Eight vocabulary revision activities

Vocabulary Bag

Summary: The activities below are intended for use in conjunction with a vocabulary bag, which is a simple way of keeping a class record of vocabulary studied in class.

Preparation: create a “vocabulary bag” containing slips of paper each with vocabulary covered in each lesson. You can add to this – or, better, ask your students to add to this – each class.

Setting up a vocabulary bag to use with your class

What is a vocabulary bag?
A vocabulary bag is literally a bag or box, labelled with the name of your class, that stays in the classroom and holds pieces of paper recording useful vocabulary your class has recently encountered.

Why should I use one?
It’s usually important for your students to keep a written record of the vocabulary they’ve studied in class. Apart from using their own lexical notebooks, it’s worthwhile asking them to maintain a class record, too.

How can I maintain it?
You could maintain the vocabulary bag yourself, by writing new words and expressions from your latest class on scraps of paper and adding them to the bag. However, it is usually both better and easier to involve your students in maintaining the bag (better because, by adding the records themselves, your students have a chance to encounter the words again, and to make choices about which ones to retain, both of which aid retention; easier because you don’t have to do all the work yourself).

Have ready enough scraps of paper for a five-minute activity at the end of your classes, where you ask your students to write perhaps three different words or expressions they’d like to remember (perhaps with a first-language translation on the other side, if you’re teaching a monolingual class), and which they then add to the class vocabulary bag or box.

Vocabulary Bag 2

Eight vocabulary bag revision activities

Here are a few examples of what you can do to revise this collected vocabulary in subsequent lessons (remembering the rule of thumb that each piece of new vocabulary should be used 6 or 7 times in different contexts and at different times in order to be successfully retrievable).

Creating Stories in Order of Word Placement

    Board some vocab from the vocabulary bag.

  • Pair your students, or put into small groups.
  • Each group chooses a style of story or film they all enjoy (romance, comedy, horror, etc.)
  • Each group writes a story using the vocab on the board, in the order the words appear. So, the first word (on the left of the board) should be used near the start of the story, and the last word (on the right) near the end, etc. The teacher can monitor and help with language or ideas here.
  • Each group or pair divides up their story and practices saying it. The teacher can work on sentence stress and intonation patterns here (ask: how does the character feel here? What happens to your voice when you feel this emotion? How do you want your audience to feel here? Again, how can you show this in your voice? Demonstrate as necessary).
  • Board “story,” “clarity,” and “emotion.” Explain that the groups will be reciting their story to the class and that each listening group should give a mark, or take notes, on these aspects of the recital.
    Each group recites their story to the class.
  • Elicit feedback from the different groups (with or without overall scores – depends on the shyness of individual students in your class, etc.) and add feedback of your own. Give each student some pronunciation tips to work on at home.

Word Transformations and Making the News

  • Nominate different students to pull out words from the vocabulary bag, and board them. Stop when you have about 8 words.
  • Elicit which grammatical type each word belongs to (e.g., a noun, a verb, etc.). Where this is ambiguous, ask a student to make a sentence using this word, then elicit from the class what type the word in that sentence belongs to. Board the grammatical type above or below the word.
  • Divide your class into pairs or small groups. Ask them to work together to find other forms of this word (for example, if it is a noun, what is the adjective? Does it have an adverbial form?). Allow a short amount of time for this (e.g., 4 minutes).
  • Elicit other possible forms, perhaps awarding points for each good answer.
  • Ask your students, in their groups or with their partners, to choose three nouns from the board, two verbs, two adjectives and an adverb. These words should all come from different word families (so you can’t choose both noun and verb forms of just one word, like “singer” and “sing”).
  • Ask your students to turn these words into a news story (choosing, if you like, whether to write a broadsheet or tabloid-style article).
  • As they write, you can circulate and help with vocabulary and grammatical problems.
  • On completion, you could ask students to read the other articles and write questions to get further information (which could be used as the basis of a follow-up article), or decide on an order for a news broadcast (which they could then practice and perform, focussing perhaps on sentence stress and intonation patterns when presenting facts), and so on.

Acknowledgement: I first came across the above idea in Shawn Severson’s TD session at an International House Training Day in Coimbra, Portugal.

