There are, however, some important guiding principles that underpin these activities:
- Avoid pre-teaching vocabulary if at all possible, and instead aim to elicit vocabulary and ideas about meaning and use of words from the learners.
- Use these activities as ways to build on what learners already know, and by encouraging interaction between them enabling learners to share this knowledge with each other.
- Think of how these activities can lead into new activities that work at a sentence level, getting learners to use new vocabulary within sentences in various ways.
Here, then, are some quick and easy ideas for working with vocabulary:
Before reading a text
Choose five or six words from a text that is going to be read. Write these words on the whiteboard. Ask students, in groups of three or four, to speculate on what the text is going to be about. Give out the text for comparison and discussion.
To do whilst reading a text
Choose ten or so words from the text that is being read and put a list of their translations on the whiteboard. Tell the students that their English equivalents are to be found ‘somewhere in the text’ and ask them to find them.
Matching activities / odd one out activities
There are lots of online activities to use that require students to match words or look for the odd one out. For example, to use with younger learners: http://www.learnenglish.de/Games/OddOneOut/ooo1.htm
Prepare word cards with names of man-made objects related to your subject (e.g. test tube, bunsen burner for Science; football, rope for Physical Education). Divide the class into small groups and give each student one of these word cards. Ask each student to either write above the word the name of something that went into the making of the object, or beneath the word something that is made from the object. Each student then passes their card on to a neighbour, who then tries to repeat the exercise with their new word. Continue the game to see how many words can be collected.
Write an English word on the board that can produce a variety of possible translations. Ask students to read through (in their bilingual dictionary) the translations of that word, and choose from those translations a foreign (that is, their mother tongue) word that they translate back into English (using their dictionary again). Get them to repeat the process until they have a chain of at least a dozen words.
Building new words
Use word families to help students to build up vocabulary. Word families are groups of words that have a common feature or pattern - they have some of the same combinations of letters in them and a similar sound. For example, at, cat, hat, and fat are a family of words with the "at" sound and letter combination in common. The 37 most common word families in English are: ack, ain, ake, ale, all, ame, an, ank, ap, ash, at, ate, aw ay, eat, ell, est, ice, ick, ide, ight, ill, in, ine, ing, ink, ip, it, ock, oke, op, ore, ot, uck ,ug, ump, unk.
There are heaps of online resources for making vocabulary puzzles. For example, try out: http://www.discoveryeducation.com/free-puzzlemaker/
Some of these ideas have been adapted from: Morgan, J. & M. Rinvolucri Vocabulary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). Another good resource is Penny Ur's Vocabulary Activities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).