Using vocab lists
How to exploit vocabulary lists
Many of us work with text books which contain lists of vocabulary. Vocab learning can be a pretty dull task to do and an uninspiring homework to set. Then you have to deal with the students who do not do their learning or who simply cannot set words to memory very easily. Doing a vocab test of the traditional kind has its uses, of course, but they can be dull to administer and they work best only with the brightest classes.
By the way, I used to doubt the whole value of vocab learning, believing that vocab was “acquired” by regular use rather than by rote learning. Without entering a debate on conscious versus unconscious learning in language learning, many believe that learning by heart can have a place. Put simply, consciously learned vocab can, I would argue, make the crossover into one’s “acquired” competence. Needless to say, we need to revise vocab from one lesson to the next, otherwise most children will forget words.
So what can we do with lists of words apart from telling a class to go away and memorise them?
- Cover the words and test – or get someone to test you.
- Use a word fan – make a fan (fold the paper several times) & write the English on one side/French on the other & so on.
- Concentrate on the difficult words & link them to something you know eg. clay keys (the word for key is clé – pronounced clay).
- Write the words out over and over – English with French and vice versa – do more and more from memory each time.
- Make up a rhythm – tap out the words as you say them.
- Record the words onto a digital device and listen to them.
- Spell out the words with the French alphabet.
- Read the words out loud – fast/slow/loud/quiet.
- Break up the words – mus/ique prof/es/seur.
- Invent a song/poem with the words in.
- Sort the wordsby gender/groups/patterns - fruit/vegetables/which adjective follows which rule or colour code them.
- Group them alphabetically.
- Jumble up the letters & try & rearrange them in the correct order & then give the English.
- Write the words on postit notes and stick them up around the bedroom.
- Write out the words with letters missing – vowels? – then gap fill.
- Design a wordsearch with the words in.
- Play a partner game: each person gives a word; the first one unable to give a word loses.
- Play a mime game in pairs: each partner does a mime and partner has to guess the word. Works well with objects.
- “Running reporter”: a vocab list is put somewhere far away (e.g. back of class). In teams of two, one student runs to the list and tries to memorise as many and as accurately as they can and then run back to report to the team mate who then writes it down. First pair to finish list all correct win.
- Ask each student to write ten words in English from the list they had to learn (they can use their list so it makes them revise). Pass the list to partner and each translates their partner's list. Then they check their partner's translation with the book again.
- Read aloud vocab list to class. Students repeat. It seems obvious, but speaking aloud words can help fix them in pupils’ minds. You can make this fun (and improve pupils’ pronunciation) by whispering, raising the voice, creating a rhythm or even singing. Pull faces, get the class to watch your lips.
- Get students to cover up the target language words. You then supply the first syllable or sound of a word and they have to complete it with the rest of the word. This can be amusing. Pupils can produce their responses orally or in writing.
- Then do the same, but supplying the last sound or syllable of the word.
- Give oral definitions of words. Students write down the answers. This is harder, but provided good listening practice.
- Play word association. (This can lead off into all sorts of directions, but works well with large fields of similar vocab e.g. food and drink.)
- Use synonyms and antonyms to elicit words.
- Make up anagrams of words. Alternatively, pupils make up anagrams to test their partners.
- Do aural anagrams. The teacher spells out words with the letters jumbles up. Studenst guess the word as fast as they can. You can make it a team game.
- Make up a code-breaking task for the class. There are examples on this site.
- Get students to make up a simple crossword or acrostich.
- Makevoneoenormouscwordafrombtheulistlyouahaveisetrtheeclass. Place added letters between the words. the added letters could spell out another.
- Play strip bingo (see Gaames that Work for a description of this.
- Play word bingo.
- Play a dominoes game - make up dominoes with words + definitions or translations.
- Hot seat game. Create two or more teams. One person sits in front of their team, facing away from the board. The team ahve to help their hot seater guess a word from the lost on the board, using synonyms, definitions, gesture etc.
- Collocations: produce pairs of related words, cut them up, students have to put the words together.
- Running to the board games. Write up words on board in a random pattern. Create two teams, give each pupil a number so each team has a person with the same number. Give a definition or translation and call out a number. First student to rush to the board and touch the word gets a point.
- Alternatively, get two students to stand by the board and do the same activity. Change pairs every few minutes.
- Play a spot the difference game.
- In pairs, one student turns their back while the other draws a word with their finger on the firts person's back. The first person tries to guess the word.
- In pairs one student spells out a word in the air and the partner has to guess it.
- Keep a vocabulary book.
- Instead of a traditional test, just ask pupils to write out as many words as they can remember from the list.
- On paper, give the first letter of each word to be learned. Pupils have to complete the list.