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ESL Icebreaker Game for High School: Mystery Word

“Mystery Word” is an intellectually stimulating and interactive icebreaker game tailored for high school ESL (English as a Second Language) students.

This game challenges students to use logical thinking and language skills to guess a secret word.

Ideal for developing both vocabulary and questioning skills, “Mystery Word” is an excellent tool for fostering a collaborative and engaging classroom environment.

ESL Icebreaker Games -  mystery word

ESL Icebreaker – Mystery Word

We have loads of icebreaker games here on the site for all ages, you can check out the full list for adults on the link directly below but we also have icebreakers for kindergarten, primary and high school here which you can check out as well.

(Of course you can adapt all of them for your classrooms and students as needed)

How to Play

  • Game Setup: One student thinks of a word related to a given theme, such as animals, professions, or food. The word should be challenging but not too obscure.
  • Basic Rules: The rest of the class, or a group, takes turns asking yes/no questions to deduce the word. The student who chose the word can only answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The goal is to guess the word within a set number of questions (usually 20).
  • Game Variations: To add variety, the teacher can set specific themes for each round or incorporate recently learned vocabulary or grammar topics into the word choices.

Educational Benefits

  • Encourages Logical Thinking: Students must formulate strategic questions to narrow down the possibilities, enhancing their deductive reasoning.
  • Develops Questioning Skills: Crafting yes/no questions helps students practice question syntax and structure in English.
  • Expands Vocabulary: As students guess and learn new words, their vocabulary is naturally expanded.
  • Promotes Class Engagement: The game involves the whole class and requires active participation, making it an excellent tool for building a collaborative learning atmosphere.

Resources Needed

  • No Special Equipment Required: This game relies on the students’ creativity and language skills.
  • Optional: Timer and Scoreboard: To keep track of the number of questions asked and to add a competitive element.

Playtime Guidelines

  • Duration: Each round can last about 5-10 minutes, depending on the complexity of the word and the students’ questioning skills.
  • Pace: The game should move at a steady pace to keep students engaged and to ensure that many students get a chance to participate.
  • Group Size: Suitable for small groups or the entire class if managed effectively.

Adapting to Different Learning Levels

  • For Beginners: Choose simpler words and provide more guidance on formulating questions. Beginners might benefit from a list of sample questions to help them participate.
  • For Intermediate Students: Use words that require a moderate level of language skills and encourage more complex question structures.
  • For Advanced Students: Introduce abstract or specialized words. Encourage students to use a diverse range of vocabulary and complex grammatical structures in their questions.


“Mystery Word” is a dynamic and educational game that skillfully blends language learning with critical thinking.

It provides high school ESL students with a platform to sharpen their linguistic abilities in a fun, interactive setting.

By incorporating this game into the ESL curriculum, teachers can stimulate students’ curiosity and language skills, fostering a more engaging and effective language learning experience.

I have been a teacher of English for over 15 years, in that time i made hundreds and thousands of resources and learnt so much i think its worth sharing. Hopefully to help teachers and parents around the world.

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