One Before You Go

This simple activity is hugely popular with all my learners.

  1. At the end of the lesson (1-2 minutes before it ends) announce: Please tell me one new word you learned and then you can leave.
  2. The first person to raise their hand and say a new word can leave.
  3. If the group is small enough and if you have time, I sometimes ask them for the translation or an example definition as well.
  4. The person who gave the word can now leave (and the rest remain until they can give a word).

As they realize they can not leave until they say a new word for them. I do this very often and they get quite good at it.

1-1: For 1-1 I usually ask for 3 words instead.

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Hot Seat

Many teachers know and use this activity. I only use it occasionally with the right group. If you have a group with learners who don’t like to be in the hot seat/have all the attention on them, then try a different activity.

  1. Divide the class into two (or more) groups. All learners should be facing the board.
  2. Put one seat for each team and place it with its back to the board. These are the “hot seats”.
  3. One member from each team comes to the front and sits in the chairs with their back to the board.
  4. The trainer has a list of review vocabulary and writes one of these words clearly and in large print on the board so the class can see the word, but not the person in the hot seat.
  5. The team describes the word in whatever means possible to their teammate in the hot seat. The first person to guess the word, wins a point for their team.
  6. Then, change learners in the hot seats and repeat with a new word.

1-1: This activity is not possible for 1-1 lessons. For an similar alternative see the activity here called PASSWORD.

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.

Variation: For lower levels, put the English on one side of the card and the L1 on the other.

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.

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.

Word Cloud

This is a great way to preface a text (especially a longer one), finds the main vocabulary needed to understand the text, and presents it in a cool way. Best for B1-C2 levels.

  1. Find the text in digital format, for example, an article or wikipedia entry. Copy the text into a word cloud generator (there are a ton, just check the ones that are compatible with your computer). Press enter and voila, you have a word cloud. (you can make adjustments to the settings).
  2. Show the word cloud to the learners. Explain these are the most frequent words from a text (the larger, the more frequent). Ask them if there are any unknown words, pre-teach them or ask the others to explain if they know.
  3. Then ask the Ls to predict what the text is about. I usually write a few of the guesses on the board.
  4. Then read the text (using whatever strategies you normally use for texts). Check if their predictions where correct.
  5. Then have them write or give an oral summary of the text using the words in the word cloud. This is where the unknown words will move from passive understanding to active use.

This is basically a great confidence booster. When the Ls get a long text with lots of new words, it can be demotivating. But when you explain that they just need the main words, that helps. Usually, however, they don’t KNOW what the “main” words are. A word cloud helps out in that area as it pulls the words with the highest frequency (usually omitting words like a, the, it etc which can be changed in the settings).

1-1: This works perfectly for 1-1 as described above.

Vocabulary Quiz from the Learners

I use this exercise with any level from B1-C2. I usually use it with a text, for example an article.

  1. After doing an interactive lead-in to the topic and prediction questions based on the headline, distribute the text/article.
  2. As homework have the learners read the text (if it is long, break it into sections and one group reads one section).
  3. Then they should create a vocabulary quiz (including collocations, phrasal verbs, idioms etc.). The quiz can take various forms and they are allowed to choose:
    1. match the definition to the word (they get the definitions from a dictionary)
    2. find the word in the text with this definition… (from a dictionary)
    3. gap fill (they type a sentence from the text and leave one word/phrase out)
    4. label the diagram with words from the text (they bring a diagram)
    5. broken collocations (match the first part of the collocation to the second part)
    6. etc.
  4. I usually limit it to 5 or 10 words. The learners are already familiar with these exercises from me, books, workbooks and worksheets from the training, so remind them to look at those for inspiration.
  5. They bring enough copies for everyone in class.
  6. You can do the quizzes as a straight up “test” or I like to make a game out of it. Give them a few minutes alone (or in pairs if weaker) if needed or do it spontaneously for stronger learners. Then “Who has number 4 on Maria’s quiz?” and give a point to the first team to correctly answer it.

It’s great to see them create these quizzes. Once they are strong on the vocabulary, of course we return to the actual text and then do various discussion/comprehension activities.