4 Ways to Spice Up Word Lists

After students have studied a set of vocabulary, they are often left with a long list of words which can appear quite lonely.  Many textbooks include these lists as a reference for students at the end of unit, but what if they could be used more actively in the classroom?

Below are a few interactive activities teachers can use to spice up a word list using phrases, which can help students see how words fit together to produce meaningful collocations and lexical chunks.


From Trio Writing 3, Oxford University Press, Alice Savage & Colin Ward.

1) From Word to Phrase (from Trio Writing)

  1. Have students use their word list to make collocations with the words.
  2. Split the class into three groups. Have one group write adjective + noun pairings, another verb + noun pairings, and the third verb + adjective + noun pairings.
  3. Ask for volunteers to put their examples on the board in three different columns (for each kind of pairing).
  4. Elicit more examples from the class to add to the list.  Have students consult www.just-the-word.com to find more collocations.

2) From Phrase to Example

  1. Have students work in pairs. Ask each pair to provide an example illustrating each of their phrases.
  • a popular event – the Superbowl
  • a powerful influence – the Internet
  1. Have pairs write sentences using the phrases and examples. Circulate and help students as necessary.
  • The Super Bowl is a popular event in the United States.
  • The Internet has a powerful influence on society.
  1. Ask for volunteers to write one of their sentences on the board. If students are keeping a vocabulary journal, have them add the sentences to their entries.   Or, consider having students make all of their entries phrases instead of individual words.

3) Race to the Example

  1. Collect the students’ phrases and divide the class into two teams.
  2. Have one student from each team come up to the board. Give each student a marker.
  3. Read a phrase (e.g. a local event), and have each student race to write an example for the phrase (e.g. the Houston Rodeo).
  4. The first student who writes a suitable example wins a point for his or her team. (You may allow the rest of the team to help out or not.)
  5. Continue until all students have had a chance to come up to the board. The team with the most points wins!

4) Clues to Categories (based on the $100,000 Pyramid game show)

  1. Write 10-12 categories on the board using some of the vocabulary from the students’ word list, e.g. Reasons people drive motorcycles, Things a powerful society has, Things that are dangerous, Popular events around the world, Reasons exercise is difficult to do, etc.
  2. Prepare three examples for each category in advance, from hardest to easiest to guess. For example, for reasons people drive motorcycles, you might include because they’re fun, because they’re popular in Asian cities, and because they’re cheaper than cars.  Try to make some examples suit more than one category for greater difficulty.
  3. Write all of the categories on the board or on a PowerPoint slide.
  4. Divide the class into teams. Tell students you are going to list three clues for each category, one-by-one.  Teams should raise their hand if they think they can guess the category.  Teams get 3 points if they guess the category after the 1st clue, 2 points after the 2nd clue, and 1 point after all three clues.  If they guess incorrectly, they lose -3 points after one clue, -2 points after two clues, and -1 point after 3 clues.
  5. When there is only one category left, turn the tables, and ask teams to race to produce three clues for it. Give 3 points to the first team to complete the task successfully.
  6. At the end of the game, the team with the most points wins!

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