using structures such as "This is used to ..." without being overtly presented with it. I was pleasantly surprised that some of the students tried to trick their classmates by providing a definition to a similar sounding word. One group defined the word "guess" as "a person who is invited", trying to confuse the class with the word "guest"! Another said that "contain" was "to say 1, 2, 3..." because it sounds similar to "counting". Clever students!

In all, the game gets students thinking about the meaning of words they have come across, in a fun way. It is also suitable for any level, except perhaps beginners.


  1. This sounds like a great activity Michelle. It's always a pleasure when students start to play with words and sounds as yours did with 'guess' and 'contain'.

    As you said, it's a great idea to discuss lessons even with established or well-known activities. There's always a different spin to see or inspiration to be had to try something, whether for the first time ever or the first time in a while!

  2. I played this on Monday too, with my Upper-Int adults. We've seen lots of new vocabulary since the start of term, so I put them into groups and asked them to choose five words. It worked really well.
    I think it's better to choose words they've already seen as in the past I've played it by giving the students a dictionary and asking them to pick a word at random. This means that they sometimes don't understand the original definition, and the false definitions stand out more because they aren't so well-written.

  3. Thanks for your comments, David and Teresa.
    This game is ideal for higher level students, as it really gets them thinking of ways to play with words including spelling, sounds. It can take a while with lower levels so I would suggest not using it too often, but it can be a good activity to use when students often confuse two different words. You can provide the definitions and they just have to guess, if you just need a ten minute revision activity to end or begin the lesson.

  4. Hi Michelle
    Imagine if you will... Frank Muir was great, wasn't he? My friend Alan Tait, who comments occasionally, suggested this activity to me a long time ago when we were colleagues and I did it in class. It is good, isn't it! I'm sure teachers reading your post will thank you for it. I can imagine you all had great fun. Alan once even taught his students made-up words for a whole lesson on one April Fool's Day!


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