30 Seconds: A Circumlocution Speaking Game

Posted by Kara Parker on February 18, 2012 in Games, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary Building

The number one reason students choose to take a world language is because they want to SPEAK it. How much of your class time is spent on students speaking in Spanish? How do you keep them accountable for speaking it? There are so many reasons we may not do this as often as we should (large classes, it’s exhausting, they don’t care, takes too much time to prep, etc.). Also circumlocution is an important language survival skill. But how do you teach them to do that? Here is one game that will solve these problems and get them talking!


It is a mixture of Catch Phrase / Taboo / $25,000 Pyramid / Password. I call it “30 segundos.”

CARDS: Sets with familiar vocabulary words. I like to have at least 20. One day I’d like to have this prepared for each unit we do. Then it makes a nice review game too.
TIMERS: I ask students if they have one on their phones or you can get sand timers.
GROUPS: I prefer groups of 6, which makes 2 teams (3 against 3).
BUZZER: From my other games or ask students if they have an app on their phone.


Prepare them with some valuable words like “person / place / thing / action / description / event”.

1. One person will draw a card. They have to describe that word in target language, no English, without saying the word or using hand gestures. Example: If the card says “taco,” they may say “it is a food, it has lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, Mexican restaurants, etc.” For level 1, they usually don’t speak in sentences. I let them use proper nouns. It’s neat to hear an upper level do this because they are so specific. I do not let them use proper nouns.
2. The other team gets to see the word too. If the person describing breaks any rule, they buzz them on it and they get the point.
3. The team of the describer tries to guess the word in the target language in thirty seconds or less. If they get it, they win a point. If not, their turn is over.
4. After their turn, the next team goes.
5. They should rotate who describes each turn.
6. The team who gets the most points wins!

You can do this more like the $25,000 Pyramid which requires less prep, but more work on you during class. Have them sit facing each other where one can see the board and one can’t. You write the word on the board and you watch the timer. The entire class does this at the same time. However… They can hear each other and they don’t have another team “watching” them. This works well for a little class or if you need to fill some extra time and you don’t have anything prepped.

Let me know how this goes for you! Anyone have a better name for it?


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19 comments for “30 Seconds: A Circumlocution Speaking Game”

  1. teachermrw says:

    What is the second screenshot in reference to? Jusf curious.

  2. Kara says:

    It’s a free buzzer app on the Apple app store. It has lots of funky sounds. You don’t have to have a buzzer, but it makes it more fun for the group that “watching” the describer.

    1. Robyn says:

      I snagged the buzzer from the game of Taboo that I had at home!

  3. Megan says:

    Love this… great new way to play with the language each unit!! I’ll try it next week!

  4. jarvis1000 says:

    This is a great way to practice…I think I will do this myself !

  5. Pingback: Will you get to the point?!? |
  6. Stasi says:

    What is the last picture of? Buzzer app too? Thanks.

    1. Kara says:

      It is a document I made that I had on the screen while they were playing. They didn’t know those words before playing.

  7. Emily says:

    I have to make a vocab game for a “Literacy in the Content Area” course at my University. Having to do lessons revolving around Spanish for my ENGLISH education courses is a challenge,so I have created a version of this game, as well. I agree that circumlocution is a vital tool in language learning, and I can adapt it well for this assignment and actually use it in my future classrooms. I actually made cards out of stock card, with little rats on one side. This is for the saying, ” ?te comieron la lengua los ratones?” and plan to call it Ratones. I thought that would just be a fun fact to enhance the game.

  8. spanishplans says:

    Love it! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Keith says:

    My students love this game!

    For upper levels, I’ve made it more like Taboo where I have the cards list words they cannot say in their description. For instance, if the word is “pencil”, they cannot say “pen, yellow, write, school”. It took a lot of work to prep the initial set, but after playing a few times, they all wanted to create cards. Yay less work for me!

    1. Megan Smith says:

      Great! Love it when your intermediate students can show they can handle the circumlocution! Kudos for getting your kids that far!

  10. Lindsey Marie Nielson says:

    I am totally going to use this idea!! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Cindy W. says:

    I love this idea, and really want to try it with my classes this year but I am not sure how to start it out at the lower levels. I teach Spanish 1 and 2, and starting out at the beginning I am not sure how they can describe well in the target language (maybe I am thinking about this wrong)-in chapter 1 we learn verbs about activities, but I can’t imagine how they could describe ‘to swim’ for example. Even early on in Spanish 2 when they essentially could do this, around Christmas when we are on the clothing unit, I’m not sure if they would have enough vocabulary to use words to describe ‘shirt’ or ‘socks.’ We follow certain vocabulary units, so in some ways there are things they miss (physical descriptions for one, which I think is a shame). Does anyone have ideas, or ways they have done this in their classes?

  12. Kara Parker says:

    Sounds like this can work for you! You will find that this may help them expand their vocab and you will be able to help them fill in the words they need and cover those “missed” vocab words. You will probably need to give them the category sheet.
    Here’s what I would expect a student to do with your examples…
    swim – activity, water, pool, with friends, hot weather
    shirt – lots of colors, clothing, covers stomach/back, casual
    socks – clothing, small, two, feet, warm
    Also you choose the words, so try to mix it up so not every word is similar and from the same category. When I teach a unit, I try to let them expand beyond a word list. So instead of just verbs/activities, I push for “I can describe my favorite activity” or “I can explain what teens in Mexico do on the weekends.” I find changing the “can do” statements create richer language. You can still give them the vocab that you are suppose to teach, and make communication the focus.

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