Use it: Don't Let Them Lose It!

You've just done a really weighty, vocabulary rich text with your English language learners.

It was a great article from Business Spotlight or maybe something you downloaded from an online news source.

Perhaps it was a reading out of a textbook a little above their level (oops!) or you had them review sections from an authentic, bestselling, business book in their field.

You were so keen - it was exactly their interests, you sigh, yet it was just too much vocabulary.

Now you're all feeling a bit overwhelmed and they're looking at you like you are the meanest English teacher in the world.

So you buckled down and successfully explained the words, spent a chunk of class time dissecting the meanings, giving/getting examples with some of the students hitting their translators or looking in their dictionaries.

At the end of the lesson, you had them list the new words in their language journals.

Done. Ready to scurry on out of that failed lesson?


There were at least 12 words they had never seen before. It might have been 20. *Blush*

Deep down you know there's a real good chance they may not know them next week either, let alone in a month's time.

shotputWas it important vocabulary, I mean did you choose the article because it was stuff they expressed an interest in, it's topical and relevant to their lives?

So they would benefit from knowing that great lexis. Right?

It's your task now to transfer some of those into their active vocabularies.

Instead of using a whole lesson dissecting words (or rather you teaching them the vocabulary) why not work on a few and put these into active use.

Here's one tip on how to do this:

1. What's important?
Not all of that lexis is stuff they're going to be able to use again. Get your students to individually decide which words are most relevant and encourage them to choose no more than 8 that they can see as being useful.

All the better if they can choose whole phrases, i.e. a prudent investment is stickier than "prudent."

2. Let's share what was so hard
Get one of the students to go up to the board eliciting words and phrases that the rest of the class want to learn. Encourage students to share at least 4 - add numbers when you hear a word or phrase repeated.

At the end of this, draw a circle around these highest ranking words.

3. Why those words?
Look at the highest ranking words and phrases. Ask students why they chose these, getting them to repeat them as they explain their reasons.

4. What's the situation?
Ask your students to brainstorm circumstances when these phrases might be used in a conversation.

Would it be on the telephone? In a meeting? A meeting about what?

At a business dinner? Throw out some ideas and get them to tell you others.

5. Who's using those words?
Tell them they're eavesdropping on a conversation. It's awfully interesting. Who's speaking?

caber6. What are they saying?
Divide your students into groups and tell them to write out a dialogue. Get volunteers from each group to become the secretaries.

7. The screenwriting event.
The secretaries' post-task activity is to type up the mini-screenplays and bring in copies for the rest of the class.

The rest of the students should either

look for examples of these words in context on google (see here) or
use at least two words/phrases during the week with their colleagues or clients and report back with the who and how in the next lesson.

You know what's coming next, right?

8. The Oscars
In the next class, check and edit the screenplays. Encourage students to mix into different groups to read and review each others dialogues. Ask for volunteers to do one as a quick play.

Ask some of the students if and how they used the words they chose during the week or if they read them anywhere else.

Over the coming lessons, throughout the following weeks, you now have two different here's-one-I-made-earlier ice-breakers/ warmers /fillers at hand and can get different students acting out the various dialogues or discussing how students have managed to use the vocabulary.

They love that part, especially if they inject the words into a later conversation and you notice.

weightAs always, hope this works for you as well as it does for me!

You can apply these steps to any lesson which involves teaching a lot of lexis in one go.

Before you dash off though, do you have another tip or suggestion for us on making vocabulary sticky?

Share your ideas by clicking comments and thanks very much!

Useful links related to this posting:

What to do with emergent language
Beam their errors on to the wall
Finding articles in your students fields
Noticing the News
Reading turned into speaking


9 Responses to “Use it: Don't Let Them Lose It!”

  • Unknown says:
    June 18, 2009

    Another set of great ideas Karenne! Thanks!

  • Johanna Stirling says:
    June 18, 2009

    Hi Karrenne,

    Yes, making vocab stick is a massive challenge and I love some of your ideas and I'm looking forward to trying them out with my Spanish teacher/students next week. Thank you.

    This is an area I've done quite a bit of work on (but I've never used the word 'stickiness' but will now!). I use a Vocabox - to my mind the most useful and low-tech tool ever to enter a classroom (except teachers and students of course). It's basically just a box with all the words taught in it and loads of activities that you can do with the words. A full description here: .

    Keep up the great articles.


  • Jeremy Day says:
    June 18, 2009

    Hi Karenne

    Ach ... I've just spent the past hour creating a huge vocab exercise based on a text. I'd just finished and thought I'd have a look at Kalinago to help me relax ... and now I feel all stressed again. Lesson starts in 45minutes. Better get planning again, this time with some of your techniques. Thanks.

  • Unknown says:
    June 18, 2009

    Making it stick:
    1. Get sts. to teach the vocab back to you and other sts in your next class.
    2. Get them to make crosswords to test each other.
    3. Voc on screen > Read out gapped sentences > Students have to choose voc for gaps from what is on screen.
    4. Get sts to mime voc to each other.
    5. Students create gap fill exercises for others to do.
    6 In pairs, sts must find ways of making each other say the voc items they have on their lists.
    7. Students classify voc:
    Words I like
    Words I am not going to remember
    Words that sound very English
    Words I can imagine myself using etc.
    Whatever methods you use, you have to find ways of getting your students to revisit vocab. There's no alternative to enjoyable revision.

    June 18, 2009

    Great tips Glennie,

    Thanks so much for sharing these with us all!

    I especially like the idea of #6 and am looking forward to trying that out.

    Hey, Holly - you're welcome ;-)

    I know, it is an odd way of expressing it: I think perhaps I hang out in too many social-media blogs and somehow adopted the phrase without realizing it.

    Great application though for language development though. LOL.

    Thanks for the tip to elgweb, hadn't seen that before.


    June 18, 2009

    Sorry Jeremy,

    Really didn't mean to stress you out ;-). Hope one of these worked well for you!


  • Anonymous says:
    June 19, 2009

    I am putting your link up in my CELTA and DELTA student support pages!

    Your ideas, dear Karenne, echo so much - but in action - what I do with these groups and I think you are a great role model for my trainees. :-)

  • WeboWord says:
    June 19, 2009

    Hey Karenne

    Fantastic set of activities, however you missed out on one crucial method of making vocab (or so we believe! :) ).
    WeboWord's visual vocabulary style is easily replicable and is being loved by students in many parts of the world, since it forces them to connect a given word with a situation. The creative freedom that sketching/cartooning allows them adds to the pleasure of Vocab building.
    Would love to hear your thoughts about the same, so we could improve on our approach and the students we have been working with too.

    Warm Regards,

  • Glennie says:
    June 19, 2009

    Something I have just done this morning is to ask a st to reteach vocab to the class.

    I ask them to include explanations of why certain items are difficult for, in my case, Spaniards. This means they refocus on language transfer issues (false friends) or pronunciation problems etc. which I mentioned when I taught the vocab.

    Bearing in mind that teaching somebody something seems to guarantee that what you teach will stick with you (I have read of a 95% success rate in this respect), this is a procedure I intend to use to use again.
    Apart from that, sts like playing at being teacher, (and I liked playing at being a student).


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