Confession time: reviewing vocabulary with students is not my strongest point. This isn't necessarily a problem, since many higher level classes don't need so much help: I've tended to advise students on how they can research a word online to learn pronunciation, definitions, collocations, related words and example sentences then largely leave them to it. (1)
But there are students who don't yet have these independent study skills, and generally also for lower levels much more scaffolding will be needed.
So here's a roundup of ideas and activities for reviewing vocabulary from around the web, and a few thoughts of my own.
- Mark Koprowski in The Internet TESL Journal from 2006 has a list of 10 varied vocab review games, mostly suited to medium or larger classes.
- Busy Teacher has a list of 6 vocabulary review activities, and a slightly different list of 7 here. (Access is free but you may be asked to complete a survey question to view the full article).
- Tanya Trusler on ESL Library lists 4 vocabulary practice activities including a Bingo-style variation of the classic Concentration game.
- This mini-article on the British Council's Teaching English site has comments from teachers on the strategies they use to review vocabulary.
However, it's important when choosing an activity to think about what kind of knowledge it's actually testing. I've taught students who could ace vocab tests by memorising dictionary definitions, but who never made the jump to using the words themselves. I started to question what the point was of teaching them vocab at all!
As a result, when I test vocabulary now I always ask students to write an example sentence for every word tested, and when I'm reviewing words I want to include activities where students can see or hear the words in use, and start using them too.
So here are some more activity suggestions, listed according to what skills are being practised:
Aspects of pronunciationRecognising meaning(s)
- Phoneme decoding - students have to match the word to its equivalent in phonemic symbols (basic level - include some red herrings to make it a bit harder); correct an error in transcription (medium) or transcribe the words themselves (expert level).
- Stress matching - adding the words to the correct column on a chart according to number of syllables and stress placement.
- Home-made tongue-twisters - written by the students if possible, by the teacher if not.
- Synonym finder - students race to spot synonyms of the target words in a longer text.
- Dictionary quiz - offer students a series of clues to each word, awarding points based on how few clues they need to guess the answer.
Grammar / parts of speech
- Parts of speech matching - students match the words to the right column of a chart according to their parts of speech, followed by a review of sentence construction (lower levels).
- Word transformation gap-fill - students are given gap-fill sentences for words from the same family (eg compose, composition, composer) and have to transform their keyword to complete them all.
Usage (offering examples of the word in context, or prompting students to create their own)
- Classic gap-fill - with at least 2 sentences for each word, illustrating different meanings if applicable. In a larger class, teams of students could set the sentences for others to solve.
- Keyword picture discussion - present relevant pictures for students to discuss, supporting them and prompting use of the keywords.
- Keyword conversation - students are given a topic to discuss, and each has a secret keyword from the list that they need to try and include.
- Memory story - tell a list-based story around the group, each student repeating the story so far and adding in a segment with a new key word. Eg, Student 1: I went to the beach and I went waterskiing. Student 2: I went to the beach and I went waterskiing and saw some rock pools. Student 3: I went to the beach and I went waterskiing, saw some rock pools and got sunburnt.
- Drama activity - teams of students have to create a sketch on a given theme, incorporating set keywords. Sketches are judged for correct or creative uses of the vocabulary.
How do you review and recycle vocabulary? Leave a comment below...
1) My first post on our sister blog for students was on this very subject. I didn't include it in the post, but you can also type '[target word] in a sentence' into Google and pretty much guarantee to find multiple examples.