Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

I’ve just read Cecilia Coelho’s post about using a vocabulary bank with her classes, which was a response to Emma Herrod’s vocabulary blogging challenge. This is the first challenge which I’ve taken part in, so here goes…

As a relatively new teacher, I’m still constantly finding new activities to revise and practise vocabulary. The one which I use most is very popular at my school (IH Brno), and was introduced to me by Lily-Anne Young. With all of my groups, especially the adults, I have created a vocabulary ‘box’. All new words which are introduced to the students are written on folded slips of paper. The word / phrase is on the outside of the paper, with a definition and example sentence on the inside. I then use them in most sessions with a variety of activities, often variations on a theme. Here are some of them:

  • I / a SS read(s) a definition. The SS call out the word. The first person / team keeps the word.
  • Spread the cards on the table / floor. SS are divided into teams. Each team has a fly-swatter. Somebody says a definition and the teams swat the correct word. The team that gets the word gives the next definition. (from Anette Igel)
  • A selection of cards are placed around the room. Each SS / team has a ball of scrap paper. Somebody reads a definition and the SS must through the paper at the correct card. They then get to keep it. (from Lily-Anne Young)
  • Divide the cards between all of the SS in the class. They mingle and give definitions. When the other SS guesses the word correctly they take the card. If you want to make it competitive, you can give them a time limit and the winner is the person with the most cards at the end.
  • Give SS 5-10 cards each. They have 20 minutes to write a story including as many of the words as possible.
  • Put the SS in teams. One SS comes to you to see a definition. They run back to their team and tell them the word. The team must create a grammatically correct sentence using the word / phrase. (based on a game for pronunciation revision from ‘Homework’ by Lesley Painter)
  • Use 9 of the words to create a noughts and crosses board. SS must use the words/ phrases in a short conversation to win the square.

In order to avoid ending up with too many words in the box – you could easily have a couple of hundred by the end of the year – I ask SS to put a small mark in the top corner of each card after the activities if it has been correctly used. When there are three marks in the corner of the card I ask SS if they think they know the word. If they agree we remove it from the box. I normally keep the cards and a couple of months later pull them out and do a quick revision activity with only the old cards.

With most of the groups I encourage SS to write the words on the cards during the session, then take them home to write the definitions / example sentences. Occasionally the words don’t make it back to class, but there are always more than enough cards to keep us going!

With teens I use a pared down version of the vocab box. We just have large slips of paper with only the words (generally I can remember the context of most of them). They fight over who gets to write on the cards after each vocabulary activity!

For YLs, I use a variation of the vocabulary box, called a vocabulary monster. I got this idea from a book in 2004, but I have absolutely no idea which book it was – if anyone can provide me with the source I would be eternally grateful, as it’s stood me in good stead through the years! This is how to make one:

  • Stick two A3 pieces of paper together along the short side, making a long thin piece of paper.
  • Fold a piece of A4 paper in half and attach it to the bottom of the paper to make a pocket – make sure the sides are sealed, but not the top. This is the monster’s plate – you can draw a picture on there or ask your kids to do it.
  • Use two pieces of A5 paper to make a mouth and stomach and draw your monster around this. I’m not an artist, but I can manage a monster 🙂
  • The final result should look something like this (the second pair of legs was added by the confused software which I used to stitch the photos!):

You can use word or picture cards with the monster. At the end of the class put the words into the monster’s ‘plate’ pocket. At the beginning of the following class, take out the cards and show them to the SS. They should call out the words / draw a picture / do the action / use the word in a sentence. If they do this correctly, the card goes in the monster’s mouth. If not, it stays on the plate. In week 3, any correct words from the mouth go into the stomach. In week 4 any correct words are taken out of the monster. If SS use the word incorrectly it always goes back to the plate. Obviously if you have a large class, it’s your call whether to move the word on or not – it depends what percentage of the class you think is comfortable with the word. I’ve used this with 5 or 6 small classes and they’ve always really enjoyed it.

These activities are just a taster – the great thing about the vocabulary box is that the cards can be used for literally hundreds of activities, and require almost no work at all to prepare. It’s great for warmers, coolers, revision lessons and waking up sleepy students half way through a lesson. And the best thing is, you can use scrap paper for all of it, so you’re not even wasting resources 😉

Enjoy!

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Comments on: "Vocabulary box-ing (with added monsters)" (8)

  1. […] first ever response to a blogging challenge – ‘Vocabulary Box-ing (with added monsters)‘: a description of how I recycle vocabulary in response to Emma Herrod’s […]

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  2. Tell them the muncher wants them to pick the one that starts with t . .. …Give each child one thing and they have to find a partner with the same thing and feed..

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  3. […] Sandy Millin: “Vocabulary box-ing” […]

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  4. Hey Sandy,

    A BRILLIANT first response to a challenge. I can only apologise that it’s ended up taking some time to sort out all the contributions and responses. Perhaps next time I won’t do this right before the Christmas break! Lesson learned 🙂

    There are so many good ideas here, I am already thinking about which ones I can use with my one-to-one adult learners. I do use the idea of writing a story using a number of new words – it’s a very nice way of solidifying new vocabulary and helping with writing skills.

    I’ve put a link to your post on my blog so that everyone has a central place to refer to all the contributions.

    Thank you and well done!

    Emma x

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    • Hi Emma,
      Thanks very much! Don’t worry about it taking a while – I knew you would get round to it eventually, and Christmas is busy for everyone 🙂
      I’m glad there are some useful ideas there, although I have to reiterate that I don’t think I came up with any of them myself – just put them all in one place. I’m hoping to add a picture of one of my word monsters at some point – I just need to remember when me, my camera and a word monster are in the same place at the same time.
      Let me know how any of the activities go, and if you have any more I could try out with my own adult 1-2-1s – they’re always the ones I find it hardest to come up with new vocab box activities for.
      Thanks,
      Sandy

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  5. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } sandymillin.wordpress.com – Today, 8:10 […]

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  6. […] they could never answer his questions, and they were petrified. We got into a routine of using a word monster. The final lesson I taught with that group was the first time I ever realised I’d taught […]

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