Heads Up! A Fun Vocabulary App for English Learners

During a family vacation last week, we had one stormy afternoon that kept us indoors in a hotel room for a few hours. We drew pictures of the animals we had seen in the Everglades, read The Secret World of Og (a Canadian classic), and played a variety of card games. Though we spent most of the holiday unplugged, my husband couldn’t resist searching for a family game to play on his mobile phone. He came across Heads Up!, the game Ellen Degeneres plays with her guests. He downloaded the app, and before the first round was over, I knew this game would be a hit with English learners.

If you’ve ever played Hot Seat or Charades with your students, they’ll figure out Heads Up! in no time. The app is available in the Google Play and iTunes stores.

Teach the Expression “Heads Up”

Before your play the game, take the opportunity to teach your students the idiom “heads up.”

“give a heads up”: to warn or provide information

Just to give you a heads up, I’ll be out of town next Monday.

You could also tell your students that “heads up” is used to warn someone that a ball or other object is coming towards them.

“Heads up!”: Watch out! (Cover your head.)

How To Play

You can play this game with one device or many. It can be a fun side activity for a few kids to play, or you can play with one person sitting in a chair and the rest of the class sitting on the floor. You may need to experiment with how high the chair needs to be so that the video recording properly captures your little people.

1. The person holding the device picks a category. For kids, try Animals Gone Wild, Perfect Pairs (two-word phrase where both letters begin with the same letter), or Just for Kids.

2. The person who is guessing will hold the phone or tablet up against his forehead. After a short countdown, a word, name, or phrase will appear on the screen for his partner or teammates to use.

3. The people who can see the word must get the person holding the device to guess the word or phrase. Players can use clues or actions, but can’t use a word from the screen. (Act it Out is a category where you can’t speak, but only act out the word.)

4. Each time a player guesses correctly, he tips the device forward and a new card appears. How many words can you or your students guess correctly in the time allowed?

5. Watch the video of each session for a good laugh. You can also send the best videos to Facebook or a friend or family member.

Teaching Idea

When your students don’t know a word, they can Pass. The person holding the device tips it back (instead of forward) and a new word appears. Take note of some of the words your students Pass on and review these words, animal sounds, or phrases after the game is over. You can also unlock a “Build Your Own Deck” that allows you to write and design your own cards.

More about the App

  • Heads Up! is available for Android, iPhone, or iPad.
  • This app is currently free in the Google Play store. The app is $0.99 in the iTunes store.
  • Not all of the categories are suitable for children. (My kids didn’t recognize a lot of the celebrity names.)
  • There are In-App purchases to unlock additional categories. You may want to unlock a new category on a classroom device as a reward for good behavior or hard work. If you’re using your own device, make sure you have in-app purchases turned off so that your students don’t buy a bunch of decks that you don’t want.

If you send out a monthly newsletter or email to parents, you may want to recommend this app to families. They will love you for it. This game kept us amused until the wind and rain stopped and the sun came back out! We even got some exercise. I hope you love it as much as we do!


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Tara Benwell

Tara Benwell is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry. She is the media director and head writer for ESL-Library, and a contributor to its sister site Sprout English. Tara is the author of an iPad storybook series for kids called Happy Campers Books. Her debut novel, The Proper Order of Things is available on Amazon and in the iBookstore.

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