Matching Games Part Two – Pelmanism

Updated 11 February 2019

I’ve written a lot about pelmanism/ pairs/ the memory game before. However in the second half of the latest of my ETP articles that started with dominoes, I managed to come up with even more uses and variations and my new favourite, personalised pelmanism. Links to photocopiable versions and other articles/ blog posts on the different kinds of pelmanism below. But first a brief explanation of the original card game that the EFL version was taken from:

Pelmanism/ pairs/ memory game with normal playing cards

In the original version of pelmanism, a pack of normal playing cards is spread face down across the table. Between two and four players take turns trying to find two cards with the same number (e.g. the seven of diamonds and the seven of hearts), putting the two cards back face down in the same places if they don’t match. Play passes to the next person either after each try or whenever the last person turns over two cards which don’t match, with the latter variation being more exciting but sometimes leading to one player dominating the game.

ELT pelmanism

There are other ways of doing it, but I generally make TEFL pelmanism cards which are in groups which are similar in some way, in the same way as the seven of diamonds is similar to the seven of clubs. For example, if you want to practise prepositions, then you can make a pack of cards with missing prepositions like “___ Monday” and “___ New Year’s Day”, and then ask the students to find pairs which have the same word missing, as in these worksheets:

In/ on/ at/ no preposition snap

Word plus preposition snap

Adjective plus preposition pelmanism

Past prepositions of time snap

Dependent prepositions snap

It’s generally best if there are the same number of each kind of card and an even number of each group, e.g. eight with “at” missing, eight with “on” missing and eight with “in” missing. However, having fewer of some kinds of cards and/or “orphan” cards left at the end of the game because there was an odd number in the pack is fine and can be a good way to make the game more challenging. You can play with as few as two categories (e.g. just different words meaning “go up” like “rocket” and words meaning “go down” like “crash”) or as many as ten categories (e.g. expressions with ten different missing dependent prepositions). However, you need to make sure that there are several possible matches for each card (as is true with the non-TEFL version). I find that it works best with between three and five groups of words, e.g. words which go with the negative prefixes “un-“, “in-“, “im-“ and “ir-“, with eight to 12 cards of each kind.

This kind of pelmanism works with the matches being:

The other possibility is to make cards that actually have to match each other in some way, e.g. prepositions cards and cards with prepositions missing. This can work, especially if you make the two different kinds of cards different colours and/ or sizes so they don’t take two prepositions, etc. However, matching cards that are the same in some way is easier to set up and probably more closely matches how we store such things in our brains.


Personalised pelmanism

It is also possible to play a personalised version of pelmanism. If you have a pack of cards with topics like “food” or vocabulary like “unicycle” on them, the students can ask each other yes/no questions about the two cards that they turn over and can keep the cards if they get the same answer to both questions. For example, if one student gets the “salt” and “paper” cards, asks “Is there any salt in your bedroom?” and “Is there any paper in your garden (now)?” and get “No” answers to both, they can keep both cards. Personalised pelmanism works for:

  • have (got)
  • like
  • want
  • there is/are
  • countable and uncountable nouns
  • present continuous (e.g. “Is your father wearing a tie?”, with two “I don’t know” answers also counting as a match)

Other ways of making pelmanism personalised is to ask the students to combine both cards in one true statement or to combine both cards in one question that their partner answers “Yes” to. For example, they could try to make true conditional sentences like “If we hadn’t invented cars, trains would be more popular” with the “cars” and “trains” cards, or they could try to get “Yes” answers to questions like “If you had wings, would you save people jumping off bridges?” if they took the “wings” and “bridge” cards.

Photocopiable examples of personalised pelmanism include:

Yes/ No questions with can personalised pelmanism

Phonics personalised yes/ no questions random pelmanism

Third conditional vocabulary revision random pelmanism game

Do you like animals personalised random pelmanism card game

Do you like categories personalised pelmanism


Random pelmanism

As shown in the names of some of the activities above, the personalised games above are variations on “random pelmanism”, in which the teacher hasn’t decided the correct matches when setting up the game, and therefore any matches that the students can think of and which make sense are allowed. If you have a set of random words that need revising, this also works without any personalisation by asking the students to make comparisons such as finding similarities between the two cards that they turn over. For example, if they turn over the words “ladder” and “fuse”, they could say “A ladder is more dangerous than a fuse” or “They are both made of metal” to practise comparing/contrasting, or “They are both safe” for simpler practice of adjectives. To expand the range of language used, it’s best to tell the students that they must make sentences that are at least slightly different each time.

Random pelmanism works with almost any vocabulary, but I have used it most often with animals, classroom objects, places, body parts and academic vocabulary. For additional language practice, you can also put some additional information about the vocabulary on the cards (e.g. both the British and American forms, or the plurals of countable nouns). You can then test the students on their memory of that aspect of the vocabulary after the game.

Another blog post, a video and lots of example worksheets of random pelmanism here:

Random pelmanism blog post

Random pelmanism video

Phrasal verbs random pelmanism

Inventions random pelmanism (the one in the video)

Phonics personalised yes/ no questions random pelmanism

Abilities of animals can/ can’t games (including random pelmanism) – NEW

Comparing animals random pelmanism

Environmental collocations first conditional pelmanism

Do you like animals personalised random pelmanism card game

Comparing places random pelmanism (comparatives with places names and adjectives, including nationalities)

Academic vocabulary random pelmanism

Third conditional vocabulary revision random pelmanism game

Classroom language random pelmanism


Reverse pelmanism

The problem with random pelmanism can occasionally be that almost all the cards match easily, therefore taking away the challenge. To avoid that problem, you can make the game into “reverse pelmanism”, where the challenge is to find cards that their partner can’t match in any way. Example here:

Feelings and want reverse pelmanism


3D pelmanism

Another popular variation for younger students is “3D pelmanism”, in which they choose things such as plastic fruit from just feeling in a bag and then get points if they can say “They are red”, “They are big (in real life)”, etc. Blog post on the topic here:

3D pelmanism


Other variations

With students who find reading difficult and sets which are very tricky to match, you can also play pelmanism with the cards face up.


Before and after pelmanism

Before or after playing pelmanism, I often get my students to put the matching cards in columns, sometimes as a race. Snap can also often be played with the same cards, and is a faster paced game that makes students think of the language more quickly.


Other articles and blog posts on using pelmanism in EFL classes:

Pelmanism and Snap in EFL classes blog post (with links to all the worksheets arranged by language point)

23 uses for pelmanism and snap

32 variations on pelmanism

This entry was posted in pelmanism, TEFL games and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a comment (link optional and email never shared)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.