Vocabulary Activities

According to recent research in EFL, students need to encounter a new word 10-16 times in order to “learn” it- Is this the same for CFL do you think? whatever the answer is, it’s safe to say that exposure to, and recycling of, vocabulary is vital to building up vocabulary from character, to structure, to sentence level.

Claudia Pesce on Busyteacher.org states that, to effectively acquire new vocabulary, students must go through four essential stages:

  • first, they notice a new word with help;
  • secondly, they recognize the word at first with help,
  • then later on their own;
  • and lastly, they are able to both recognize and produce the word.

We as teachers need to ensure that our activities don’t just introduce new vocabulary, but that we give students multiple opportunties to put these new words to use in controlled and freer practice. Here are some ways to do so.

Noticing and understanding new words

Nouns- where possible, try to present students with the real thing! if you are teaching fruit and vegetables, can you bring some in and set up a stall? Realia is always much more memorable than flashcard sets and photos.

Adjectives– try to make this as obvious and visual as you can- what could best illustrate 大/小? 漂亮?

Abstracts– using a context is important here. if you are trying to get students to learn 早/晚 how could you best illustrate this? Tell a story? Remind students when school starts, and give examples of those arriving early/ late?

Recognising new words

Matching (pelmanism)- pictures to words, characters to pinyin, pinyin to English etc etc. How you carry this out can be varied too- electronically through a site such as Memrise or Quizlet – or the physical way in class- as a whole class, in pairs, in small groups etc.

Gap Fill– give students a short text where they have to utilise the new vocabulary by filling in gaps from the list of new words (and maybe some words you wish to recycle).

Bingo– everyone loves to play Bingo! This could be listening and matching the word to an image, the pinyin or the character- or a mixture.

Producing Vocabulary

Descriptions: This can be guided (for example, the teacher says students must use five adjectives, or mention five items of clothing etc) or could be freer, allowing students to develop and search for sentence patterns and structure to enable them to say what they would like to say. This opens up opportunities for the teacher to teach the whole class something organically.

Descriptions can also be creative– if you have been teaching family/ describing people, you could give the class a magazine, ask students to cut out some people and then write a short description of each. Other students then have to guess which picture they are describing.

Mind-mapping– this can be done just on a whiteboard, or more collaboratively through an app such as MindMeister. Rather than the teacher supplying all the vocabulary, it can be interesting (and a good lerarning experience for the teacher) to see how the student’s minds work- and what directions they go in. So, you could say “today’s topic is ‘hobbies’ and give groups limited time to look up and supply the hobbies they enjoy. They could then add adjectives, or places where they do this hobby- and, as a teacher, you now have a wealth of personalised vocabulary which you can build activities from which will be relevant to that class.

Remember: the more you mix up learning styles, the more you will engage your learners and reach a broader spectrum in your class.