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23 uses for pelmanism and SNAP

Pelmanism (also known as “pairs” or “the memory game”) is one of the most versatile games in TEFL and can be used for almost any grammar or vocabulary point. The game basically consists of spreading a pack of cards face down across the table and trying to find pairs of cards that match up. See […]

Pelmanism (also known as “pairs” or “the memory game”) is one of the most versatile games in TEFL and can be used for almost any grammar or vocabulary point. The game basically consists of spreading a pack of cards face down across the table and trying to find pairs of cards that match up. See the TEFL.net article 32 Variations on Pelmanism for a more detailed description and ways of making it easier, more challenging or more fun.

Pelmanism is a fairly slow and low energy game, which is fine with most classes but can give them too much thinking time compared to how fast they will need to come up with language when communicating. Pelmanism also isn’t fun or high energy enough to be a warmer with most classes. Luckily, almost any pack of cards that you prepare for pelmanism can also be used for the traditional card game Snap. In this game the cards are dealt out to the players and they put theirs face down on the table in front of them, taking turns to turn them over and place them in two piles on the table. If at any time the two cards match, the first person to shout “Snap” (and maybe slap their hand down on the cards) wins all the cards that are face up on the table at that time. The player with most cards when the game stops is the winner.

Both games above are things that both children and adults spend their free time doing even when there isn’t the motivation of learning a language, so they should be popular in most of your classes. Here are twenty three of the many topics that you can connect these games to, and so at least twenty three classes you can use these games in:


1. Tenses
Prepare sentences with the tense missing, e.g. “I ___________ (work) on a very important project at the moment” (these are easily found in textbooks, workbooks or grammar practice books) with at least eight cards per tense and at least two (but preferably three or four) tenses. Students must spot which sentences need the same tense in their gap, e.g. matching two Present Perfect sentences or two Simple Past sentences. For more challenge, you can not give a hint on which verb is missing (like “work” in brackets in the example sentence above) and get students to match up sentences which are in the same tense and have the same verb missing. A much easier version is to give cards with complete sentences on and get them to find cards that have identical tenses. This is so unchallenging that you’ll need to make it more so by adding complex tenses like Future Continuous Passive and probably playing Snap rather than pelmanism.

2. State and action verbs
The easiest way of doing this is to get students to find two state verbs or two action verbs, with the prompts on the cards being either just the verbs or complete sentences. The problem with this is that not many verbs are clearly state or action, possibly leading to long discussions on debateable points. It is therefore better to give gapped sentences were the Continuous form would be used with an action verb but the Simple form with a state verb, and getting students to match sentence that would be Continuous or wouldn’t be, e.g. “I can’t speak now, I _______________ (attend) a meeting” matching “I _______________ (watch) telly, but I’ll do the washing up when this programme is finished” and “I ______________ (think) that is a good idea” matching “I know I ____________ (smell) strange, I have just finished painting the bedroom”.

3. Time clauses/ Prepositions of time

Matching sentences can be expressions or gapped sentences that need “for” or “since”, and/ or “at”, “on” and “in”. Alternatively, prepositions or time clauses that are used to refer to a point in time can be considered a match, with the other possibility being prepositions that refer to a length of time, e.g. “since” matching with “at” and “for” matching “during”. Another option is to match them by whether they refer to the past (e.g. “ago”), present (“since”- along with past) or future (“in seven months”). You could also get them to match time clauses that mean exactly the same thing, e.g. “two years ago” and “in 2007”. In another variation, students try to match time clauses with sentence stems. This works best if there are enough matches for each one but not too many (e.g. not getting correct sentences half the time even if you don’t think about what cards you pick). Finally, you can get them to match time clauses that are in some way opposite, e.g. “in two weeks” and “two weeks ago” or “for a long time” and “for just a moment”.

4. Articles and determiners
Make cards that are gapped sentences or phrases with “a”, “an” or “the” taken out and the students match them by which of those words is missing. You can also practice the zero article (“I’m not going to _____ school today because I feel sick”)

5. Third person s
Students have to make three sentences about the people or animals on the cards they have picked- one about a thing that they have in common (e.g. “They both eat meat”) and the other two about things that are different (and so using the third person s, e.g. “This one has a long neck, but this one has a short neck”). Alternatively, they pick just one card and make similarity and differences sentences about that thing and themselves and the other people in their group (e.g. “An elephant and the teacher both have long noses”). To make it more challenging, you can ask them to use different sentences each time (e.g. they can’t use “has four legs” more than once in the game).

6. Tag questions/ short answers
Students either match sentences to tag questions that they can take (e.g. “Let’s go to the zoo” with “shall we?”) or match two sentences that could take the same tag question (e.g. “You aren’t Sagittarius” and “We aren’t having a good time”, because they both take “are we?”). The same two methods are both possible for short answers (“Yes, I do” etc.)

