Vocabulary Poker – vocabulary activity

Lesson Plans & Activities, Vocabulary & Spelling

Sopranos playing Poker

Could you beat these gentlemen at poker?

Vocabulary Poker is a great game for practicing vocabulary and semantic fields. It’s easy to play and great fun for the students.

Although it can be played by beginners, it’s probably best for intermediate and advanced students.

NB in some countries it may be culturally inappropriate to use a term like “poker” with its gambling connotations. If this is the case simply rename it to Vocabulary Challenge or something equally innocuous.


You need to prepare a set of cards with more than enough to go round the class. On each card write a category of a particular semantic field (set of words). For example:

  • clothes
  • colors
  • fruits
  • jobs
  • forms of transport
  • drinks
  • pieces of furniture

And so on. These should of course be of the right level for your class and they should know what they mean. The game is to practice recalling and not for teaching new vocabulary.

Running the Activity

Explain to the class that they are going to play each other for cards. The goal is to win as many cards as possible. Demonstrate how the game is played by getting two good students up to the front of the class, sitting opposite sides of a desk, and you showing them while the rest of the class watches.

  1. Put a few cards in the middle of the table, face down.
  2. Student A shuffles them and Student B picks one from the pile and puts it face up on the table.

Now explain that they must each “bet” on how many members of that semantic field they can name. They continue “betting” until one student “calls” the other. Suppose the card says, ANIMALS.

Student A: I can name 6 animals.
Student B: I can name 8 animals.
Student A: I can name 9 animals.
Student B: I call you: name those animals!

Student A now has to name 9 animals. If they succeed they keep the card, if they fail, the card goes to the other student. Whoever loses chooses the next card.

Once you have demonstrated the activity a couple of times, the class will be able to play on their own. Split the class into pairs and get them sitting opposite each other. Give each pair the same number of cards and let them begin playing.

Variations on a Theme

  • The game can also be played in small groups of 2 or 3 on each side as well.
  • You can get the student who calls to write down the vocabulary from their opponent; this not only allows you to check afterwards that all the words are suitable, but it also might mean the caller learns a few new words as well.

Useful Links

Semantic Fields in TEFL – all about semantic fields

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