Snake Oil

This time next year, we’ll be millionaires.


  • relative clauses (describing)
  • pronunciation of compound nouns
  • linking ideas
  • clauses of contrast
  • negative inversion for emphasis
  • making a convincing pitch


  • Advanced and up (CEFR C1-C2)
  • Upper secondary and older (ages 15 years plus)


Snake Oil is a party game where the players create a products to pitch to prospective buyers.  The game is a lot of fun and it is extremely rich linguistically.

Source: (Max Winter Osterhaus)
Source: (Max Winter Osterhaus)

The game comprises of two decks of cards: clients and word cards.  The client cards are humorously illustrated and that really helps EFL / ESL learners work out their meaning.  There are a lot of word cards, with each one featuring a noun.  Each round, one player takes the role of the client and draws a card.  The other players then draw a number of word cards.  The object of the game is to combine two of the word cards to create a compound noun which makes the perfect product for the client.

The box comes with a number of great variants, but based on how it’s worked for me, I’d suggest the following:

Preparation: This game works best as a follow up to relative clauses, but if it’s also worthwhile looking at the word stress of compound nouns as well.  Make sure to vet the cards first and remove or pre-teach some of the more challenging items.  Issue all the players with one of the useful language handouts at the bottom of this page.

  1. Put the class in groups of 4.  With weaker classes, it can be worth putting them in pairs so each player has a ‘buddy’, but this usually results in one student being more dominant.
  2. Give each group a number of client cards (10-20) and choose one of the sides (green or blue) depending on how proficient the class is.  Also give them 30-40 word cards and deal each player
  3. 1 player draws a client card and the others draw 8 word cards.
  4. All the seller players get 60-90 seconds to create a product by choosing and combining two of the cards.  They can then prepare their pitch using the useful language, taking notes if needed.  The client player can make some notes about the kinds of needs they think the named client would have.
  5. The three seller players take it in turns to make their pitch.  Each turn should take no longer than one minute.  The client is entitled to cut them off if they think the pitch is going on too long, although they don’t have to if they are interested in the product.
  6. Once all pitches have been heard, the client chooses the product that they think is best who is the winner for that round.
  7. Repeat stages 4-6 with the seller players drawing an extra 2 cards to replace the two they used .


  • This game will present significant challenges for students who lack a little creativity.  If you have a number of students like this in a group, it may be worth buddying these players with another students.
  • The mechanisms of this game are similar to those in Apples to Apples and FunEmployed.  If you’ve played one of these, then the students will find the others easy to pick up.


I used to do different variations of Dragon’s Den for practicing relative clauses, but Snake Oil is now my preferred option by a mile.  It’s a lot of fun and it really forces students to use the target language.  It’s just such a shame that it’s so hard to find these days.  It looks like it’s about to be re-released by Hasbro, so fingers crossed! If you find a copy, definitely pick it up.  It’s gold.


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