Inside Job

What all vocabulary games need: a good dose of subterfuge

Most teachers would agree that regular review is a super important part of learning vocabulary.  Either as a warmer or an end-of-lesson filler, these games are useful tools to have in your TEFL arsenal.  This one is also a lot of fun, has just the right amount of competition, and is nicely interactive.


  • vocabulary review
  • present speculation
  • critical thinking


  • Level (CEFR B1-C2)
  • Ages 12 yrs. and older


Essentially, this is a variant on the classic twenty questions, made a little more interesting through the addition of a secret role – a player  who actually knows the answer.  A colleague told me about this game years ago after spending some time teaching in Asia.  I’ve played it a bunch of times with my classes since and it’s always gone really well.  It’s recently come to my mind again as it’s recently been given a retail release as a lovely package called Insider.  The retail version features lots of nice components like beautiful role tiles and lists of words.  A low-fi, DIY version is easy enough to cobble together though and well-worth that little bit of effort in order to jazz up some vocabulary review.

You will need (per group of 6-8 players):

  • a dry-wipe tablet or laminated piece of white card. (paper and pen will do though)
  • a dry-wipe marker
  • some vocabulary to review (single words)
  • a phone for a timer
  • 20-30 minutes of class time
  1. Put the students into groups of 4-8 students
  2. Explain that the goal of the game is to guess a word that the Mastermind has chosen, but there is a  time limit (you can vary this from 3 to 5 minutes).  One player, however, will secretly know the word, but must guide the group to guessing the right answer without it being discovered that they knew the answer all along.
  3. Issue the tablets, pens and role cards.
  4. Deal each player a role card.  All players look at this, but they must keep their role secret.
  5.  The Mastermind instructs all players to close their eyes.
  6. The Mastermind player writes down a word on the tablet, leaves it face up and closes their eyes.  They then instruct the spy to open their eyes and look at the word.
  7. Keeping their eyes closed, they tell the spy to close their eyes and then turn the tablet face-down so that none of the players can see the word.
  8. The Mastermind starts the timer.
  9. Asking only yes/no questions, all the other players (including the spy) must try and work out what the word is.  The Mastermind can only say “yes”, “no” or “I don’t know”.
  10. If when the time runs out, the players have not guessed the word, then the Mastermind wins.  If they do guess the word, however, then the other players (those who were guessing) have to discuss as a group who they think the spy is.  The spy of course will try to deflect suspicion away from her/himself where they can. They have as long as it took them to guess the word (i.e.  it took them 2mins 23secs to guess the word) to then speculate about who the spy could be, based upon who said what and asked which questions.
  11. The team can make one accusation, (a majority decision) if they are correct then the spy loses and the other players win.  If the spy successfully hides their identity, however, then the spy wins and all the other players lose.
  12. Repeat points 4-11 for as many vocabulary points as desired.


Inside Job is really simple way to liven up some EFL vocabulary review and get a little more engagement from all students, even if they don’t know the word.  Quick and simple to explain, a valuable little twist on vocabulary review activities.  Why not give it a go!


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