Vocabulary in a Box

This can be used for all levels.

  1. Choose a box (I use empty tea boxes) and create dividers for it so that you have three compartments. Then cut pieces of paper or card stock to fit the box.
  2. Keep a stack of the cards ready when new words come up in class and write one word per card. If you have a group, you can assign one learner to do this every lesson.
  3. Put the newest words in the front compartment (which I usually make bigger than the other two compartments).
  4. Use the cards to quiz the learners at the end/beginning of the lessons. If everyone knows a word, move it to the middle compartment. You can quiz the middle compartment words when it gets full and if the learners remember the words, move to the last compartment. Repeat with the last compartment and then throw the words away now that the learners really know the word.
  5. Use the cards to play a myriad of games (see VOCABULARY in this blog).

For 1-1: Use as described above.

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Mad Libs

This is good for A1-B1 levels especially. If you never played Mad Libs as a kid, check out the wikipedia entry for an example:

 "_____________! he said ________ as he jumped into his convertible
   exclamation            adverb
  ______ and drove off with his ___________ wife."
   noun                          adjective

After completion, they demonstrate that the sentence might read:

 "Ouch! he said stupidly as he jumped into his convertible 
  cat and drove off with his brave wife."
  1. Select a recent text from the coursebook that the learners have already studied.
  2. Type up the text (or photocopy it and blank out some words) and leave some words blank. Then write what kind of word goes in the blank: verb, adverb, adjective, noun, place, name, animal, color, exclamation etc.
  3. Then have the learners work in pairs or small groups. One person has the text and requests the types of words by saying: Give me a color/animal/verb in the past etc.
  4. When the text is complete, the learner reads the new text to their partner/group. If they laugh or look confused because something doesn’t quite fit, you know they have really understood the text and had a lot of fun.
  5. Then give the partner another text and repeat.

1-1: This can also work for 1-1 lessons as described above with the trainer taking the role of the partner.

Guess Who

You may know the game “Guess Who” (sold on amazon for about $10-15). Use the game exactly as intended. It’s great for A1-B2 levels for describing people. see here https://www.amazon.com/Winning-Moves-Games-1191-Guess/dp/B00S732WJE/ref=sr_1_2?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1510777151&sr=1-2&keywords=guess+who+game

  1. (once you have obtained the game) Play as instructed. Make sure to review language like “Does he/she have…”/”Has he/she got…”, “Is he/she wearing…” . Of course review words for hair (curly, straight, wavy, long, short, medium-length etc) and head wear (glasses, hats)

1-1: Only 2 minimum players required, so good for 1-1 lessons.

Circle Translated Vocabulary

Some teachers debate about using L1 in the classroom, and that is a valid conversation. However, some teachers use it judiciously and this is an activity to exploit that. It can be used at all levels.

  1. Create cards with the vocabulary item in English and another set with the item in the learners L1 (if the group is monolingual).
  2. Spread the L1 cards on the table. Explain that you will call out the English word/phrase and the learners should touch the translation as quickly as possible. The person who touches the card first wins the point. You can reverse this by putting the English cards on the table and then calling out the L1 translations as well.

Alternative: If the class is really big, distribute a list of the words in the L1. Then call out the translations and they circle the words. Then check with a partner or as a whole class.

Alternative: Write the words in the L1 on the board. Divide the group into 2 teams. Call the first person from each team to the board. Call out 5 words and the two players touch the translation on the board as quickly as possible. The person who “wins” the round by having the most correct touches remains at the board. The person who “loses” the round sits down and is replaced by a new player on their team. Repeat until everyone from one of the teams “loses”. The person remaining at the board is the champion.

Alternative: Create flashcards with the English on one side and the L1 translation on the back. Use the cards for individual or group drilling. Flip the cards and test again. Hand the cards to the learners and have them quiz each other in pairs (to reduce anxiety). Good as a warm-up or review at the beginning/end of the lesson.

Collocation Card Match

Collocations are something I focus on from A1-C2. This is good as a lead in to test what they know or as review to check phrases that have been introduced.

  1. Before the lesson, I select the collocations and type up a word document with a table. Break the phrases in two and type half the phrase in one box and half in the other, e.g. to take / a photo, to go / on vacation, peace / and quiet (usually focused on a theme, here vacations). Print and cut into cards, enough for one set per pair of learners. Tip: You can add a THIRD card with a definition (either in their L1 if monolingual or in easy English).
  2. Explain to the learners that in pairs they will match the cards to create the collocations. If you use the definition card, then that would need to be matched as well. Monitor as they do this. Check as a whole class.
  3. Then ask them to turn over the FIRST card in each pair and quiz each other. For example on the table they will now see the cards XXX a photo, XXX on vacation, XXX and quiet. Then have them turn over just the second card and quiz each other again. If you are using the definition cards, have them turn over both cards of the collocation and try to remember the collocation based on the definition.
  4. Now collect the cards. Redistribute one set of cards among all the learners. Every learner should have at least one card, up to about 5 or 6. Explain that you are going to say the first part of a collocation and the person who thinks they have the second part should shout it out. For example, I say : “peace” and all the learners look at their cards and one shouts “and quiet”. If the class agrees it is a correct match, continue to the next learner.
  5. Once this memorization is complete, you can use the phrases in free practice, such as an interview exercise with Q&A (Where did you go on vacation last year? Did you take a lot of pictures? etc.). Alternatively, use a conversation game like those outlined in other posts here (search VOCABULARY category).

This can be used for 1-1, but the learner must be active in matching and the trainer gives hints.

Catch & Count

This is good for A1 or review at the A2 level.

  1. Choose a ball or stuffed animal or other easy-to-throw and not dangerous object.
  2. Learners should all stand (if possible in a circle).
  3. Explain you are going to count using the ball. Start by saying “one” and throwing the ball to a learner. That learner says “two” and throws the ball. Continue until someone makes a mistake or until you decide it’s enough practice.
  4. Vary the next round by counting in twos (2, 4, 6, 8…) or threes (3, 6, 9, 12…) or backward from 100. You can also do sequences like plus 1 (or 2,3,4). For example, 1 plus 5 (sequence 1, 6, 11, 16…). Another fun variation is that every other learner does NOT say a number but says BUZZ (or MOO or another funny word) so the sequence goes: 1, BUZZ, 3, BUZZ, 5, BUZZ… This variation is funny because of the funny word and it is easier to make mistakes (but in a fun way).

For 1-1 This is also possible to play as described above if the trainer is the active partner.

Word Snakes

There are many versions of word snakes, often used at A1-B1 levels. You can create word snakes yourself. Can be adapted for higher levels and 1-1 (see below).

  1. Choose a list of words (either new or for revision) and connect them using the overlapping last letter of one word and first letter of the next.

2. Example for animals: dogooselephantigeratermitelk

3. The learners (alone or  in pairs solve it by breaking the words apart. The solution should be: dog goose elephant tiger rat termite elk

Variation: Have the learners create their own word snakes in pairs. Collect them and check them (make sure their spelling is correct!). Then copy them and use them in the next lesson. Add a timed element (say 60 seconds per snake) to make it more competitive (learners can solve alone or in pairs).

Variation 2: For higher levels give a topic and do it orally in a circle. For example: Things in a house. The first person says: chair. The next person says a word that begins with R such as “rail” and the next for example “light switch” and so on. If someone can not think of a word in a certain time frame, say 10 seconds, or repeats a word, they are “out”. Continue playing until there is a winner.

For 1-1, use the exercise as described or even Variation 1. Use Variation 2 where the learner and the trainer play.