When my husband got on a board game kick a couple of years ago, one of my favorites was Code Names. It’s a game with simple rules that takes more mental energy than physical and is played on teams. A 5×5 grid of words is the only set-up. Teams are chosen and for each team there is one person who gives clues and 1+ people who guess the answers. The clue-givers are given a card that shows only them which words on the grid their team needs to guess, with each team needing to guess 8-9 words. One word on the grid is the “assassin” which automatically ends the game when chosen. Several words are “innocent bystanders” who harm neither team, but waste a guess.

Clues are given as single words and a clue can link multiple words on the grid. For example, if you your team to guess the words “eagle” and “dog” you can give the clue “animal.” But be careful! If “horse” is also on the board, your teammates run the risk of giving the other team a point, wasting a guess on an innocent bystander, or choosing the dreaded assassin.

For older students who are working on building their vocabulary, this game offers endless opportunities to do so!

1 | Building Vocabulary

There is a variety of vocabulary words that can be presented on the grid. Cards are typically laid out at random, but could be specifically chosen for your students based on their needs. At the bottom of this post, I’ve provided a sampling of words from about a quarter of the deck. You can see that words span common nouns, verbs, words with multiple meanings, and even some domain-specific vocabulary, including math, science, history, geography, and mythology! Prior to playing the game, students could be allowed to replace words that are unfamiliar, requiring that they identify unknown words. Or, knowledge could be assessed first by asking students to use words in a sentence. Pre-teaching the vocabulary that is likely less familiar is another way vocabulary could be explicitly taught prior to game play.

2 | Multiple Meanings

As mentioned above, many words on the grid could have multiple meanings. In the list below, I’ve put an asterisk beside words that have multiple meanings. Because clue-giving must be specific for the guessing of your own words while avoiding bystanders, the other team, and the assassin, being able to recognize the many possible meanings of vocabulary, including connotations, denotations, and subtle nuances, is vital to success.

3 | Associations

Code Names is, at its heart, a word association game. Your team has a better chance of winning if the guessers can pick multiple words based on a single word clue. This means the clue givers need to choose clues that link multiple words. In the example above, knowing that multiple words are associated with the category “animal” enables multiple words to be guessed at one time. Students can also think about functions, synonyms, antonyms, descriptors, parts, etc… when choosing cards. And, of course, the guessers need to be able to identify word relationships in order to choose the correct words while rejecting incorrect words.

4 | Collaboration

Beyond vocabulary, Code Names is a team game, requiring students to work together. For the clue-giver, using appropriate body language ensures that there is no cheating. For the guessers, active listening is vital. As a bonus, almost every time I’ve played this game, the two clue-givers have had a tendency to work together, asking each other for advice on how to link words, seeking clarification, or looking for affirmation that their words work together.

5 | Memory

Because clues can roll over from round to round, remembering which clues have been completed provide opportunities for retention of information. Clue-givers are not allowed state when a certain clue has been completed, forcing the guessers to keep track of the different clues, the number of words linked to that clue, and the answers they have already tried for each clue.

Code Names offers high school students a fun, collaborative, interactive way to work towards building their vocabulary, executive functioning, and social skills! At the end of the year in particular, activities such as this one are more likely to encourage participation and engagement. For less than $20.00, it’s an activity you can enjoy both at work and at school. I think it’s worth it!

P.S. | If you’d like to see a bit more of the game in action, check out a review here!

Sample of Vocabulary from Code Names (approximately 1/4 of the card deck)

People

Queen

Princess

Spy*

Vet*

Nurse*

Doctor

Soldier

Witch

Smuggler

Pupil*

Scuba Diver

Undertaker

Robin*

Bond*

Cook*

Animals

Kangaroo

Bat*

Robin*

Octopus

Cricket*

Bug*

Lion

Crane*

Eagle

Fly*

Dinosaur

Fish*

Places

Vet*

Germany

Casino

Amazon*

London

Antarctica

Hollywood

Foods

Kiwi

Carrot

Lemon

Olive

Oil*

Honey

Orange*

Apple

Body Parts

Pupil*

Spine

Eye

Arm

Tooth

Science-Related

Cell*

Force*

Microscope

Space*

Scale*

Star*

Home-Related

Scale*

Vacuum

Knife

Iron*

Math-Related

Line

Yard

Months

March*

Money-Related

Bill*

Car/Mechanics-Related

Oil*

Limousine

Engine

Crane*

Outdoors

Log*

Yard*

Rose*

Bark*

Snow

Star*

Clothing

Button*

Sock

Cap

Watch*

Pants

Boot*

Buildings/Rooms/Structures

Cell*

Pyramid

Skyscraper

Tower

Historical/Geographical

Aztec

Verbs

Watch*

Button*

Bark*

Rose*

Log*

Bill*

March*

Force*

Fly*

Dance*

Shot*

Date*

Box*

Cook*

Pitch*

Poison*

Ship*

Drop

Tower*

Star*

Fish*

Stock*

Iron*

Descriptors

Orange

Round

Sounds

Boom

Crash

Mythology/Fiction

Phoenix

Misc. Nouns

Well

Poison*

Pool*

Cotton

Death

Ship*

Match

Ghost

String

Plastic

Pitch*

Bottle

Band

Roulette

Box*

Date*

Angel

Straw

Cast

Shot*

Dance*

Figure

Paper

Bat*

Cricket*

Web

Amazon*

Log*

Ivory

Line*

Bond*

Bill*

Screen*

Pipe

Space*

Stock*

Dice*