Fun Ways of Practising Country and Nationality Words

By Alex Case
1. Word roots dictation The teacher reads out a list of words that originally come from a particular language, e.g. words that come from French and are now used in English, using their English pronunciation. The teacher should start with obscure ones and get more and more obvious until they reach words that are obviously […]

1. Word roots dictation
The teacher reads out a list of words that originally come from a particular language, e.g. words that come from French and are now used in English, using their English pronunciation. The teacher should start with obscure ones and get more and more obvious until they reach words that are obviously connected to one language like “foie gras” or “pizza”. Whenever anyone is sure what country those words came from, they can stop the teacher and guess. If they are right, you can then give bonus points to students who can explain what each word means (using nationality words), e.g. “Ballet is a French dance” or “Ballet is a French word for a kind of dance”.

2. International brands dictation
This is similar to Word Roots Dictation above, but with a list of names of companies, products and maybe famous people for each country. Students can then identify what each one is (“Jambalaya is an American meat dish” or “Rolls Royce is a British car”) for extra points. Please note that it can be very complicated to work out where products and people really come from in our globalized world, so you’ll need to have the internet handy to double check and to give points for each answer that is true in any way, e.g. allowing “Mini is a British car” (because it was originally and is still made there) and “Mini is a German car” (because it is made by BMW).

3. I’ll name five from that country
This is another game that can be played using brand names and names of famous people. Students are told the country or nationality word being practiced and then bid to be the team to try and name people and things from that country by claiming they can say more things than the other teams, e.g. “We can name four things from Belgium”, “We can name seven things from Belgium”, “We can name 15 things from Belgium”, stopping when no one bids higher. If the team can actually name that many things, they get that many points. If not, they lose points and/ or sit out the next round. Before you explain the game, you will need to decide if teams that make mistakes (e.g. “Andre Agassi is a Swiss tennis player”) can continue trying or have to stop there.

4. I’ll name that country in five
This is similar to the game above, but with teams bidding down about how many clues they need to guess a country. Give one clue, e.g. “It’s in Latin America”, and then let teams bid with “We’ll name that country in seven”, “We’ll name that country in three” etc until it reaches zero or there are no lower bids. Give the hints and score as in I’ll Name Five From That Country above.

5. I’ll name five different countries/ I’ll name five of them
This is another bidding game similar to the ones above, but with students bidding up how many countries, things, people etc in a particular category they can come up with, e.g. by responding to “How many nationalities can you name that end in ‘ese’?”, “How many countries can you name in Africa?” or “How many presidents and kings from around the world can you name, including what country they come from?”

6. Random pellmanism/ random matching
Students try to match two completely randomly chosen country words using any connection between the two they can think of. Each type of connection can only be used once in the game. One similarity they can use is nationality word endings, e.g. “England is similar to Poland because both languages end in ‘ish'”, but they can also use things like “They are both famous for football” or “They are both cold”. An alternative way of playing the game is to get them to match each one on the list to a country that isn’t there, e.g. “This country is similar to Brazil, because the most famous food has lots of meat in it”.

7. It’s not from round here
Students try to think of something that is absolutely typical of one country, e.g. their own, and after web research the other students try to disprove it by showing a connection to somewhere else. Students might be surprised to learn that “Kimchi isn’t really Korean because chilli peppers came from South America”, “The croissant isn’t French because it was invented after the siege of Vienna in Austria” and “Sushi isn’t Japanese because they eat fish on fermented rice in China and Southeast Asia too”.

8. Country nationality board race
Divide the whiteboard into two and get the class to stand in two teams in lines in front of the board, with the person at the front of the queue holding a whiteboard pen. The teacher calls out a category of a list of words that they should write as quickly as they can (either one category per team or the same for both), and the students take turns writing one word, passing the pen to the person behind them, and then going to the back of their line. Each person must write one word before they can move on, but their teammates can shout out words, spelling etc to help them. The team with the most correct words in the category when the teacher stops the game wins. Suitable topics for country and nationality words include “Countries where English/ French/ … is the first language”, “Countries that were British/ Portuguese/… colonies”, “Footballers and their nationalities” (maybe only allowing one per nationality), “Singers and languages they sing in” (ditto), “Countries in Africa”, “Cars and where they come from”, “Countries with red/ stripes/ stars/ the moon in their flag” and “Official languages of the European Union”.

