Author: British Council | Published on 1 May 2023


Read what a teacher says about this activity:

Noughts and crosses is a fun game that you can use to review or practise vocabulary. It’s a good activity to use at the end of a topic or unit to check your learners understand the meanings of words. You can use it with any subject, not only English.

Stage 1: Prepare

Make a list of 9 words on a recent topic, e.g. food.

Stage 2: Introduce

Say: ‘Let’s play a game.” Draw a grid of nine squares on the board. Ask: ‘How many spaces are there?’ 

Draw a nought (O) and a cross (X) on the board. Say: ‘There are 2 players. 1 is ‘noughts’, the other is ‘crosses’. To win you need 3 in a line.’ Show learners how they can win with 3 in a line.

Demonstrate by playing against the class. Say: ‘Let’s play noughts and crosses. I’m noughts and you’re crosses. I’ll go first’. (Put a ‘O’ in the centre square.) 

Say: “Your turn. Where will you put your cross (X)?” Invite a learner to draw a cross. (Other learners will shout where to put it.) Play the game until there is a winner. Clap the winner.    

Stage 3: Practice

Say: ‘Now, let’s play with words.’ Write one word in each space in the grid on the board, e.g. banana, sugar, chicken, etc. Divide the class into two teams, noughts and crosses.

Say: ‘Choose a word and explain what it means. Noughts, choose a word’.

If ‘noughts’ can explain, draw a ‘O’ in the square. E.g. ‘banana’ (= a yellow fruit you must peel it first)

If they can’t, say: ‘Sorry. Crosses, it’s your turn. Choose a word.’

Continue until there is a winner or a draw. Clap the winners.

Stage 4: Play

Put learners in groups of four. Say: ‘Draw a grid with nine spaces.’ 

Say: ‘Look at your books and recent topics. Choose nine words and write them in your grid’. Monitor and support.

Say: ‘Two of you are noughts, two are crosses. Choose who is noughts and who is crosses.’

Say: ‘Now play’. Check all groups are playing correctly. Circulate, monitor and support. 


1. Learners use the words to make a sentence, give an opposite word, or give a synonym. (These variations are more challenging and more difficult to manage in large classes. You will need to monitor and referee more.)

2. Other subjects:


Maths: Use numbers, not words. Write sums in each square, e.g. 9 x 7, 40/5, etc. Learners give the answers. 

Science: Use categories, not words, e.g. mammals, fish, reptiles, etc. Learners give examples to win the square.

Stage 5: Extend and share

Stop learners after ten minutes.

Ask who won. Clap the winners. 

Ask if they enjoyed playing Noughts and crosses.

Ask different groups to tell the class their best or funniest definition.  

Learners can also work in pairs or groups to make word grids for their classmates to play with: at the end of a unit or before a test, give different pairs or groups a different topic and ask them to make a word grid to test their classmates.   


Circulate: Move around the classroom to check what learners are doing, and if they need any help. 

Definition: a statement of the meaning of a word or word group or a sign or symbol

Grid: a pattern of straight lines that cross over each other to form squares

Monitor: The way a teacher watches to see how well an individual, group or class is doing a particular task.

Turn: the time when someone can or must do something

Unit: A smaller part of something big (e.g. a section of a book).