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.

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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.

Vocabulary Tic Tac Toe (noughts and crosses)

My learners love this review of vocabulary. It can be used at all levels from A1-C2.

  1. Ask the learners to look at their notes for the last few lessons and write down 8 words (you can make this more or fewer) on a slips of paper you distribute.
  2. Collect the slips of paper and lay 9 of them in front of you on the table (make sure there are no doubles). This is for your reference so you remember which words are in which box. Alternatively, just draw a board on a piece of paper for yourself with the words. Draw a large tic tac toe game board # on the whiteboard.
  3. Divide the class into two teams and you are going to play tic tac toe (review the rules of normal tic tac toe if necessary: i.e. that you need three X or O (your teams mark) in a row to win.).
  4. Explain that there is a word in each box and before their team can make a mark, they must first call the box they want, listen to the description/translation of the word from you and then say the correct word in English. Then they can make their mark in the box. If they do not get the word (I set my phone timer for 30 seconds), the box remains unopened.
  5. Then the next team chooses any box and repeat until one team wins.

NB: The first two times a box is attempted I usually give the same description. The third time, I add a little and the fourth time a little more (like the translation, a sample sentence, antonym and finally the first letter, then the second letter).

Because the learners choose the words, it is very relevant to them and they enjoy it. It is NOT as fast as you might think. I usually do 3 rounds which might take 20 minutes total.

I also review phrases like: top left, top center, top right, bottom left etc.

1-1: This game can not be adapted for 1-1. A minimum of 2 participants is needed to play in addition to the teacher who moderates.

A-Z with Photos

This is great for all levels.

  1. Put the learners in pairs. Ask them to label a piece of paper with A, B, C…Z.
  2. Explain that you will show them all a photo (you might make copies for each pair or send/give them the url). They need to find a word in the photo for each letter of the alphabet (so choose a photo with a lot happening). They can use verbs, nouns or even prepositions usually.
  3. Show them the photo. Circle and help where necessary. I allow dictionaries/online dictionaries.
  4. The winner is the first group finished or when you call time, the group with the most words. You could also give points for unique words that other groups didn’t have in their list? Be creative. 🙂

1-1: This can be used in 1-1 lessons, but the trainer should allow the learner to take the lead.

Word Tag

Word tag

This simple activity is good as a very fast warm-up.

  1. explain you are going to do some vocabulary brainstorming. You are going to start the chain by saying a word, for example “cat”.
  2. The next person in the circle must use the last letter of your word to create a new word such as “today”.
  3. The game continues in this way for a round or two.

Variation 1

Instead of going in a circle, use a ball/bean bag/crumpled piece of paper that they throw to the next person.

Variation 2

Set a time limit of 15 seconds (or more) to give an answer. If someone is stumped, they are “out”. Start again and play until there is one winner. You could also stipulate that words may not be repeated.

Variation 3

For more advanced groups you could stipulate the topic, for example, “finance”. A possible chain might be “cash-hedge fund-dividend”. Because this is much more challenging, you might allow them a longer time period, to work in pairs and or use the internet on their smart phones for help.

1-1: This works for 1-1 lessons.