7 Acronyms Games for ESL Classes

By Alex Case
Fun acronyms and initialisms activities for English language learners

Acronyms can be scary for students, but are both a vital part of their vocabulary and a great way of practising pronunciation of the alphabet, so students can really benefit from the fun presentation and practice games explained in this article. All of the games here work both for abbreviations pronounced like words (acronyms like “NATO”) and for ones pronounced letter-by-letter (initialisms like “TBA”).

Acronyms word snake game

Write all of the acronyms that you want to present in a long line with no gaps (“BBCIOTCEO” etc) and the same full expressions in a separate long line with no gaps or capital letters (“britishbroadcastingcorporationinternetofthingschiefexecutiveofficer” etc). Students split both and match up the acronyms and full expressions.

For more communication, it’s also possible to put the unsplit acronyms on a Student A worksheet and the unsplit words on a Student B worksheet.

Acronyms hangman

There are several ways of playing the traditional spelling game Hangman for acronyms, in which students:

  • guess both the acronym and the full version side by side
  • are given the acronym and guess the full version
  • are given the acronym and guess two different things that it could stand for
  • play one game to guess the acronym and then another game to guess the full version

To add communication, you could include hints like what kinds of words are missing and what area of vocabulary the acronym comes from (e.g. that it is related to technology).

Acronyms call my bluff

Make a list of acronyms that students might already have heard of but probably don’t know the long version of. Give each student one or more and ask them to make fake versions of the full version, e.g. “for your inquiry” and “furthering your information” to go with “for your information”. Students read out the true and fake versions for other students to guess.

This can also work with a mix of true acronyms like “HUD = head up display” with completely made-up ones like “CPB = clothes peg box”.

Acronyms strangers on a train

Give each student an acronym that they don’t know but would be useful to learn, with an explanation of what it means and what it stands for. Students try to use that acronym naturally in a conversation and try to guess what acronym their partner had to use. This works best if they also add lots of other acronyms as distractors.

Extreme acronyms strangers on a train

This is a combination of the two games above. Give students things to talk about or roleplay cards without any acronyms in. Students change as many of the things on their card as they can into acronyms, including ones they make up. After roleplaying the situation, the other student tries to guess which were made up and which they knew to be true acronyms.

Many acronyms competitions

Set up a situation where many acronyms are likely to come up such as buying a new computer. The people in the roleplay compete to use as many acronyms as they can, with one point for each which is a real English acronym, as long as they can explain what it means and/ or what it stands for (if they are asked).

Acronyms maths puzzle

Give or dictate a code where every letter of the alphabet is linked to a different number (“A = 12, B = 2”, etc). Students listen to an acronym and/ or the full form, write the acronym down, convert each letter to a number, add them up, then race to shout out the total.

Further reading

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet April 2023
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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