How to play the Heads Up Vocabulary game

Lisa Van Gemert, Centers,Games

Do you not love it when you find games that you enjoy in real life and work well in the classroom? This is one such game!

There are many ways that you can use Heads Up vocabulary in your class. Let's get started!

? What is the Heads Up Vocabulary Games?

Heads Up, the Forehead Game and Word Up are all variations of the same game. They use questions, charades or clues to help players guess the word displayed on their foreheads before the time runs out.

You may have seen Ellen DeGeneres playing Heads Up! With guests. App is a variation of the game in which the player who chooses the word holds up a phone and other players provide clues to help them guess the word.

You may have played or seen the app version of Headbandz if you don't have the app.

Another common variant of the game involves the player who draws the word asking questions of other players.

We tweak it slightly for a vocabulary activity.

Instead of randomly choosing words, students are asked questions by their peers about target vocabulary words.

This game can be adapted to many grade levels and content areas.

? How to Play Heads up

There are many ways to play, and lots of variations. Let's learn more!

Let's start by looking at the basics of how to play, so we can get a feel for it.

You can play the game in groups or with your whole class. We'll show you how to do each version.

This version is the one in which the person who draws the card asks questions. Keep checking for instructions for the version in which the other players provide clues.

How to play the basic version: In groups

Divide students into groups of 3 to 5 people.

Each group should be given a stack of cards.

The youngest student draws the card first.

The player hands the card to the others without looking at it.

You place the card on your forehead by sticking it in a headband. (See below for other options to display the card).

The person who drew a card asks the others if they have any questions. It is forbidden to make gestures or use noises.

The team earns a point if the player correctly guesses the word within the time limit.

Continue this process until the end.

The team tally their cards at the end of each game.

For ideas on how to end the game, see "Variations" below.

How to play the basic version of Whole Class

Students each have a word to say in order to play as a class (see "Cards") below for more ideas.

They don't know what the word means. They ask each other questions in the classroom to find out the meaning of their words.

They guess the word and then turn it around or take it out. However, they still give clues to other students.

The game continues until all students have correctly guessed their words.

The teacher can offer guidance or let the student pass if they feel stuck.

? How to Choose Words

First, make sure you choose words students are familiar with.

This strategy is not great for adding vocabulary but it can be used to review or reinforce existing vocabulary.

It's a great place for you to start if your standards have vocabulary.

I would recommend that you divide these words into sections depending on the time when students will be learning them.

You'll have trouble if you try to teach them words that they don't know yet.

It is okay to use words students have difficulty with. These words are actually the most important to review.

This activity is ideal for reviewing large quantities of words. You may also want to use it at end of grading periods to review all words students need to know.

It is also great for reviewing words that they have previously learned but may not be using, but should.

It can be used at the beginning or end of the year to test students' knowledge. For more information, see "Preassessment" below.

For more information on how to choose vocabulary words to teach, I have written an entire articleOpens in new tab. You can read more about it.

? Prep Work

Although this game requires some preparation, it isn't difficult to play the first time. However, once you have done that initial prep, it will be extremely fast every time.

It's worth the time.

Materials required:


I use 60 second sand timers. This seems to be the best time to play a round. These timers are great for many other things.

There are other lengths of time you can get, but this is what I get (affiliate link).

A digital timer can also be used. A timer is needed for each group.

I have tried calling "Go!" for each round with just one timer, but it doesn't work because students aren’t available at the same moment. It just adds stress and chaos.

These are two essential skills that every teacher should have!


You will need cards with the words printed on them. These can be made in a variety of ways.

Index cards

How to Play Heads up