Kangaroo Words

I am an English language teacher, a grammar nerd, and I lived in Australia for nearly four years, so when I heard about kangaroo words I was ridiculously excited. I first heard about kangaroo words, words that contain their own synonyms (with the letters in the correct order), from a meme on Facebook. Since I know better than to simply believe everything I read online (especially on social media), I did a little more digging and found an article about them on Dictionary.com. Once I determined kangaroo words really are a thing, I got even more excited! A little more searching led me to the Kangaroo Words website, where I learned about twin kangaroo words, grand kangaroo words, and anti-kangaroo words.

Here’s a brief description of each term to help you out:

  • Kangaroo Word- a word that contains its own synonym, the letters for the synonym are not necessarily consecutive, but they are in the correct order (example: blossom > bloom)
  • Joey Word- the synonym contained within the larger word (example: bloom < blossom)
  • Twin Kangaroo Word- a word that contains two of its own synonyms, two joeys, the letters are still in the correct order (example: community > county, city)
  • Grand Kangaroo Words- similar to twin kangaroo words, a grand kangaroo word contains two of its own synonyms, but this time the second joey is inside the first joey (example: alone > lone > one)
  • Anti-Kangaroo Words- a word that contains its own antonym, the letters for the antonym are in the correct order (example: bearded > bare)
Kangaroo Words Game

It is probably a little pathetic how excited I got about this new-to-me linguistic phenomenon, but learning of it set my brain off and running with all of the different teaching and game possibilities it presented. I finally settled on a new version of my fishing games, but instead of drawing cards from a “fishing pond” (recycled and painted oatmeal container) students draw out of the “kangaroo pouch” (a fabric bag I made from old bulletin board material, though you can purchase them instead). The game is great vocabulary practice for synonyms (obviously), and even some antonyms, but why practice only one skill when you could include more? Knowing that some of the words would be unfamiliar to my students, (And if they don’t know what the word means how can they find the synonym hidden within it?), I placed each in a sentence so they could use context clues to help them guess the meaning of new words.

Game Creation

First I created a list of the various types of kangaroo words, as many as I could find. I then narrowed those lists down to 68 kangaroo words, 5 grand kangaroo words, 5 twin kangaroo words, and 16 anti-kangaroo words. I then created a glossary of that included the word, a definition for it, and the joey word(s). If you’re interested in what words I used, you can download my glossary for free using the button above.

The next step was to write example sentences for each of the kangaroo words I’d chosen. I purposefully wrote sentences that would give clues as to the word’s meaning because, as I said earlier, if you don’t know what a word means it’s going to be very difficult to identify its synonym. This was, as always, the hardest part of the game creation process; thinking up 90+ sentences for the target words is a much harder task than it seems. Once the sentences were written, the rest was easy.

I downloaded some attribution free, royalty free clip art from Pixabay, designed my playing cards, created a game reference card, and was finished. Each playing card had the type of word written at the top (kangaroo, grand kangaroo, twin kangaroo, anti-kangaroo), a kangaroo clip art image, the example sentence (with the target word underlined), and a point value on it. Kangaroo words are worth +1, grand and twin kangaroo words are worth +2 points, and anti-kangaroo words are worth -1. The game reference cards have definitions for each type of word on one side and scoring instructions on the other.

Game Play

Each group of students (I usually have students play in groups of 3-4) is given a bag with the cards already mixed up inside of it. On a student’s turn, he/she will randomly choose one card from the bag. He/she then reads the sentence and, if needed, may ask a fellow student to read the definition for the target (underlined) word from the glossary. The student then proceeds to try and identify the joey word(s) in the target word (answers can be checked using the glossary. Scoring is as follows:

  • Kangaroo Word = keep the card as +1 point if the joey word is identified; discard the card if the joey word is not identified and receive 0 points
  • Twin Kangaroo Word = keep the card as +2 points if both joey words are identified; discard the card and receive 0 points if neither or only one joey word is identified
  • Grand Kangaroo Word = keep the card as +2 points if both joey words are identified; discard the card and receive 0 points if neither or only one joey word is identified
  • Anti-Kangaroo Word = if the antonym is identified, give the card to the opponent of your choice as -1 point; if the antonym is not identified, keep the card as -1 point for yourself

Players continue to take turns, drawing cards and trying to identify joey words. When all of the cards have been drawn, or time is up, the player with the most points is the winner.


This is one of the simplest playing games I have, but it is one of the most linguistically challenging ones. There were quite a few kangaroo words I ran across that I needed help to identify the synonyms within. Though they all make sense when you have them pointed out, some of the synonyms are not the most common ones we associate with the various words. For that reason, I have only tried this game out on my advanced students thus far. They found it to be quite challenging, and I have to admit part of me (no doubt the part that made me a good middle school teacher) was secretly gratified to see them struggle a bit after they all said, “Synonyms and context clues? Again? This is so easy!” Their reaction earned this activity a place in the, remind-the-students-they-don’t-know-everything-yet section of my repertoire, right next to creating a cause and effect chain for The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate The Wash. It also told me that I was right not to ask my lower proficiency students to try and tackle this particular synonyms/context clues practice game yet. Happy teaching, everyone!

Not sure your students are ready for this type of activity? Check out these blog posts for other synonym and context clue activity ideas: