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Grab Bag Potluck

This activity is an oldie – but goodie! It can be used in all levels. Rework the activity to meet your students’ needs.

Low-level: keep the instructions and vocabulary very basic and provide more assistance and flexibility.

High-level: include more complex items and ask them to use as many complete sentences as possible.

Purpose : vocabulary acquisition (nouns)


  • small paper bags
  • 1 item to place in each bag
  • 3X5 cards

Preparation: On each 3×5 card, write the name of an item and list one-word hints to describe the item. Place one item and its 3×5 card in each bag.

Activity: Student selects a bag and peeks inside. The student provides hints about the item, speaking slowly & one word at a time. The 3×5 card may be used if extra help is needed. The student repeats the hints until someone guesses what’s in the bag. The student who guesses correctly then gets to select a bag and the process is repeated.

Item ideas: Look to your ESL textbook for items that match vocabulary introduced in the lesson. For example, if you’re working on, or have finished, a unit on:

  • Kitchen: measuring cup, measuring spoons, eating utensils, can of soup, spice, small pot, ladle, whisk, tongs, spatula, hand-held can opener, pot holder, grater.
  • Clothing/Accessories: socks, child’s shoe, wallet, belt, purse, watch, tie, small box of detergent, button, zipper
  • First Aid/Health Care: thermometer, tweezers, gauze, ice pack, bandage
  • Tools/Household repair: paint brush, hammer, wrench, screwdriver, tape measure, nail, flashlight


  • Instead of many small bags, use one large bag to place all items and have students draw from the bag.
  • Instead of actual items, use pictures cut from magazines