Functions card games (TEFLtastic Classics Part 40)

As usual with this series of posts on the most adaptable activities in TEFL, this game is simplicity itself but surprisingly effective. If you like anything here and want more, please support TEFLtastic.

Updated 2 September 2020


Groups of two or three students deal out cards with each have the name of a function related to the thing they are studying. For example, if the topic is turn taking, then the cards could say “interrupt (politely)”, “end your turn”, “ask the other person to speak”, “active listening (not interrupting)”, etc. During a speaking activity such as a roleplay, students can discard the cards if they do that thing at the right point, with the right language, and with something different to what has been said before. Their partner can make them take the card back if their timing is wrong (e.g. interrupting when the other person has already stopped speaking), say something that doesn’t have the function on the card, or repeat something that has already been said (e.g. using “Can I interrupt?” for the second time, although small changes like “May I interrupt?” are fine). If they both/ all still have cards left at the end of the conversation, they continue with the remaining ones with another conversation. The person who discards all their cards first or has discarded most cards when the teacher stops the game wins.



A variation with less cutting up is to just give them a photocopied un-cut-up worksheet and ask them to use different coloured pens to tick the functions off as they do them, something that works with all the photocopiable versions below. It’s always more fun with actual cards though. And it’s just occurred to me that for even more fun and intensive practice you could get them to give the cards to their partner as they do the things on the cards instead of just discarding them, something that should also make them less shy about challenging their partner’s bad use of the cards.


When and how to use it

This game works best after students brainstorm language for each function, something I usually do Use Recall Analyse style after a different activity. If you have enough time, the best progression of all is to give them key words to help with the brainstorming, do Key Words Games with those words, and then do basically the same thing with just the names of the categories that they brainstormed (i.e. with the functions card game).

This game can be used with anything that can be split into between two and eight functions, with five or six usually the best number. Possibilities include:

Turn taking and/ or active listening

Telephoning (as described in this article)

Checking/ Clarifying (“ask for repetition”, “check spelling”, “check back”, “rephrase”, etc)

Emailing (if they roleplay email exchanges by saying what they would write)

Speaking exams (with cards saying “idiom”, “reason”, “thinking aloud/ filling silence”, etc)

Giving and supporting opinions (“strong opinion”, “personal experience”, “data”, “generalising”, etc)

Restaurant language (“recommend”, “explain”, “polite negative response”, etc)

Shopping language (as described in this article)

Presentation Q&A sessions (coming in a future e-book)

Meetings and negotiations (ditto)

Reviews of all the functions you’ve studied so far


Photocopiable versions

Asking people to wait in presentations functions card game (in this e-book) – NEW

Presentation Q&A functions card game (in this e-book) – NEW

Body of phone calls functions card game (in this e-book)

Starting and ending phone calls functions card game (in this e-book)

First contact functions card game (face to face, email and telephone)

IELTS Speaking Part Three functions card game

Turn taking functions card game

FCE Speaking Part One functions card game

FCE Speaking Part Three functions card game

Checking/ clarifying functions card game

Sharing personal experiences functions card game

Intermediate functional language revision functions card game

Meeting people/ Starting and ending conversations functions card game – in this e-book

Recommendations and invitations functions card game – in this e-book

Small talk functions card game – in this e-book

Socialising functions card games – in this e-book

Other photocopiable worksheets including this game

Speaker or listener simplest responses game (with turn taking and active listening functions)

Guests and hosts in restaurants review (including functions card game)

Functional language in Aptis Speaking Part One games


If that ain’t enough for you, it’s worth checking out my newly polished up collection of TEFLtastic Classic blog posts and photocopiables, all of which are here.

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