Fun practice activities for family vocabulary

1. Men and women stations The teacher or one of the students says a family relations word like “mother-in-law” or “grandfather”, and students run and touch the right wall if it is a female word or the left wall if it is a male word. Less noisy versions include jumping right or left of a […]

1. Men and women stations
The teacher or one of the students says a family relations word like “mother-in-law” or “grandfather”, and students run and touch the right wall if it is a female word or the left wall if it is a male word. Less noisy versions include jumping right or left of a line, pretending to shoot the relevant wall, touching different things while sitting down (e.g. your nose for male and book for female), raising different hands, and holding up or racing to slap cards with “male” and “female” written on them.

2. Guess my family
Students describe one member of their family sentence by sentence, starting with less obvious clues like hobbies or countries they have visited, until someone guesses who it is. To extend each turn, you could take away points for wrong guesses or only allow one guess per student.

3. Guess the relationship
The teacher gives out or reads out sentences they have prepared about differences in family relationships in different countries such as “In Saudi Arabia you can’t ask how a man’s _____________ or _______________ is”, “Italians say that your first love is usually your ______________”, “Most Japanese women nowadays say that they want their first child to be a ________________” or “British comedians traditionally make lots of jokes about their _______________” and the students try to guess the missing family relationships word (for the examples given here: wife, daughter, cousin, daughter, mother-in-law).

4. Number relations
This is similar to Guess My Family above, but with more numbers and questions practice. Students say a number related to their family (e.g. someone’s age, a number of children, a number of things in their collection, or how many times they have done something) and the other students try to ask a question to which that is the answer. To increase the amount of speaking, tell students to answer all questions, including ones which are not the one they were thinking of.

5. Great grandfather chains
This is just a silly little warm up game, but students will never forget what your grandfather’s father is called or the phrase “What do you call…?” after it! The first student says “What do you call your father’s father (in English)?” and the next student says “Grandfather. What do you call your grandfather’s father?”, followed by “Great grandfather” “Great great grandfather” and the equivalent questions, until someone gets the number of “greats” wrong or gives up. If they have got the hang of that, you could also allow mothers.

6. Family tree gapfill
Students are given the same family tree with different names blanked out and ask each other questions to fill in the gaps, e.g. “Who is Jennifer’s mother?” This can be made more fun by using the teacher’s family tree (maybe with the teacher’s name left blank for the students to guess), the family tree of a famous people (maybe with the family name left blank for the students to guess), or a made up family tree of the teacher with famous or infamous people in it.

7. Family tree spot the difference
Anther typical pairwork activity that can be connected to families is a pairwork picture difference, in this case a family tree where some of the details have been changed on one version. You can make this more challenging by telling them how many differences they have to find (without looking at each other’s pictures) and making one or two really difficult to spot ones such as someone being the oldest son in one version and the middle son in the other.

8. Guess the famous family/ person
Make statements about a famous family or a famous person’s family relationships one sentence at a time until students guess who it is. You will need to make sure that you choose famous people that almost all students will know about, although it isn’t important that they know any of the family information you tell them as long as you give some easier clues later.

9. My family picture dictation
Students dictate their family trees to each other, perhaps by asking each other questions like “Is he older or younger than you?” and “How do you spell her name?”, or “What colour hair does she have?”, “What’s her hobby?” and “Is she taller than you?” if you want them to draw pictures on it as well.

10. Famous families bluff
Make true or false statements about the relationships between famous people and get students to spot the false ones, e.g. “Nicole Kidman in Tom Cruise’s wife” (false- she is his ex-wife).

11. My family bluff
This is similar to Famous Families Bluff above, but with true and false statements about your own family. Students can then do the same thing in pairs.

12. Family vocabulary tennis/ volleyball
One person or team “serves” with a word for a male member of the family and the other has to “return” with the female equivalent. This continues until one person pauses too long, makes a mistake or gives up, making the other person win that point. Unlike real tennis, it is usually best to change which person or team serves after every point.

13. Family songs
There are many pop songs about families, of which the most popular in adult and teenage classes is probably “She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles. As well as the usual gapfill activities, students can guess the relationship between the person singing and the person they are singing to or about, and discuss questions about the relationships between those people and real families in their country. There are also quite a few EFL songs for kids with family vocabulary in, such as “This Is My Mother” in the Let’s Go books.

14. Guess me from my family
Students write interesting or unusual statements about their families and those are then shuffled up and given out around the class or stuck to the walls for other people to guess who each one refers to.

15. Family words board race
Give students a restricted group of family words (e.g. “Relatives who could be younger than you”) and get them to race to write them on the board in their teams, with each person only writing one word before they pass the pen to the next person.

Written by Alex Case for March 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.


  • Ashleigh says:

    I like the tennis/volleyball activity. I teach other languages that have a wider gender differentiation so this game is great due to its sports incorporation.

  • cathy says:

    Wonderfully imaginative use of topic – I can so easily adapt for use with British Sign Language and for Lip reading classes
    Thank you so much

  • israa zidan says:

    thanks for your helpful tips and ideas 🙂

  • Cecilia Joma says:

    Thank you Mr. Case. This ideas are great to make English classes more interesting, and give students a lot of fun. Thanks again.

Leave a comment : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Activities, Vocabulary : Fun practice activities for family vocabulary

Is there anything wrong with this page? Let us know ↗️