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Hangman – vocabulary activity


Traditional Hangman

Hangman is a traditional, simple game which is useful as a five minute filler for practicing vocabulary‏‎. Variations of the game and played in many different countries so one advantage is that some students will already know the game in their own language (see below).

Playing the Game

Choose a word that the students need to practice. It should be the right level for the class. The word is represented by a row of dashes e.g.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Students take turns trying to find the word by choosing one letter at a time. If they are correct and the letter exists in the word then it is added into the template. If not, another part of the hanged man is drawn on the scaffold.

In some variations, wrong letters are written up by the template. If you do this then students will not guess the same letter twice; however if you don’t write up wrongly guessed letters then it means all the class must listen carefully and try to remember what has been said before.

If the students find the complete word and “save” the hanged man they win. If not, they lose.

Example Losing Game

Step 1 Word: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Good Guess: A Word: _ A _ _ _ A _ ICAL TEFL
Step 2 Word: _ A _ _ _ A _ Bad Guess: T Word: _ A _ _ _ A _  ICAL TEFL
Step 3 Word: _ A _ _ _ A _ Bad Guess: F Word: _ A _ _ _ A _  ICAL TEFL
Step 4 Word: _ A _ _ _ A _ Good Guess: M Word: _ A _ _ M A _  ICAL TEFL
Step 5 Word: _ A _ _ M A _ Bad Guess: K Word: _ A _ _ M A _  ICAL TEFL
Step 6 Word: _ A _ _ _ A _ Good Guess: H Word: H A _ _ M A _  ICAL TEFL
Step 7 Word: H A _ _ _ A _ Bad Guess: W Word: H A _ _ M A _  ICAL TEFL
Step 8 Word: H A _ _ _ A _ Good Guess: N Word: H A N _ M A N  ICAL TEFL
Step 9 Word: H A N _ M A N Bad Guess: D Word: H A N _ M A N  ICAL TEFL
Step 10 Word: H A N _ M A N Bad Guess: S Word: H A N _ M A N  ICAL TEFL

Also Known As

Bulgarian Бесеница
Catalan Penjat
Dutch Galgje
Finnish Hirsipuu
French Le pendu
German‏‎ ‏‎ Galgenmännchen
Greek‏‎ ‏‎ Κρεμάλα
Hungarian Vješala
Italian‏‎ ‏‎ L’impiccato
Latvian Kartuvės
Polish Wisielec
Portuguese Jogo da forca
Rumanian Spânzurătoarea
Russian Виселица
Spanish Ahorcado
Swedish Hänga gubbe

Criticism & Sensitivity

In some situations the game as it is normally played may not be appropriate in the classroom. Whilst it may seem far removed from reality to play Hangman in a classroom in Toronto or Sydney, the same cannot be said if you are teaching in a country with recent violent political troubles where real hangings may have been an everyday occurrence.

As a teacher you must be sensitive to the situations of your students. If you feel that it may disturb one of your students, quite simply don’t play it. In 2010 an English teacher in Japan was criticized for playing the game following the suicide of a school student (see here).

Variations on a Theme

  • Balloon Draw a person in a basket suspended from a hot air balloon by 10 strings. You can add extra features like a shark below them waiting to eat them. Then play the game as above but each time the students guess wrongly, the balloon loses a string!


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