Vocabulary Recycling Games

Vocabulary Recycling Games

Learning new words and phrases is essential when studying a foreign language. It is thanks to upgrading our word-stock that we become a more competent speaker of the target language. As teachers, we need to ensure our students feel comfortable using the new words/word combinations by providing enough practice for them. Hence, vocabulary should be one of our primary concerns.

Practice has shown that there are 3 ways of helping our brain to remember new information and assimilate it thoroughly – when what we are doing is fun and enjoyable, when we can make associations, and when we put it into immediate practice in real-life situations. Games can do it.

Some might argue that using games with children/teenage learners, might lead to poor classroom management and be very ineffective. Others might say, that using games with adults is too childish and will not benefit the learning process. The reality is that everyone enjoys games, fun, entertainment and it is the teacher’s job to ensure that it serves its purpose as well. 

Below are some games that have surely worked with most classrooms, mine included.

Sticky notes

These are also known as post-it notes. Things that can easily be found in every classroom. They are fun to use to recycle vocabulary and can be exploited in very different ways. Here is one of the ways. 

After you have covered some vocabulary, take the post-it notes and write one word on each. Depending on the number of your students, make sure each of your students gets at least 2 words. You can stick them on the desk, on the wall, wherever comfortable. 

Ask the students to take a word/words, check whether they remember the word or not. If not, they can consult their dictionaries at this point. Tell the students not to show their words to each other. Ask them to work in pairs/groups and explain their words to each other without using the root of the word. When the students are done explaining and the words are guessed, ask them to exchange their words. Now they need to move to another pair and explain the new words they have received from the previous partner.

This can go on for 3 rounds at least. By the end of the activity, each student will have had the chance to explain a lot of words. As we know students learn from each other much faster and this activity covers a lot of target phrases at once.

Alias

This game has become very popular not just in friendly gatherings but also in language classes. A great way to recycle vocabulary in a playful way. 

Create word cards that you want the students to revise (5-7) words on each. Set the students into pairs/groups. Each person from the pair/group will have 2 minutes to explain the words on their cards. When the time is up the turn passes to the next player and the remaining words are left for the second lap. This can go on for about 10-12 minutes until the students have managed to explain most of the words. When the time is up, the words that were left unguessed/unexplained can be boarded and dealt with open class. Most probably those are the words that present some difficulty for the students.

Pyramids

‘Pyramids’ is quite similar to Alias, however, students here score different points based on the complexity of the word at hand.

Before the class prepare a list of the words you want to revise and put it in the shape of a triangle.

Add as many words as you wish, though from my experience 6 works the best. The word at the top is considered to be the most difficult one, hence worth more points. In my case, it is 4 points. Consequently, the last word is the easiest one and is worth 1 point.

Split the students into pairs and give each of them a couple of pyramids. Time them for 5 minutes and ask them to define the words on their pyramid for one another without using any roots or translations. The person who scores more points wins.

This is a quite competitive game and the students are always trying to get the top words.

Stop the bus

This is also known as ‘hot-seat’. This is a very competitive game and can get quite loud. 

Divide the students into 2 teams. Ask one member from each team to sit with their back to the board while the rest of their team sits close to that person. Write a word you want to revise on the board. The students who are facing the board will need to define it. As soon as the student with his/her back to the board guesses it, they shout “stop the bus” and the game stops. If the guessed word was correct, the team scores a point, if not – the other team gets the chance to tell their option.

It is a great energizer and can normally be used at the end of the class to shake the students off a bit and see them off on a fun note.

Battleship

This is played in the same way as the famous battleship game we were playing as kids. Draw a grid 10×10. Ask the students to write down words/phrases from the vocabulary list in random order. Set students in pairs and ask them to try to find the grids where the opponent has put a word by naming the square they want to check (e.g. A8). If the mentioned square contains a word, the player says “hit” and defines the word for the opponent. If the opponent guesses the word he/she scores a point. This helps to practice definitions a lot.

Below is a sample grid.

Class story

This is a great activity if we want to practice sentence structure, paragraph/essay structure using the target vocabulary. Set students in pairs, deliver the list of the words you want them to use in the story. It is fun to distribute the words on post-it notes. Ask students to write a short story using the words at hand and give a title to it.

Next, you can ask the students to post their stories on the walls and read each other’s stories by walking around the class. They will need to tick the story they like the best and the one with most ticks wins. The winning one will be read open class.

Alternatively, before setting up the writing task, you can brainstorm any words/phrases that students remember from the sessions and put them on board. The words can be very random. This will make it a bit more challenging to connect all the words in one story, however, this normally gives a round of good laughs in the end.

This activity is great to practice writing/spelling skills at the same time.

Talk for 2 minutes

This activity aims both at recycling vocabulary, putting it into practice, and has a fluency focus.

