Kaboom! The Explosive Team Review Game (With an added twist…)

I am sure most of you are already familiar with the review game of Kaboom (also known variously as Tornado, Earthquake, and any other non-context-sensitive natural disaster). In this post, I am going to share the adaptations, or tweaks, that I’ve made to it in order to:

  • cut down on preparation time
  • make it more student-centred
  • make it more challenging

The Regular Version

In the regular version, prior to heading to class, the teacher pre-prepares a grid (size decided at discretion – depends how long you want the game to take!). The grid is made of squares, to each of which is allocated one of the following:

  • A question mark – signifies, funnily enough, a question.
  • A flashing B – signifies a bonus (which means 50 free points to the recipient team)
  • The arrows of change – two arrows one above the other, each pointing in opposite directions, signifies the team changes points, either with the other team, or if more than two teams, the chosen team (which is going to be the team with the most points!)
  • A bomb – signifies an explosion of points, leaving the recipient team with zero.

The teacher also prepares a set of questions to ask.

Once in the classroom, the teacher draws a blank version of the grid on the board, with letter and number coordinates. Teams take turns to pick a square and answer a question/receive a bonus/change scores/lose all their points, depending on the square. The game continues till all squares have been revealed. The winners are the team with the highest score.

My Version

Well, it’s the same as the above version, except:

  • The teacher doesn’t prepare a grid before going to class: the teacher draws the empty grid on the board (sized at discretion) and makes up the square contents as he/she goes along. And when the kids accuse you of making it up as you go along, wow them with your amazing memory skills… 😉

This way, you save on preparation time (big deal, it’s pretty minimal, but why not!) AND you get to ham up the drama, orchestrating the changes and explosions etc. to keep it as exciting as possible.

  • The teacher doesn’t prepare a set of questions before going to class: instead, when a question square is selected, the opposing team must come up with the question. How? By working together, looking through their coursebooks/notes and coming up with one.

This way, you save on preparation time AND you wind up with a bunch of teenagers avidly looking through their books/notes either in order to make up a question or preparing themselves to be asked. Encourage them to be crafty: the harder the questions, the less likely the other team is to get points. They try really hard to come up with tricky questions and do a lot of reviewing in the process, with lots of whispered discussions regarding vocabulary definitions and grammar points, and how to make them as difficult as possible. The game becomes less teacher-centred too.

  • The teacher breaks down the question squares in to ? (free question), ?G (grammar-related question) and ?V (vocabulary-related question)

This is so that the students don’t get stuck in a question-type rut. It also serves, in this way, to up the challenge level. If your class were still not coming up with enough variety of questions, then you could throw in a few ?T (teacher-generated questions) as well! This would also enable you to draw attention to a particular language point/piece of vocabulary that you wanted to review, without having to prepare all the questions/make the game entirely teacher-centred.

Here is an example of a game in progress: 



This was with my upper intermediate teenagers class. They are a small class (currently) and so only two teams were necessary. Being quite high-level, they were doing well with regards to question variety so I hadn’t inflicted any ?T squares at this point. Here, you can see the different types of question squares, the bonus squares, the arrows of change and the bomb squares.

All in all, Kaboom! is a great review game. It’s easy to tweak the amount of challenge according to the level of your learners, and children, teenagers and adults all get caught up in the excitement. Finally, I may be biased, but I think it’s even better with my tweaks! 😉


An added twist! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

An added twist! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

60 seconds: a simple vocabulary review game

So, at our school, it’s that ‘nearly time for the final test’ kind of time, but as any self-respecting teacher will tell you, review (especially of the spaced variety) is an important part of language learning. So hopefully this activity will be useful to you, at whatever point in your courses you may be! The amount of preparation required for this game ranges from minimal to none…


Encourage active recall of previously studied vocabulary; push learners to think about the co-text of vocabulary not just the basic meaning.


Pre-intermediate upwards. For lower levels, give them more time to come up with examples, and perhaps provide a sample example on the card to get them going. It kind of grades itself by the vocabulary used. Each level will be capable of putting different words into example sentences, each level’s sentences will vary in complexity.


