Games for Building Vocabulary and Memory Skills

By Silvia Martinez

Elementary School

When I was a child in Mexico, we used to play a game called “Te vendo una gallina,” or “I’m selling you a hen.” It’s a great game for building vocabulary and flexing the memory. It lends itself well to variations, including a bilingual variation my kids use, and it’s perfect for long trips in the car. I suppose you could play it alone, but it’s definitely more fun with at least two players. Here’s how it goes:


Player 1: I’m selling you a hen.

Player 2: A what?

Player 1: A hen.


Player 2: I’m selling you a hen and an apple.

Player 1: A what?

Player 2: A hen and an apple.


Player 1: I’m selling you a hen, an apple and a house.

Player 2: A what?

Player 1: A hen, an apple and a house.


And so on.


  • Players choose their own words for the list (with the exception of the first word, which by convention has always been “hen”).
  • The order of items listed, as each player adds a word, must remain the same.
  • Play continues until someone messes up the order or can’t recall an item on the list.


The list can become very long, and you will be amazed at how well your kids will begin to remember long, ordered lists.


Now, here’s a fantastic bilingual variation my kids made up. This one works better if there are three players so that players get a different language on each of their turns, but it still works with two players.

You don’t need to be bilingual to play, you just need a Spanish-English (French-English, etc.) dictionary or an app like Google Translate on your cellphone. But it does help if someone playing or observing has some basic skills in the language to help with pronunciation. It is fair to look up words you don’t know in the dictionary. So here is the variation:


Player 1: Te vendo una gallina. (Spanish for hen)

Player 2: Una que?

Player 1: Una gallina.


Player 2: I’m selling you a hen and an apple.

Player 3: A what?

Player 2: A hen and an apple.


Player 3: Te vendo una gallina y una manzana.

Player 1: Una que?

Player 3: Una gallina y una manzana.


Player 1: I’m selling you a hen, an apple, and a house.

Player 2: A what?

Player 1: A hen, an apple, and a house.


And so on.


Here are two more variations, but the possibilities are endless. Just last weekend my boys created a version using just the Spanish words for different birds (gallina, cuervo, colibrí). Another variation requires items to be added to the list in alphabetical order, after hen, of course (e.g., hen, apple, ball, cat, etc.).


I Went to Scotland Game

The next game is great for vocabulary, memory and analytical skills. Here’s how it goes. One person is the moderator. The moderator thinks of a pattern and keeps it to herself. It can be any sort of pattern and, as players become more experienced, the patterns can become very complex. For illustration, let’s begin with a very easy, recognizable pattern — the alphabet.


  • The moderator starts by saying, “I went to Scotland and I brought back some apples.”
  • The next player makes a guess by saying, for example, “I went to Scotland and brought back some oranges.” (This player thinks the pattern might be fruit.)
  • The moderator responds, “No.” Play continues to the next player.
  • If a player gives a word that fits the secret pattern, for instance, “boat” in this case, the moderator says, “Yes.”
  • The player who has guessed correctly has two choices: either to declare the secret pattern or continue play.
  • If he declares correctly, he wins. If not, he’s out.


After all players have guessed a word to try to fit the pattern, the moderator gives the next word, and play continues. In this example, she has given apples already and another player has guessed “boat” correctly, so her next word would be something like “cat.” Any player can try to declare the pattern on his turn. But if he is wrong, he is out! The winner is either the player who declares the pattern correctly first or the moderator for stumping everyone.


Here are more games you might find fun.

  • First is a list of the top 10 road trip games. One of these looks like the “I Went to Scotland” game but is much simpler.


Have fun! What are some games for building vocabulary and memory skills that you like to  play with your kids?