3 Advantages from Using Board Games for English Vocabulary Building

Clarina Tiara Agneta
6 min readOct 18, 2020

Want to know the simplest way to build vocabularies in a fun way?

I have been searching for the best way to expand my students’ vocabulary. Since my students are mostly from ages 6–18 years old, it makes old strategies like reading and note-taking did not fit in anymore. A science journal mentioned that there are two ways to learn new words: (1) By actively looking for new words and (2) By exposed to new words.

This theory supports my point of view on how to expand my students’ English vocabulary. Expanding vocabulary needs significant effort through either finding a new one or exposed to a new one. In this case, I have tried to apply the second way to expand my students’ vocabulary this one month.

With the rapid development of nowadays technology, we can find many games and online applications to apply in language learning as a fun practice for our students. One of the common games is board games. There are many things that we, educators, can learn from using board games in language teaching.

1. Universal game and a fun way to expose new words to students.

Who does not know a monopoly? Or snakes and ladder game? The answers to these questions show that board game is famous and seen as a universal game. All countries always have various board games in different languages. Therefore, a board game is the best choice to be applied as a language learning tool.

I was motivated by one of my students who thinks playing a monopoly is fun. No matter how many times I think that board game is too boring for nowadays children who choose to play online games in their age, but this child felt interested in playing a board game. That was interesting!

Then I started to apply the board game in his new English chapter, transportations. I always divide my teaching time wisely in 5–15–15–15–10 minutes in 1 hour. It means that the first 5 minutes will be the review toward their last lesson, then continue with 15 minutes of reading to let my student get the new words. Then after they find new words, they will be given 15 minutes of writing or hands-on activities to know in what contexts they can use the words. The last activity is 15 minutes of speaking using new words on a related topic. As for the last 10 minutes I always give them games.

In my opinion, a board game is efficient to recall the new words they learn in 1 meeting. In this case, I was teaching about the name of transportation by land, air, water, and rail. Instead of asking my student to memorize the words or giving too much burden on many paperwork exercises, I chose board games. It is simple, fun, and helps them recall the new words unconsciously when they answer the questions or describing the picture they see. More than that, they also learn to speak up their mind and not being afraid of making mistakes in their speaking.

The first board game was played this simple:

They will play using dice. If they stop in a picture, they must mention the name of transportation in the picture and describe it in 1 minute.

If they stop in a question, they must answer the question with a full answer. Such as: “Do you prefer to travel by air or by land? Why?”

“I prefer to travel by land because I am afraid of height.” “I prefer to travel by land, because I am afraid of height.”

In case you want to download various English board games you can find it on this website: en.islcollective.com. They also provide many English exercises.

2. Can be customized to the lesson topic, students’ age, and their English level.

Some of you must think that board game cannot be used for adult learners because it is too simple. The answer is “No”, a board game can be applied to adult learner too based on their lesson topic, students’ age, and English level by providing “Level-Up” in each board game.

I was tutoring the animal topic to a second-year Senior High School Student. He was given lots of paperwork and reading passage about a specific animal. In his session with me, I upgraded the board game level from Level 1: Mention the name of the animal! To Level 2: Mention and describe the animal!

By playing the board game, we can always provide a new level by changing the instructions or questions to the student. In the same lesson topic, but for the student in elementary school, I can also level up the board game level from Level 1: Mention the name of the animal! To Level 2: Mention and describe animal appearance!

This “Level-Up” method, can always be changed according to the students’ age and their English level. It can also be provisioned with probing questions. For example, after they mention the animal name and describe the animal’s appearance, the teacher can give more questions such as: Where does this animal live? What do they eat? The probing questions can be varied and it should be related to the lesson topic.

Sometimes I also give a challenge to the students. When I was teaching adjectives, I made 2 board games. I challenge the student to mention the opposite word from the word in the board game. For example, when she stopped at the word “diligent”, she should mention “lazy”. It is also the best way to memorize the word antonym or synonym.

Hence, there are many ways for a teacher to apply board games to be more suitable for the students and many ways also to “Level-Up” the board game.

3. Provide long-term lessons for the students.

Instead of memorizing words, board game engages the students to use the new words spontaneously. By doing so, the students are engaged in the lesson because they have seen it as a fun game, they do not realize that the game gives more meaning to them. Most of my adult students find it helpful to memorize words using board games.

They said if they only memorize the words by note-taking or doing paperwork exercises, after they start a new chapter or topic, they forgot the words in the previous chapters. It is very frustrating when it comes to exam week. If one chapter has 10 new vocabularies, then if the exam covered 5 chapters, they should memorize 50 words at the same time.

Hence, in exam preparation I usually play each chapter board game with them, then level-up to the mix words board game. In this case, I will give a custom board game consists of 50 words in their 5 chapters. It is more meaningful for them and sways them from the pressure of the exam by playing games.

So, if you are asking what is the best way to enlarge your vocabulary without memorizing pressure, try board games! A board game is a universal game that everyone could play in a fun way to memorize new words. Although it seems only fit in for children, actually board games can be customized based on the lesson topic, students’ age, and also students’ English level. This can be done through “Level-Up” the board game. Instead of giving pressure to the students to memorize the words, board game sways them from the pressure of memorizing lots of words at the same time. It happens because by playing a board game, students memorize the words unconsciously. Thus, it gives more meaningful lessons for their long-term memory. In the end, a board game will be a fun way to enlarge students’ vocabulary unconsciously.