Skills: writing (with a speaking follow-up).
Materials: a set of dictionaries, sheets of paper and pencils (or pens).
Time: 10 to 30 minutes.
One of a few TEFL games based on a BBC radio 4 program, and is an interesting activity when teaching English to more advanced level children, to teenagers, and to adults. The approach needs to be adapted for these different groups, but the basic activity is the same. You will need a set of dictionaries for this. Picture dictionaries work well for younger children.
Choose an obscure word - or at least, obscure for students involved. Write this word on the board and check whether anyone understands it. As an example, I might write the word 'gnat.' Under this, I write four definitions; three of which are false and one of which is true. I might write: 'To gnat is a verb that describes falling out with a friend. For example, the boy gnatted his best friend because he was angry with him.' 'A gnat is a small biting insect, like a mosquito.'
The students must then read the definitions and decide whether they are true or false. Once the students understand the activity, they can be put into small groups, given a dictionary, and told to choose a word that they think the other students won't know. Set a time limit on deciding, and if necessary assign suitable words. The students then write four definitions on pieces of paper.
The first team ready can write their word on the board, with a phonetic transcription, if wanted. When the class is ready, each team in turn reads out the definitions. The other students have to guess which definition is the correct one.
This ESL activity can take up to 30, as it involves choosing a word in the dictionary, writing four definitions, reading them out aloud, then discussing as a class which is true. Students may need to be shown how to write longer and more detailed definitions. The more advanced the class, the more detailed their definitions should be. For children at a low level, a single sentence for each definition may be enough.