10 short warm-ups to revise vocabulary

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The longer I teach the more I realise that it’s not necessarily grammar we need to revise as often as we can; after all we cover grammar on every course, tenses are still the same, we just explain them in a bit more complicated way, adding some nice parts like mixed conditionals and inversion 🙂

What needs constant revision, however, is vocabulary, especially on the more advanced levels – the students learn the words but don’t use them regularly. One way to make them revise vocabulary is to do short warm-ups in the classroom. I’ve got my favourite ten activities that I use regularly:

1. Charades – I wrote about my little magic box that I use in case of emergency 🙂 however, we may use the charades on any lesson, especially to revise vocabulary connected with jobs, daily routine or – and that’s the funniest thing – proverbs or idioms.

2. Making sentences/ stories with specific words – it’s a simple and short activity, just give three words from the last lesson and tell students to write sentences with them. It’s a good exercise to check whether they can put the words or expressions in the correct context, so I usually do this task with phrasal verbs.

3. Battleships – it’s a nice, though not so short activity, perfect for the lower levels that still should work on their spelling skills; it can also be connected with a nice homework: to make students prepare a board with 3-4 words from the last lesson and let them play as a warm-up on the next classes.

4. Alphabet race – students work in groups and have to come up with words beginning with as many letters as they can. It’s good to give them a specific area of vocabulary: adjectives, words connected with a farm, things you can find outside etc.

5. Making a story about the picture – it’s a great warm-up for a grammar-oriented lesson. Pick a picture from a coursebook with 2-3 people and ask questions about them, about their jobs, families etc. Then you can use those people and their background as example sentences while explaining grammar, or ask students to make a short role-play between those people.

6. 20 questions – a classic game, one person thinks about a particular word and other students have to guess what the word is, they can ask twenty questions but the answer can be only yes or no. The questions can be simple, like is it big? is it food? or quite complicated.

7. What’s in your name? – it’s an old acronym game, where you write words beginning with single letters of your name. The idea is to make students create acronyms within certain boundaries – for example, how do you feel today? (in my case that would start with Moaning, huh).

8. What can you do with… – a potato? Oldie but goodie, especially with creative students or teenagers. You give a word (a noun, obviously) and the students have 3-5 minutes to come up with as many uses of the thing as possible. But in case of teenagers never ask about a banana. Or a cucumber.

9. Hangman – I’ve never understood why it’s so popular, but my students love this game and can play it every lesson. I usually use it to introduce the topic of a lesson or as a filler.

10. Short speeches – I’ve started using it only recently, when I realised that the IELTS exam task ‘you have one minute to prepare for a two minute monologue about the topic given’ is a really challenging thing for my students. In order to get my students prepared to that kind of thing, I’m using it as a part of a normal lesson in all my groups, though differently. My pre-intermediate level can prepare a speech at home and have 30 seconds to talk. Intermediate students also know the topic earlier but it’s more difficult (e.g. your favourite food and how to prepare it) and have a minute to talk. Intermediate+ have 2 minutes to prepare and speak  for 60 seconds, and advanced and above – well, they do the IELTS thing. The funny thing is, after some nervousness at first, my students really appreciate the task.

So, that’s my top ten of easy, short and enjoyable warm-ups.

Enjoy 🙂

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The Little Magic Box of Words

I’ve been teaching for a decade yet I still write short lesson plans, like this:

Intro: 10 min

Reading (p.x ex.y) : 20 min

Speaking: 15 min… Etc.

However, I always have to be prepared when the students finish the task quicker than I expect, and suddenly I end up with 10-20 minutes and no idea what to do (there are days when you simply can’t be creative on the spot). To avoid this embarrassing situation I always have my little magic box of words.

I took little pieces of paper (post-its would do) and wrote different words on them. Depending on the level, the words may vary, but since it’s my last resort, I don’t use it often enough to customise the set – the words focus on everyday life and common objects, food, jobs etc. Now, using the same words I can come up with a lot of exercises for different groups of students.

Starter/ Elementary: pantomime, pictionary

Pre-intermediate: one person defines/describes the word, other students try to guess it

Intermediate: taboo game (similar to the definition one, but you’re not allowed to use certain words)

Upper-Intermediate: taboo, making synonyms, writing a short poem about the word etc.

So, as you can see, a little box of simple words can be very useful in need 🙂

Indeed 🙂