Ideas for Using Vocabulary Cards


Activity 1

Activity: Word in the Hat

Skills: Speaking, Listening

Level: Intermediate-advanced

Class Time: 60-90 minutes

Materials: A hat and a one minute timer

Preparation: However long it takes you to copy the words onto cardstock (or index cards), and cut up.

Note: This activity is based on a fun party game that I learned while living in Prague. When we weren't trying to write the great American novel, our crowd played a lot of fun games.

Directions: You'll need a hat or a paper bag or something else to put the words in. Choose about 30 words or expressions that you want to review. (Note: you could just use straight vocabulary words here, but it's more fun if most of the items are idiomatic expressions or proverbs like "You're pulling my leg" or "If you sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.") Write these items on the cards (one per card) and put them in the hat.

Divide the class into groups and explain the idea behind the game.

This game is played in three rounds. You use the same set of words for all three of the rounds. The first round is a circumlocutions round. A student from the first group selects one of the words from the hat. You turn the timer over as soon as he/she pulls the word out of the hat. The student describes this word to his teammates. Only his teammates may guess. For example, if the card says, "You're pulling my leg," a student might say, "This is what you say to someone when you think they're joking with you. We had this idiom last week when we talked about lying."

Once the team answers correctly, they keep the word and the student takes another word from the hat and continues until his one minute is up. The last word (assuming it hasn't been correctly identified by his team) goes back in the hat. Play continues with the second group. Here's the twist; even though the students in the other groups cannot guess when it's not their turn, they must listen carefully. These same words will come up again in round two, which is much more difficult, so it's vital that everyone in the class be familiar with them during the first round. Play continues around the room with each group taking turns. (Make sure students take turns in their groups to explain the words.)

Once there are no more words in the hat, ask each team to count their cards. They receive one point for each card. Keep score on the board. At this stage, it's actually a good idea to do a re-cap of all the words and expressions; just collect the words and read them all back to the class once or twice before you return all the cards to the hat.

Now, it's time for round two. This round proceeds exactly like the first round except that students may only use ONE word as a clue to their group. They may not use any gestures. For example if the expression was "You're pulling my leg," the student might say "joking." He/she can repeat this word as many times as necessary, but may not use any other words. They should be encouraged to use varying intonation, sing, etc. Once again, each team keeps all the cards they win during their turn. (With really difficult expressions (or in the interest of time), you may want to give a two-word limit here instead of one.)

Once there are no more words in the hat, have students count up their cards, write the scores from round two on the board, and do another quick re-cap of the words before returning all the cards to the hat.

Now it's time for round three. This is a charades round. Have students stand up to act out each expression or word to their group. The student who is acting out the word or expression may not speak. Students accumulate cards as in the first two rounds. These cards are then counted up. The team with the highest point total for all three rounds wins. You can award this group a small prize.

By the time this game is over, your students will most likely know all of the expressions inside and out.

Variations: The idea of using three rounds for vocabulary review provides a very solid way to insure that students have acquired the target expressions or vocabulary. You could recycle this activity by substituting different types of rounds. For example, you could have a Pictionary round using the board. You could also have them write their clues on the board or even orally spell out the clue or the actual item (depending on the level). If you put a variation on this game, you can use it again and again, creating the illusion that a tired old activity is actually something new.

Activity 2

Activity: Vocabulary Review (Circumlocutions Game)

Skills: Speaking, Listening

Level: Intermediate-advanced

Class Time: 30 minutes

Preparation: However long it takes you to copy the words onto cardstock (or index cards), and cut up.

Directions: Divide the class into small groups. (If you have fewer than ten students, you could play together--just pair students and have each pair be a team.) Give each group a set of vocabulary cards. Instruct students to place the cards face down in the center of the group. Play begins by one student choosing a card and providing an oral definition. No gesturing or spelling is allowed. The person who answers with the word on the card gets to keep the card. Play continues clockwise. If a student does not know a vocabulary word, the card is returned to the middle of the deck and the student forfeits his/her turn. Play continues until all of the cards have been defined. The winner is the person with the most cards.

Activity 3

Activity: Vocabulary Prompts

Skills: Speaking, Listening

Level: Intermediate-advanced

Class Time: 45-60 minutes

Materials: Two separate vocabulary lists (with around ten vocabulary words on each) or vocabulary words written on cards.

Preparation: Just making or copying the lists or cards

Directions: This is a cool variation on the circumlocutions game. First, divide the students into pairs. Each pair is either A or B. A's get one list (or set of cards); B's get another. Give the students around 15-20 minutes to think of/take notes on questions or statements that will elicit a response containing the vocabulary words. For example, if the word is "shut up," the student may say, "Our teacher talks too much." The expected response might be, "Yeah, I wish he would shut up." The student may NOT use the vocabulary word in his/her question or statement.

Once each pair has gone through the words, re-pair the students so that every A now has a B as his/her partner. Now, the students take turns going through their words. Student A should start a conversation using the question or statement prompt. Student B must respond. The conversation continues until student B uses the target vocabulary word in a response. Now, it's student B's turn to give one of her prompts.

Once the students have finished going through their lists, review the vocabulary with the whole class.

Note: To make this activity less difficult, you could provide a longer list of words (with some distracters) that includes all of the words from both A and B's lists.