ESL Synonyms & Antonyms Games & Activities

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Synonyms and antonyms are a great source for fun games for your ESL students. This lesson provides you with a few game and activity ideas that aim at aiding your students in learning to use synonyms and antonyms.

Managing Basic Concepts

You are probably reading this lesson because your students are ready to put in practice what they know about synonyms and antonyms. Once your students manage the basic concepts for both types of words, you give them the opportunity to put their knowledge to work. However, the best way to have synonyms and antonyms stick is to play some games and do fun activities. Here are a few you can use with your ESL students.


The games you have here involve students working together and producing work based on prompts. Let's take a look.

Synonym-Antonym Word Pairs

This is a great game for ESL students who have recently become familiar with synonyms and antonyms. Prepare a handout with pairs of words. Students ideally work in pairs. Your students' job is to work together to tell if the second word in each pair is a synonym or an antonym. Next, students add a synonym or an antonym for either one of the words in each pair. Then, as a class, the students share and check their answers. The pair of students who has the most correct answers is the winner. Here are some examples of words you might include in the handout:

  • even / odd
  • father / daddy
  • couch / sofa
  • wild / tame
  • rock / stone
  • mad / angry

Synonym and Antonym Competitions

For this game, students play in groups of four divided into two teams. Each team is formed by two students who help each other when it is their turn to give an answer. The game consists of taking turns to come up with a synonym or antonym for the word that the opposing team names. The excitement of the game is that the team has exactly fifteen seconds to give an answer. For example, Mario and Luisa say the word 'difficult' and they ask for a synonym. Within fifteen seconds, Alejandra and Cristina could reply with a synonym like 'tough' or 'challenging.' At the end of the game, the pair of students who gets the most answers is the winner.

Replacing a Word

Students work in teams for this game, and teams take turns to do the following:

  • Team A says 'antonym' or 'synonym--their choice.
  • Team B comes up with a sentence for the opposing team.
  • Team A comes up with the same sentence, except that one word in it is replaced with a synonym or an antonym, depending on what their choice was.

For example, Team A says 'antonym.' Team B gives the sentence, 'My brother is skinny.' Team A comes up with 'My brother is obese.' The only rule for this game is that students have only thirty seconds to figure out their response. The team with the most number of correct sentences is the winner.

Board Game

For this exciting game, two students go to the board. Each student gets ready with a marker to write on their side of the board. Then, you tell them a word and they have to write on the board as many synonyms and antonyms as they can in one minute. To make sure they have it right, you could ask them to write 's' or 'a' next to a synonym or antonym, respectively.

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