9. Maps pairwork dictation
Give pairs of students different maps of the same region of the world with half the country names tippexed out of each one. They then explain one of the countries they have on their map until their partner guesses which one it is or gives up. They then describe where the country is on the map so that their partner can write the name in at the right place. When they have done the same with all the countries, they can compare their maps to make sure that they now both have all the countries written in in the right places.

10. Identifying music
Students listen to some traditional folk music or pop from another country and try to guess where it comes from. Things that could help them and make the topic more interesting include having pictures of the instruments used labelled by country, pictures of people in traditional dress dancing to the different kinds of music, and giving them hints if they guess wrong (“Warmer”/ “Colder”, “This country is further South” etc).

11. Comparatives guess the country
Students explain one country in relation to others until their partners guess which country they are talking about, e.g. for Italy they could say “It’s food is more famous than Spanish food”, “It is hotter than Germany”, “It is more historic than the USA” and “People there are more stylish than Australians”.

12. Superlatives guess the country
Students try to guess which country is the largest, has the longest river etc. Alternatively, students pick a country and have to find as many superlatives about that country as they can from web research.

13. Guess the country/ guess the language 20 questions
Students ask up to 20 Yes/ No questions to try and guess which country or nationality someone is thinking of. Possible questions include “Are there any famous sports/ sportsmen/ actors/ foods from that country?”, “Is the weather hot/ cold/ humid?”, “Is it in America/ Africa/ Asia?”, “Do they speak Spanish/ a tonal language/ loudly?” and “Is the food spicy/ popular here/ healthy?” Alternatively, they could ask questions to try to guess things that famously come from one country, e.g. “Is it Australian?”, “Is it an animal?” and “Does it jump?” for “kangaroo”.

14. Country/ nationality bluff
Give different groups three different surprising but true pieces of information about different countries and ask them to make up two more which are false but sound possible. They then read out the five sentences (or just two of them) to the class and the other teams guess which ones were made up and are therefore false. Another way of doing this is to give each team five different surprising but true pieces of information, and get them to change two, e.g. by changing the nationality word, to make them false.

15. Identifying national flags
Trying to identify flags of different countries is always fun and especially popular with younger students. You can add more language to this by one student describing the flag and then the country until the others guess what it is without looking at it, e.g. “It’s got three vertical stripes. Two stripes are red, and the middle stripe is white. In the middle stripe, there is a leaf. It’s a maple leaf, and the most famous food from this country is maple syrup.” Another possibility is to give descriptions of what the flags mean and how they came about so that students can use that information to match the texts to the flags and then guess which country each one came from.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet March 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet


  • DANI says:

    Alex, in pandemic times, your activities saved my life! I’m eternally grateful to you and I hope one day I can be as intelligent to create other contents and help people just like you do :D Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Lucy says:

    What a great collection! I was trying to find ways to practice countries and nationalities with my student in an engaging and meaningful way. I can´t thank you enough.

  • Erasmo says:

    Thanks for sharing Alex, very good ideas.

  • Lirio Ruiz says:

    Hi! I teach to adults giving a bussines program and I was looking for some strategies, because memorizing countries and nationalities is too boring, I like the strategy 15. I think I will make some flags so students will try to guess which country does each flag belongs to. When they guess, the flag will be pasted on the board. Then the country and nationality will be written.

  • Eric Roth says:

    Practical, smart, and lively. I’m definitely going to steal a few of these ideas next time I teach geography in English class. I especially like tips #4 and #5 while I have tried variations of #11 and 12 before. Finally, #15 – matching the maps to the country – holds special appeal for student conferences since I have a large poster listing the maps, country, capital, and population (2000) in my office. Perhaps that will be the extra credit when the grades are still in doubt!

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