Posted in ESL, Reviews

Games for Vocabulary Practice

This afternoon I taught my regular free classes for the Harvard Spouses.  This week I decided to rely entirely on materials from the book Games for Vocabulary Practice [O’Dell & Head, Cambridge University Press, 2003].  I really like this book – it’s so easy to just pick up, photocopy and do the lesson.

From Barnes and Noble Website
From Barnes and Noble Website

Here are the two lessons I did today:

Unit 2.1 Family Tree

In the first class I used an exercise labelled ‘elementary’ called “Family Tree” with three students.  The photocopiable sheet was a family tree with the name of only one person filled in (Steve).  The students first had to label all the other boxes with words like ‘brother’, ‘grandfather’, ‘sister-in-law’ etc.

Then I elicited nine boys names and nine girls names and then in a slight variation of the instructions, got the students to write all these names against different relatives of Steve.  Then in pairs (including me) we asked each other questions to find out what the other person had named each relative.

Unit  2.1 Games for Vocabulary Practice
Unit 2.1 Games for Vocabulary Practice

Once we had discovered a few names I introduced a variation – don’t just ask based on the relationship with Steve (because that was easy “who is Steve’s niece?” was basically already written on the sheet), but ask the relationship with one of the names already discovered e.g. “who is Jennifer’s mother” etc.  I didn’t have extra blank copies of the sheet to write this new tree on but I think it worked ok.  Of course I managed to get confused so we didn’t get all the names right, but the other pair claimed they were successful 🙂

Then I attempted to engage the students in a discussion about a famous family tree in their country but they couldn’t remember any names, so we briefly discussed the British Royal Family tree.

For homework I asked students to write about a famous family in their country and to describe/draw the family tree if they could.

So in summary – not the best activity for my group (too short and a bit easy) but I think it could be adapted to be better, perhaps by adding some authentic materials relating the the UK Royal Family.

Unit 3.3 Check in Cheerfully

In the second class (three students again) I used a game I had used before, labelled ‘Upper-intermediate to Advanced’ containing a set of relatively easy phrasal verbs and a set of more challenging adverbs.  At its core it is a miming game.

The first step was to ask the students when they last did one of the phrasal verbs (e.g. “check in at the airport” or “look for your bag”).  It turned out that some of the students thought they knew what the phrasal verb meant but actually didn’t – so next time I would probably go through each one and check.

Then we checked the adverbs (e.g. “miserably”, “gracefully”). I asked the students to give some examples of which adverbs might go with which phrasal verb (e.g. check in at the airport miserably).  The instructions actually ask for general “verb phrases” that go with the listed adverbs (e.g. “to walk nervously into the dentist’s surgery”).  I defined a few of the adverbs that they didn’t know, and also gave them a sheet with brief definitions written on them (from Merriam-Websters Learner Dictionary and the Cambridge Dictionary Online).

Next came the fun part of the activity.  I made two envelopes – one had the phrasal verbs in it, the other had the adverbs – and the idea is that (normally in pairs but we did it as a group of three again) the student chooses one from each envelope, and then, without words, acts out the phrasal verb in the manner of the adverb e.g. dish up a meal carefully. The others have to guess the phrasal verb and the adverb.  This leads to hilarious combinations such as “tie up your shoelaces romantically” which makes the game a challenge.

We then briefly discussed which adverbs were negative, positive or both, and I got the students to write four sentences describing how they normally do some of the activities listed (e.g. I usually put on make up carefully).  We finished with feedback.

For homework I asked the students to write about a real or fictional day using the phrasal verbs and adverbs.

This is a really good activity and despite the scariness of the ‘acting’ part, they all got into it.  We were able to guess right about 75% of the time.  This also highlighted those phrasal verbs and adverbs that weren’t fully understood.

The only way I’d change this activity is to add some different (more common US) words into the mix.


Travel, photography, blogging, being an expat. And that's just in my spare time.

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