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TEFL Program - Having fun with vocabulary

Page history last edited by Chris Moore 12 years, 8 months ago

Having Fun with Vocabulary


There are many ways of practising new words, so students are able to recall and use them later. These activities can also be a lot of fun, and bring a great energy into the classroom. 


Please write down 5 vocabulary practice activities you use in your classrooms.













Of these 5, which is your favourite and why? And which is your least favourite and why?





Here are some vocabulary activities, at least some of which will be familiar to you.


Matching Exercises


  • Match pictures with words, then ask students to put the words in simple sentences or dialogues - this can be written or spoken.


  • Matching words to other words (opposites, synonyms, collocations, lexical sets, etc.), and again, put into sentences etc where possible


  • Matching words to definitions


          In all these activities you can ask students to make the exercises as well - either as individuals or in teams. These can then be given to other students to do. This can be a good way of checking           students have fully understood the meanings of new words.


Filling in the Gaps (cloze exercises)


  • In cloze exercises, you can give the students the words they need to use, or you cangive them blank spaces and let them use their English skills to write down what they think fits best. 


  • You can use different texts - sentences, paragraphs, dialogues, etc. These can be written especially for the exercise, so they focus on a particular set of words, or they can be a natural piece of writing for students to work with.


  • Using interesting texts makes this more fun for students. Songs and poems can work well here, especially if you can play the song to them.


Word puzzles


  • Anagrams

          Rearrange the letters of some words and ask students to say what the words are and spell them correctly.

          For example, parts of the body could be RAM (arm) DAHE (head), TOMASCH (stomach)


  • Rearrange jumbled sentences

          Give students some sentences with the words in the wrong order - they must re-arrange them to make the original sentence. This exercise is useful for testing word order, including questions,           sentences with more than than 1 clause, etc.

          A nice way of doing this is to cut a sentence into individual words and then give the words to student teams. Each team should rearrange the words on their desks to make the original sentence. For           higher level students, this can be more than one sentence - perhaps a short dialogue or story. The team to complete the sentences first is the winner.


  • Odd Man Out

          Give students groups of 4 words, and ask them tio identify the 'odd man out' - so the word which doesn't connect to the others. Here are some examples:

               football, cricket, tennis, sleep (sleep is not a sport) 

               walk, run, skip, step (run is an irregular verb)

               shout, around, brought, cloud (pronunciation)         


  • Find words inside words

          Write a long word on the board. Put students into teams or pairs, and ask them to make other words using the letters of the first word. Give them 2 minutes. Give more points for longer words - perhaps           2 points for a 2-letter word, 3-points for a 3 letter word, etc. The team with the most points at the end is the winner.

          For example, from 'international´, students could have the following words: 'in', 'on', 'at', 'ten', 'late', 'later', 'letter', 'relation'.


  • Mini-crosswords: first write a word vertically on board, eg. SCHOOL. Then put students into teams. Together they must write related words horizontally using letters from the original. the first team to do so scores a point. This could look like this:








  • Word grids - make a grid of 10 squares by 10 on a piece of paper, or draw one on the board. You will put a letter in each square. As you do this, include a number of words you want your students to remember horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Write them backwards if you want. And the fill the remaining spaces wirth random letters. Now put your students in teams and ask them to find as many words as possible in a given time limit.


Here's an example which contains words connected with the weather (words are highlighted in bold - though don't do this for your students!).




Students can also make these word grids for each other.


Memory Games


  • Memory games with objects: show your students a number of physical objects, eg. items of food, and allow them 1 or 2 minutes to memorise them. Then cover them with a cloth and ask the students to write down as many as they can remember. This is often better done in pairs or small groups.


  • Memory games with words: as above, but with a number of words or phrases written on the board or large piece of paper


  • Memory games with texts: as above, but this time show your students a short paragraph or dialogue. In pairs or small groups they must re-create the text as accurately as possible. This is an excellent activity as it asks students to use their understanding of English as well as their memory. They should be able to work out how words go together from their knowledge of grammar, word order, etc.



Definition Exercises & Games


  • Guess the Word

          You define a word or a number of words for students to guess what the words are.

          Students can be in teams or in pairs.The team or pair which guesses the most words correctly is the winner.

          Students can also make the definitions (give them some words to work with). They then say the definitions for other students to guess.



  • Back to the board (‘hotseat´)

          Divide the class into 4 teams.

          Write some words on the board.

          Bring 1 member from each team to the front of the class, where they stand facing their teams so they have their back to the board.

          You point to a word.

          Now, each team has to define the word for students at the front to say what it is (this will be very noisy - great fun and excellent listening practice).

          The student who says the word first wins their team a point.

          After 3-5 words,change it so another member of the team comes to the front.

          The team at the end wiht the most points is the winner.



  • Categories

          Name a category, such as 'parts of the body', 'words connected wth the weather', or 'sports'.

          Now the students take it in turns to say a word connected with that category - give them 5 seconds only.

          If they cannot think of a new word, then they are 'out'.

          Change the category to a different one and start again.

          When only 1 student is leftm, they are the winner.

          With bigger classes, play this in teams or pairs.


  • Category lists 

          Say 5 words to the class - they must all belong to the same category.

          Ask your students to guess the category.

          Now ask them to make their own lists (this can be done in pairs or small teams).

          Now ask them to read out their lists - the other students say the what the category is.


Story Activities


  • Creating dialogues using specific vocab

          Give students a list of new words and phrases you want them to remember. Ask them to create a short dialogue using those words.

          It's a good idea to give them some guidance here - so say the number of people involved, what they're talking about, and even a title. An example could be '2 people, talking about robbing a bank, title           'How rob a bank with just a phone''


  • Creating stories using specific vocab

          As above, but this time a short story. 

          This could also be a newspaper article, a postcard, or diary entry


  • Read & draw

          Read a short story to your class. At the end, your students should draw what they see - this could be people, a place, or a scene with some action. When they have donethis, ask them to compare           pictures.The results are often quite different to each other, very amusing, and get people taking about the story.

          As an alternative, read a description of a person or a place - use colours, shapes, etc to make it interesting.



So, there are many ideas for you to try in your classes. Please try out as many as you can - and try them a few times to see if they work for you and your students. They are all used in classrooms all over the world. And of course, please think of some more if you can!


These activities and games are designed to get students thinking about their language and using words - old and new - so they remember them!







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