Yesterday I ran a workshop for English teachers at VW in Wolfsburg who are having trouble adapting the coursebook they are using for their mixed level courses. Before they get started on the given tasks, they have to pre-teach the more challenging vocabulary. The coursebook comes with great texts that can be exploited, along with a little booklet called “Pocket Coach”. Teachers can get a lot of mileage out of these. Some of my favorite vocabulary activities include:
Mind maps: Create a mind map to extend a word to its related vocabulary, creating sets
Rinvolucri’s elephant revisited: Use an image to locate the new vocabulary, Rinvolucri style. I like using a long, winding road (complex processes, projects) and the learners write words or phrases along it and explain why they belong in that position. I use a simple staircase for simple processes; a house or tree for organisations or systems; and a pyramid or target with dedicated fields to symbolize frequency, values, relevance.
Memory: Use memory picture cards (I like art boxes best myself). Write the sentence with the new word on an index card. Draw a picture card and explain why that picture is connected to that sentence. Have a second student explain the connection in his/her own words. Do this for up to 7 new words. Then play memory with the picture cards and the sentence cards.
Shopping for words, A. Hot seat: The first scenario construct is that a shopkeeper needs to know his/her goods. After discussing the new words, write them on the board/ on cards and stick them on the board behind the “shopkeeper”, a student in the hot seat. The student is not allowed to look at the board. The class explains the word without using any derivatives of that word. The student must remember the word, and then gets to cross it off (or take it down) when he/she has remembered it correctly.
Shopping for words, B. Haggling: A variation of this game without a hotseat, uses the image that the shopkeeper wants to sell as many of his/her goods as possible, but that a customer has specific needs. In this case, the cards are visible to all participants. Here the shopper explains the context in which the word would be used, and then the shopkeeper haggles over which word(s) would be best and has to make a case for why they work well together. I like to have two shoppers vs. one shopkeeper: One shopper wants only one word (“shopping on a shoestring!”), the other wants several. That makes the dynamics more fun.
The amazing disappearing sentence: Make a sentence using the word. Write it on the board. The class reads out the sentence. Erase words, one at a time, and the class keeps reading out the sentence until there’s nothing left. Have pairs dictate the sentence to each other.
Dictogloss: Discover your inner author and write a text using the new words. 12 sentences work best. Then read the whole 12 sentences at natural speed. Students are allowed to take notes. Read it again, at natural speed. Don’t slow down or repeat anything. Keep smiling. Groups of students try to reconstruct the entire 12 sentences word for word on paper. The most valuable part of the learning process are the discussions among the students.
Quick switch: Replace the word in the sentence with another word and discuss how the meaning changes. See how many switches you can make for the word. Make a word map with the words that made good replacements.
Marisa Costanides wrote up activities adapting “companions”, little booklets that accompany coursebooks in Greece. Her suggestions are very helpful for adapting any supplementary materials, and could be used with the book at VW, too. So I’m reposting some of her suggestions here. This is an excerpt, and you’ll find her complete original post “Companions: An aid, a crutch, a snag?” in her blog (follow this link).
Synonyms-Opposites race: Write a list of words already known to the students on the board and ask your class to look through a page of the companion quickly and provide the synonyms or opposites.
Categorizing & Copying: Ask the students to search through the word lists for one or more units and copy all the words that fit certain categories:
e.g. FOOD, CLOTHES, ROOMS, FURNITURE, TRAVEL, SPORT
Odd-Man-Out sets: After you have played the game Odd-Man-Out a few times, ask your class to prepare some odd-man-out sets in teams so that they play against another team. Put an example on the board.
Student-made crosswords: Students revising make an easy crossword and check companion for help with definitions or examples.
Student-made board games: Students designing a board game to check another group on known vocabulary prepare cards with definitions, gap-fills or synonyms which will be used as question cards by the opposing group during the game.
Wordwatching: Students make multiple definitions of known words to trick an opposing team (as in “Call my Bluff”) or write sentences with correct/incorrect uses of a word.
e.g. What is a HABITAT?
a. your clothes?
b. a bad habit?
c. the home of an animal?
d. an exotic bird?
Spelling bees: Groups select ‘difficult’ words to use against an opposing team in a spelling bee game.
Storytelling competition: The teacher, a student or a group, assign random selection of words to everyone, i.e. the fifth word on every page. These words are studied by pairs/ groups or teams, and each one has to create a story in which these come in naturally. Best story wins!
Dialogue improvisation: Each group is assigned 3-4 words from a page which they study and then have to incorporate in an improvised conversation/ role play. The rest of the class has to spot the words, situation and topic.
Creative dictation/ improvisation: Each group selects six to eight words which they dictate to another group. This group must then cooperate and make up a little story or conversation in which all these words are used.
Word competition: A word is chosen randomly by the teacher. Pupils have to hunt through their “companion” as quickly as possible and jot down as many words as they can which begin/ end in the same letter.
How many words can you make? A long word is chosen and students try to make as many other words as they can out of the letters of this word.
Word association game: A word is chosen randomly by the teacher or a student. The class in pairs/ groups/ or individually, hunt through the pages of the “companion” and try to find other words that they associate with this word. The teacher is the final judge in this game where the pupils can create any associations they like but should justify them, and the winner(s) are those who produce the longest list of acceptable associations.