Apples to Apples

How d’you like them apples?
Quite a lot actually.


  • vocabulary (general + most idioms)
  • persuading
  • explaining
  • describing


  • Level (CEFR B2-C2)
  • Ages 12 and older


Apples to Apples is one of the classics.  From what I hear, it’s been quite popular in the US as a family game for some time, but it’s only recently popped onto my radar.  It is a fantastically versatile game and is a great way of engaging students to practice lots of different kinds of vocabulary.  From the original adjective version, all the way to idioms.

Opening the box, you are met with a mass of cards, some red, some green.  Each green card contains adjectives as well as a bunch of helpful synonyms.  The red cards feature a whole host of things: common activities, such as “running out of toilet paper”, celebrities like “Justin Beiber” and a bunch of other pop culture references.

In a typical round, one of the players will assume the role of the judge.  They take a green card and chooses an adjective.  The other players then look at the red cards which are in their hand and decide which of those cards goes best with the chosen adjective.  The judge listens to all arguments and then chooses the one which they liked most or the most convincing argument.


Even though Apples to Apples can be a party game, I always keep them in smaller groups – 4 is usually a good number.  In my first classroom outings with this game, I selected specific adjectives from the set that I wanted to practice.  I used this method as a warmer for intensifying adverbs and also as some freer practice for the adjectives themselves with lower levels.  Later, I dispensed with the green set altogether and used it with idioms.  By far the most successful were the body idioms (see link below).  These worked really well and perfectly exemplified everything I like about this game.

What’s so good about it?  When the students were looking at the idioms, they were thinking really carefully about the meaning.  They were checking their ideas with their colleagues and then considering the items in their hand.  To play this game successfully, the students need to truly understand the meaning and usage of the terms.  They were then relating this directly to their own experience. They were explaining why they thought something was “a pain in the neck, why it’s important to “be all ears” at certain times, and what kind of things “catch their eye”.  To do all this they had to understand and personalize the language.  They were also having a lot of fun doing it.


  • Explaining is easy and the play is quick.  20 minutes is about right for a quick game, but it can go on longer and be worthwhile.
  • Like with a bunch of other card games, it’s well worth vetting all the cards thoroughly first.  With Apples to Apples, there are LOTS of pop culture references.  These will confuse students and distract from the main purpose of the task, so it’s best pulling them out.
  • Clearly, some language is going to be easier to use than others.  Personality adjectives would work nicely, as would most sets of idioms.  Phrasal verbs would be trickier though, although not impossible.  You’d need to be quite discriminating in the ones which were chosen.


Every language school should have a copy of Apples to Apples.  It’s so easily adaptable for most lexical sets.  If you were so inclined, you could make your own set to trial it.  The retail version is great because of: a) all the synonyms which are given on the green cards, and b) all the notes which are on the red cards.  Have a whip around in the staff room and order it.  You won’t regret it.


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