TEFL dominoes (TEFLtastic Classics Part 36)

Part One of the most recent of my articles in ETP magazine. Updated with extra worksheets on 20 July 2018.

Readers who saw the number of variations in my article on jigsaw games might be surprised to find that those are just part of the even more varied and useful category of ‘matching games’, along with dominoes, pelmanism and snap, the first of which is dealt with here.


The most similar of those three games to a jigsaw is dominoes, especially the ‘jigsaw dominoes’ variation explained below. Many of my students are only aware of dominoes from YouTube videos showing people standing them up in lines and then knocking them over dramatically, so I occasionally start by demonstrating an actual game of dominoes. There are many variations, but I tend to demonstrate a simplified version that has the same rules as the ELT version that I will then get them to play.


Regular dominoes

Each domino is a rectangle divided into two, with between zero dots and six dots on each half. Each domino in the set has a unique combination of dots, and every possible combination of those numbers is included in a set of dominoes: from a domino with no dots on both halves to a domino with six dots on both halves. Two to four players take seven dominoes each and look at them, without showing them to anyone else. One domino is then placed face up in the middle of the table. The first player tries to match a number on one of their dominoes to one of the halves of the domino on the table, e.g. putting a domino that has five dots on one half next to a matching domino with five dots that is already on the table. If that person can’t go and there are still dominoes which haven’t been dealt out to any of the players, they take one more. Play then passes to the next person. The person who first successfully places all their dominoes down or has the fewest left at the end of the game wins.


ELT dominoes

Very young and low-level learners could benefit from moving from one quick game of regular dominoes to another game using a set of dominoes with written numbers on the left-hand side of each one and dots or figures on the right, so they have to match “six” to “6”, etc. They could also do similar things with pictures, e.g. matching “red” on the right of one domino to a patch of that colour on the left of another domino, or matching the written word “cow” to a picture of a cow. It is very easy to make your own paper dominoes with a two-column table in a Word document, making sure that each end matches at least one other domino and that you leave the two columns together on each domino when you cut them out. There are also many commercial versions of picture dominoes, with animal vocabulary, etc, but they usually have problems, such as words with very tricky spellings that aren’t easy to pronounce.

Picture dominoes are often also more like a jigsaw than an actual set of dominoes, with only one possible match for each half of each domino. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if that is the case, it is often better to get the students to work together to match all the cards to make a big circle (or rectangle) instead of, or before, trying to play an actual game of dominoes. It is easier and more satisfying if the final order makes some kind of sense, e.g. if a set of opinions phrases are alternatively positive and negative or if the finished days of the week are in order when the students have put all the “jigsaw dominoes” together in the right way.

Matching half of a domino to the same or a similar thing on another domino also works for:

  • first letters and matching words (e.g. Z with a picture of a zebra or A with “_pple”)
  • phonemic symbols and words which start with those sounds
  • synonyms (such as character words with the same meaning but positive and negative connotations)
  • formal and informal phrases with the same function (e.g. formal and informal requests)
  • phrases which have the same word missing (e.g. ‘__ a good time’ and ‘__ your hair cut’ because they both need the word “have”)


Especially in higher-level classes, it is perhaps more common and useful to get the students to match up beginnings and endings of words, phrases, sentences, etc. This works well for negative prefixes and the words they go with, collocations such as “play” and “go” with sports, or beginnings and endings of useful telephoning phrases. Other possibilities include:

  • adjectives and dependent prepositions (e.g. “afraid” + “of”)
  • proverbs
  • compound nouns;
  • binomials (e.g. “safe and” + “sound”)
  • names of months (e.g. “Jan” + “uary”)
  • irregular plural endings (e.g. “ox” + “en”)
  • opinions phrases
  • travel phrases (e.g. airport phrases, perhaps with alternate phrases used by staff and travellers)
  • beginnings and endings of words that the students have been studying (e.g. “whiteb” + “oard”)

As well as matching similar things and beginnings and endings, you could also match opposites, e.g. “I support …” and “I oppose …” for opinions phrases or “generous” and “mean” for character words.

Photocopiable dominoes pdfs

Number word recognition dominoes – NEW

Days of the week dominoes – NEW

CPE collocations dominoes (Use of English Part One and Part Two) – NEW

Ordinal number word dominoes

British and American technical English collocations dominoes

Looking at both sides dominoes

Months of the year dominoes

Strong and weak opinions dominoes

Academic Word List collocations dominoes

Medical breakthrough dominoes (passive voice)

Meetings and negotiations collocations dominoes

Formal and informal functional language dominoes

Air travel compound nouns dominoes

More dominoes pdfs coming very soon. In the meantime, there are another 35 infinitely adaptable TEFL activities here.

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