Here is how it can be done. Divide the students into 2 groups. Ask them to write down the names of the studied topics, e.g. “technology, finance, holidays”, etc. It’s best to have at least 6 topics, so that the students will have something to choose from. Ask the students to choose 3-4 topics they would like to talk about with their team. Once the students have chosen the topics, ask them to look through their vocabulary and find at least 5 words each that can be used while discussing the topics. When the students are ready, time them for 2 minutes to discuss the first topic inside their team by using the chosen words. As soon as time is up, pass to the next topic. 

Choose 3 words

I have been using this technique recently and the students seem very determined and motivated.

Ask the students to choose 3 words for each class from the vocabulary covered during the previous classes, bring them to class on post-it notes and stick them on the desk. The students’ goal will be to use those words during the class any time possible – when asking a question, when having a discussion, etc. Not all the words might get the chance to be used, however, the students will keep on looking for an appropriate context to use it in. 

This is a great activity to make sure the students know in which context and situation the target word/phrase is used in.

Pictionary

If you want to get more creative and have some motion in class, then this is definitely a game to try.

Split the students into 2 or 3 groups depending on the number of your group. Divide the board into respective sections. Let the groups choose one person from their team who will be drawing. Pick a word or a phrase from the vocabulary list which the drawers will need to draw for their team to guess. They cannot use any words while drawing. Time the students for 1 minute to draw the chosen word/phrase. All the groups draw and guess simultaneously. The group that guesses the word first, wins. If the time is up and no one wins, reveal the word.

This activity can be adapted to all levels, starting from A1 (e.g. table) to C1 (e.g. have a lot on your plate)

Make questions with the target words

This is a task that saves a lot of preparation time and effort on the part of the teacher. At the same time, it helps the students to have more exposure to the target language.

Deliver a list of words you want to be revised. Ask the students to create questions using those words. To ensure the questions will trigger discussion, demo the first one.

Let’s say you want to use the word “charity” to make a question. Ask the students to come up with a good (open-ended), bad (Yes/No) question.

E.g. 

  • Why do you think people do charity? (open-ended)
  • Do you like doing charity? (Yes/No)

Divide the students into groups and ask them to make questions which will be open-ended and ignite discussion. In the meantime, monitor to see if the students are doing it right. Help them out when necessary.

Once the questions are ready, ask the students to swap the questions with the other group and comment on them inside their team. Encourage the students to use the target word in their answer and come up with more details and explanations.

E.g.

  • I think people to charity because they want to help others in need. It is always nice to do something for people if you can afford it.

This activity helps to practice not only target words and phrases, but also sentence structure and word order in questions.          

Entry/exit tickets

Students are known to learn with patterns. Exit and entry tickets provide a good entrance and summary for the class.

I normally put some sticky notes on my classroom door with the word I want them to define. When students arrive for class, they need to define the word for the rest of the group and then take their seat. 

As for the exit tickets, they work perfectly well after vocabulary sessions when you want the students to remember certain words and phrases before they leave the classroom. You will choose these words depending on the covered material and the words/phrases students have had difficulty with.

Doing this for a couple of sessions develops behaviour and gives the students a chance to see their progress and summarize the language covered during the classes.

Running dictation

This is another fun and active recycling activity. It will get the class moving, exercise their memories and spelling skills.

Before class, prepare some definitions for the words that you want to revise. Post the definitions in the room, in different random places.

During the class split the students into pairs. Let them decide who will be the runner and who will be the writer. Once the students have chosen their roles, give the writers the list of the words which definitions you have posted on the walls. As for the runners, ask them to run, read a definition from the wall,  come back and dictate it to the writer. The key here is to remember the definition word by word, no improvisation allowed. While the runners are dictating the definition, the writers need to find the right word for it and put the definition next to it.

This activity helps the students to memorize the right definitions/explanations for a word/phrase as the runners will have to go back and forth to remember the definitions correctly. The writers will have the same exposure, however, they will also practice the spelling of the words.

This is a great energizer and gets the students’ competitive mood up.

Board race

This one is a great starter for the vocabulary revision sessions. Let’s say you have covered the topic of ‘transport’ and want to revise what means of transport students can remember. 

Board ‘transport’, split the students into 2 teams and line them up to the board, so that they are standing one after another. Tell the students that they will have 2 minutes to write down as many words connected with the topic as they can. The rule is that the first person writes the first word, goes back, gives the marker to the person standing next to him/her and only after receiving the market this person can race to the board and write the next word. Encourage the students to do it as fast as possible.

When the time is up, compare the two lists the teams have come up with and cross out the same words that happen in both lists. The team with the most words left wins.

This activity also gets very competitive no matter what age group you are working with.

I am sure this is not an exhaustive list of games and activities that can be used to recycle vocabulary. What activities work in your classroom?

Armenuhi Seghbosyan

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