7. Comparatives
You can ask students to make comparative sentences about the two pieces of vocabulary on the cards they pick. This game doesn’t work with SNAP. One version that does work with both is matching up cards that form their comparatives in the same way (e.g. “pretty” and “lucky” because they both change y to “ier”).

8. Countable and uncountable
Students could try to match up two countable nouns or two uncountable nouns, although note that it is very hard to find nouns that are never countable so you’ll probably need to give them an answer key and only allow answers on that list. Alternatively, students could try to match uncountable nouns and containers and other things that make them countable like “slice of”. Another possibility is to ask them to match them by whether “there is” or “there are” is missing from the sentence, or similar with “some”, “any” and “a/ an”.


9. Collocations with verbs
E.g. sports with play, go and do; make and do; or classroom instructions (turn, listen etc). In each case, two nouns or sentences that have the same verb missing should be matched.

10. Formal and informal English
Students match sentences that are the formal or informal equivalents of each other, or match two cards by whether they are both formal or both informal.

11. Phrasal verbs
Students match phrasal verbs to non phrasal verb equivalents, match two phrasal verbs with the same meaning (e.g. get along and get on), or match two sentences that have phrasal verbs with the same verb or particle taken out of them.

12. British and American English
The cards match if they pick two British words or expressions, or two American ones. Another way to do it is to ask students to find pairs of words that mean same thing in the two varieties of English (“pants” and “trousers”). You can of course add other varieties such as Australian English.

13. Country and nationality words
Students try to match two things, places or people from the same country, e.g. “Koalas and XXXX beer are both from Australia/ are both Australian”. Alternatively, they try to find the same thing from two different countries, e.g. “Big Ben is a British sightseeing spot and the Eiffel Tower is a French one”.

14. Body parts and appearance
Students try to make sentences about the similarities between the two animals or people they have picked, e.g. “They both have black noses”.

15. Pronunciation
Students match the words by the number of syllables, word stress, vowel sound, different pronunciation of the same spelling (e.g. voiced and unvoiced “th”), or containing a certain sound or not.

16. English for/ through biology (CLIL)
Prepare cards that can be divided into at least two categories, e.g. birds and animals, living and not living things, viruses and bacteria, insects and not (spider etc), or plants and animals. Alternatively, students try to think of anything the two cards they pick have in common, e.g. “A hedgehog and a rose are both sharp”.

17. Positive and negative connotations
Either pair up a positive word and a negative or neutral one that has almost the same meaning (e.g. “chubby” and “fat”), or two positive words and two negative words.

Phrases and functional language

18. Questions and answers
Students try to match the questions and answers (preferably with a few options for each one), two answers that could be in response to the same question (e.g. “That’s okay, I think I can manage” and “Thanks that would be a great help”, because they can both be used to reply to offers such as “Shall I help you with that bag?”), or two questions that could get the same response.

19. Situational/ Functional language
Students match sentences by their function, e.g. two requests, two complaints or two apologies. Alternatively, they can match two phrases that are used in the same place, e.g. two phrases used in a post office and two phrases used on a train.

Stages of the lesson and other uses

20. As a grammar presentation/ first stage in Test Teach Test
I have used pelmanism for the very first presentation of irregular simple past forms, as students can usually guess that “bring” and “brought” are the same verb even if they have never come across them before.

21. As controlled practice
This is the most common use of pelmanism, and can be useful if it helps their memory.

22. As freer practice/ For the incidental language it can produce
Many of the examples above produce quite a lot of speaking, e.g. saying what things have in common. You can therefore use them for freer practice of that functional classroom language, with the things they are matching up incidental to your real purpose.

23. As revision
For example, you can get the students to put the words into columns or pairs without a game element (or maybe as a race against other teams) in one lesson, and then play pelmanism in the next lesson. Alternatively, you can use it for almost any kind of vocabulary revision with the variation “Random Pelmanism” (see the other article on pelmanism mentioned above for a description of this).

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net June 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • John Debnath says:

    Dear Alex, I have a question. Do you think I could use a pelmanism game to match formal and informal words? I have an exercize which has 12 of each but thought it might be more fun and raise energy levels of the learners (who all would have just finished a days work). Here are the words I’d use:

    1.Assistance 2.Due to 3.In the near future
    4.Further 5.Inform 6.Information
    7.Receive 8.Occupation 9.Possess
    10.Provide 11.Request 12.Requirements

    a)Soon b)Facts c)Help
    d)Ask for e)Job f)Because of
    g)Get h)More i)Give
    j)Needs k)Have l)Tell

    If yes (and I think it would be yes), is there anything specific I should be cautious of? This will be my very first time teaching properly after passing CELTA last year april. Most of the learners will be Japanese. Yes, we were in touch recently, also via your TEFLtastic.

    Thanks in advance for your help, cheers, John

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TEFL.net : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Games : 23 uses for pelmanism and SNAP