For more ESL games and activities, click here.


Pelmanism is a very simple game in which players try to find matching cards from a number of cards spread out in front of them. You may know it better by another name such as “pairs”, “memory” or “concentration”.

Devised by the Pelman institute in the UK in the 1890s, Pelmanism became a popular method of brain training in the first half of the 20th Century. It was believed that pelmanism could cure a range of problems related to the mind such as forgetfulness, depression, phobias and procrastination. Among the most prominent proponents of the system were Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Scouts movement) and former British Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith.

Pelmanism can be played alone, or as a multi player game with students taking turns. The student who finds the most pairs wins the game.

Although this game is well known in many countries and often used in ELT materials, young learners and even some adults (especially at low levels) may require a clear demonstration of the game. The procedure below assumes students have not seen or played pelmanism before.

Pelmanism can be played by an individual student, but it is more fun in groups.


1: Have two sets of twelve flashcards with pictures. Lay the pictures out on the floor in two squares. Pictures should face the floor so that students cannot see which picture is which.

2: Divide the class into teams. Call up a student from the first team and invite them to turn over a picture from each set. The student should say what the objects are in the pictures.

3: If the student gets the same pictures, they take the pictures. If not, they should turn over the pictures, leaving them in the same place as they found them.

4: Each team sends a student each turn until there are no pictures left. The team with the most pictures is the winner.


1: Instead of using pictures you can use a combination (matching the picture and word) or the written words. You could also use different forms (e.g. base and past tense or past participle verbs), synonyms (e.g. cold and cool), antonyms (e.g. cold and hot) or collocations (e.g. freezing and cold).

2: Older and higher level students should be able to play the game in small groups. However, a demonstration is a good idea as some students will not put the pictures or words back in the same spot each time. This can make the game take much longer.

Online: Pelmanism can be played online with many ELT coursebooks including games of pelmanism among their digital resources. You can also create games in programs such as Microsoft Powerpoint or Activinspire.

Example Language:

Lexical sets e.g. fruit, animals, etc.

Time (with pictures of analogue and digital clocks and the written time)

Base verbs and past tense or past participles

Base adjectives and comparative or superlative forms

Synonyms, antonyms or collocations

Words and definitions/translations

Nouns/noun phrases and articles

Subjects and relative pronouns

Sentence halves

Collocations e.g. noun/verb combinations (send / an email, take / a shower)

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