Vocabulary Bag 3


  • Divide your class into groups of 3, 4 or 5 students.
  • Give each group one or two slips of paper from the vocabulary bag, or nominate a student to pick their group’s slip(s).
  • Ask each group to tell you the words or expressions on their slips of paper, and board these. Ask each group to suggest a category each word could belong to (for example, “personality adjectives”, “things in the kitchen” or, more foolishly, “ways of describing how an insect can move”).
  • Set a time limit and ask each group to work together and think of more words that could fit in their categories.
  • Divide your board into columns, one per group. Nominate one student from each group to come to the board, and give each nominated student a board pen. Set a short time limit (e.g., 2 minutes) for them to write the words their group has come up with. Invite other members of the groups to call out their words to the writing student.
  • After the writing time is up, award points (perhaps 3 for words which no other group has got and which are slept correctly, 2 for incorrectly-spelt original words, and 1 for words which other groups also have).
  • Encourage your students to make a note of these extra words in each category; and ask each group to use their words in a news article, interview, dialogue or story. Circulate and help with language as your groups write; and perhaps prepare them to perform these afterwards, focussing on pronunciation.

Backs to the Board

    Divide your students into groups of 3 or 4.

  • Place a chair for each group with its back to the board. Allow yourself room to stand behind the chairs.
  • Invite one student from each group to come and sit in the chair. Reward ready volunteers by giving a point to their team. Spin a pen to choose a student if necessary.
  • Ask the other students to stand (or they can sit) in front of their group’s chair.
  • Explain that you will show the standing students a word from the vocabulary bag. They should describe the word to the student in their group sitting down. The first student to say the word gets a point for their team.
  • Play the game, boarding the words as they arise and awarding points. I find 6 or 7 turns is about the right amount.
  • Either end the lesson or use the boarded words to create a story (see above), a letter, or a lexical set which students can then use in some further activity.


  • Randomly pick a word or phrase from the vocabulary bag and represent it on the board. You can draw but you can’t write any words. Board a line for each word on your slip of paper.
  • Invite students to guess the word or phrase as you draw.
  • Divide the students into groups of three or four.
  • Divide the board into as many columns as you have groups.
  • Invite a student from each group to come to the board and take a pen.
  • Show the students by the board a word/phrase from the bag.
  • The students have one minute to draw this word or phrase (again, they can draw a line for each word in it). Sitting students have one minute to guess the word or phrase.
  • Award points for correct guesses.
  • As above, these words could then be used in a story, or a letter, etc.

Vocabulary Bag 4


  • Randomly pick a word or phrase from the vocabulary bag.
  • Describe it to the students and elicit what the word or phrase is.
  • Divide the students into groups of 3 or 4.
  • Take out some slips of paper from the bag and distribute amongst the different groups.
  • Explain that each group will be describing words or phrases to the others.
  • Explain that, when a group correctly guesses a word or phrase, that group gets one point. Explain that, if this happens, the describing group gets two points.
  • Allow each group two or three minutes to prepare some rudimentary definitions for their words or phrases.
  • Play the game, nominating different students to describe words, and making sure each group describes one word only before another group gets a turn to describe.
  • Award points accordingly.

Role-play conversations

  • Invite two confident students up to the front of the class.
  • Ask them to imagine they are the host and interviewee on a talk show.
  • Put some vocab bag slips in front of them.
  • Tell the listening students that, every time they want a change, they should call out “new word.” Whoever is speaking then has to pick up a slip of paper and use the word or phrase in their next sentence, in as natural a way as possible. The conversation should then continue.
  • Allow three or four minutes of the conversation, making sure that either the students or you shout “new word!” a couple of times.
  • Divide the class into small groups, distribute vocabulary bag slips, and invite different students to repeat the activity in their groups.
  • The students can they write a short dialogue between themselves, using the words or phrases on the slips in their conversation.

Beginners’ Brainstorm

  • Ask your beginner students to individually write down any words they already know in English. Allow five minutes maximum for this. T helps everyone write something, even if it is just a name (e.g., London).
  • Form pairs. The students exchange their items and write them down.
    Join the pairs to make groups of four, and continue the exchange.
    Break the groups and form new groups of four. Continue the exchange.
  • Collate the list on the whiteboard or an A3 piece of paper. Make sure everyone has a copy.
  • You can display these words and refer back to them via various word games (see above for some ideas).

Acknowledgement: the idea above comes from The Minimax Teacher by Jon Taylor (DELTA Publishing, 2001).

One thought on “Eight vocabulary revision activities

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.