Small pieces of paper, each with a piece of target vocabulary on one side. (You can prepare these yourself [minimal] or get your learners to do it in groups, which case you only need to provide paper! [none] )


  • Put learners into groups of four. Within the four, each learner has a partner and two opponents.
  • Give each group a set of cards (or if your students made the cards, get each group to swap their pack of cards with another group)
  • Each student takes it in turn to pick a card and think of example sentences into which that word could fit. They tell their group as many sentences as they can in sixty seconds, substituting ‘banana’ or similar for the target word.
  • If their partner guesses the word first, they as a pair get a point. If one of the other pair guess the word first, they as a pair get the point.
  • The game continues until you want to stop it or until all cards are finished.
  • If you use a vocabulary box/bag, you could get them to put the words that weren’t guessed into it, for future review. You could also play this game using vocabulary from the box/bag.


Learners, whether providing examples or guessing the target word, have to think about various aspects of the word in question, not only the meaning. I.e. They need to think about the word grammar, about collocates, about register etc. I think this makes it more useful than simply describing/defining the word.


If the focus is something like word pairs (which I have needed to review with my Level 9/Upper Intermediate learners), you could provide only half of the word pair on the pieces of paper, so that the learner who is providing the example sentences has to recall what the full word pair is, as well as how to use it.


60 seconds...starting now! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

60 seconds…starting now!              Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

Teenagers, “have to” and “can’t” for complaining – and a student-generated card game

My teenagers had to (!) learn how to complain in English today. We’d touched on it last lesson via input and a bit of language focus, and today I wanted to give them a bit more opportunity to use it and lodge it a bit more firmly in their brains. Basically it was a communicative drill dressed up as a game. So, to get away from the book activity, which was to use the prompts given to make little dialogues, I made it into a…

Student-generated card game!


My students aren't this old (nor, fortunately, this dour-looking) but they like cards!

My students aren’t this old (nor, fortunately, this dour-looking) but they like cards! (Image from http://www.flickr.com, via google image search licensed for commercial reuse with modification)


Pre-intermediate (but adaptable)




Each student needs a piece of paper from their notebook (or provided by you)


  • Get out a piece of paper and get learners to do the same. Fold and tear it into 4 pieces and get learners to do the same.
  • Ask learners to write a sentence on each paper. 2 sentences should be with “have to” e.g. I have to get up early. 2 sentences should be with “can’t” e.g. “I can’t stay up late”. These pieces of paper become the students’ playing cards. (You could use actual card if you wanted to be posh! My learners were perfectly happy with paper…)
  • Put learners into groups of three or four and tell them to keep their cards hidden!
  • Tell learners that the aim of the game is to get as many cards as possible.
  • Do some quick drilling of suitable intonation for complaining so that learners know what you expect. This should be quite fun! You can also kill two birds with one stone and model the game in the process, getting them to follow your example, get two learners to model in front of the class etc.
  • To get a card: Each learner takes a turn to ask another learner in their group a question using “have to” i.e. Do you have to get up early? or “can’t” – e.g. Can you stay up late? If that learner has a card with, in this case, I have to get up early or I can’t stay up late, then they must relinquish the card to the learner who asked the question. So, essentially, the learners are trying to guess what their fellow group-mates have on their cards. The same question can’t be asked more than once per round.
  • Language control: If a learner speaks L1 during the game, they have to pass one of their cards to the person on their left. They don’t want to do this = suddenly no Italian, just English – very quickly!


  • Learners use the target language communicatively, in a semi-controlled way, repeatedly but in a cognitively engaging way.
  • They get lots of practice with questions and answers, and should start to associate the structures with the activities they have to/can’t do, which makes the language more memorable.
  • They drill themselves. Teacher can monitor and correct where necessary, or encourage improvement in the intonation department.
  • Student-generated, so more memorable than the prompts in the book while achieving the same aims.
  • Requires no preparation!

Ideas for adaptation:

  • Could be used with verb patterns such as I enjoy + verb-ing, fed up with + verb-ing etc (Do you enjoy swimming? Do you enjoy going to the beach? Are you fed up with studying?) topic vocabulary e.g. Things I like doing (Do you like playing netball? Do you like playing tennis?) 
  • Increase the complexity for higher level learners by using more difficult language e.g. If I had a million dollars I would… If I were _____ I would – Would you buy a house if you had a million dollars? Would you be….? and so on.
  • Suitable for adults as well as young learners!