Word Ladder

Word Ladder is a simple game invented by Lewis Carroll (author of the Alice books).

It’s perfect as a quick 5-minute activity at the end of the lesson and is ideal for practicing and playing with vocabulary.

A slight variation has it great for dictionary practice as well. The activity is perhaps best used with students in pairs.


Make up a list of word pairs. To begin with, each pair should be 3 letters long, for example:

  • can – get
  • run – eat

Keep this list handy so you can pull it out in class when the need arises and play the game.

Before presenting them to the class, however, you need to make sure that each pair can be resolved (see below).

Pre-Teaching in Class

The first time you play this game with a class you’ll need to demonstrate it. Simply write up on the board this table:



Explain that they need to change the first word into the last word by changing one letter at a time. Each new word they create must be a valid English word as well.

Chances are you class will know this game already, but if they don’t show them how. Work with them to get this sequence:






You may want to run through a couple more to make sure everyone understands but once they have got it, divide the class into pairs and get them all to work on the next example:


Of course, there may be more than one solution so look out for this. Also, if students are unsure if a word exists or not, by all means have them use a dictionary as long as they are able to tell you the meaning afterwards.


  • Once the class is familiar with the process, they can start to work independently. Teams can compete by preparing a pair of words for their neighbors to “crack”.
  • The game can be made harder by making the word pairs longer with four and five letters long (and even six with more advanced classes).
  • Make the ladder up and down: CAT > GET > BIT

You can also introduce other ways to change the words. Lewis Carroll offered these alternatives:

  • add a letter
  • remove a letter
  • change a letter (as above)
  • use the same letters in a different order (an anagram)

Rather than rush all these variations on the class, once they are familiar with the usual replace-letter method you can introduce the others, one by one.

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Posted in Lesson Plans & Activities.

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