Fun Activities For Architecture Vocabulary

Stimulating practice of words to explain buildings for architects, designers and advanced level learners.

The games below are designed for and have mainly be used with English for Architects classes and are described as such, but have also been tried with advanced-level General English classes that have arts as a topic in their textbooks, and with English for Designers classes as a topic that students studying different kinds of design can all relate to. As most of them are general EFL vocabulary games with descriptions of how to use them in these circumstances, they could also easily be adapted for other ESP classes such as English for Engineers. More specific advice, see How To Teach English For Architects.

In this well-known vocabulary game, one student mimes a word, phrase or sentence until their partners guess what it is. There is a danger of ESP classes thinking of this as a bit childish, so you will probably want to justify its use on efficient learning grounds and/or make sure there is loads of useful vocabulary learnt through it. There are not many nouns such as parts of a building that can be mimed, but it is possible to find enough ones like “vault”, “brick” and “column” that can make one set of cards. This game generally works best with at least some verbs such as things architects do (“use a calculator”), parts of the building process (“put up scaffolding”) and things people do in buildings (“go through a revolving door”).

This is like a drawing version of the game above, with other students identifying the thing or action being drawn on a piece of blank paper or the board. This might seem like a more natural choice of game for architects – since it involves drawing – but there is a danger of them being too perfectionist and therefore embarrassed by their sketches or slow in drawing. So it is best to add an element of silliness to the things they should draw, such as including adjectives in things to draw like “an ugly bungalow” and “a huge front gate”.

Definitions game
The next stage (or possibly the first one if the games above might not go down well) is to have people explaining which word or phrase they are thinking of until their partners guess what is being described. This is also good practice for the vital communication skill of speaking around a word which they can’t think of, and can bring up other language that they will need in their work to describe things, e.g. ways of talking about materials, costs and dimensions. This game works best for things which need a quite extended explanation, e.g. materials that are slightly different from others, different kinds of buildings, different architectural styles, and some towns that are famous for their architecture. It is important that you be strict about the rule that they cannot say any word in the phrase nor any grammatical variations on them, e.g. with “high rise building” they can’t say “higher” or “build”.

Picture difference/Picture similarities
This well-known picture-related activity is usually safe even with students who don’t like the concept of games in class. Pairs of students are given pictures with just a few differences and describe what they can see (without showing their pictures to each other) until they find a certain number of differences. You could use photos of two stages of construction of the same building or a picture of a building before and after renovation, but otherwise it is quite difficult to find pictures of buildings with just a few differences. Unless you are much better at drawing or Photoshop than I am, it is probably easier to give them pictures of two quite different buildings and ask them to describe and find the few similarities. If you understand such things well enough to know what you are giving them, you could also give them some architectural designs with differences, e.g. before and after changes demanded by a client.

Picture dictation
Drawing and speaking can be combined by one person describing something until their partners have successfully drawn it – and possibly identified what they have drawn if it is difficult to guess. This brings up loads of useful language for architects such as shapes, directions, lengths and positions; but as you can’t present all that language and new vocabulary at the same time you will need to choose one of those two things as the main focus and restrict the other to just revision.

List dictation
This is a good way of presenting the vocabulary necessary to do a picture dictation and any other large groups of language that you want to present once and probably revise in more detail later. The teacher reads out a list of words such as “semi-detached”, “maisonette”, “terraced” one by one until someone works out how they are all related (they are all kinds of houses). They then switch to another category such as “shapes”, “natural materials” or “types of roof” and continue with the same game. After between ten and fifteen categories, students label the same vocabulary on worksheets and test each other in groups. They can then make up similar lists (with the help of dictionaries) to test other groups.

Brainstorming competition
This is like the opposite of the game above. Students are put in teams and are given a category to brainstorm as many examples of as they can within the time limit given. They get one point for any that no other group had thought of and five points for any that aren’t on the teacher’s list. You might want to allow limited dictionary use, e.g. in the last minute of the three minutes of brainstorming for one category they can use bilingual dictionaries if they like.

As much vocabulary as you can
Once students have got a good hang of all the useful vocabulary you are trying to teach them, you can set them a speaking or writing task in which they should use as much as they can. For example, you could ask them to design a super-multipurpose building or use as many negative and positive adjectives as they can in a presentation on a proposed restoration of a building.

Written by Alex Case for September 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.


  • Joe says:

    You don’t need to buy or “have” these games. They are for teachers to use in class and how to play each game is described above.

  • sylvie says:

    Could you tell me where we can have the games descibed.

    Yours sincerely,

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