Saturday, 5 November 2011

3 Fun Vocabulary Warm-ups

It is news to  no one that new vocabulary must be used and re-used before it is 'owned' by the learner.

So why not combine your class warm-up with a fun and painless vocabulary review?

#1 HANG MAN. -

a classroom classic - and for good reason! Of course, choose challenging words you are reviewing from the previous class.  It also has the advantage of giving students important practice in spelling, something I've found they often imperfectly learn in their first English classes, and may have rarely revisited since.

Extension: Once the word is discovered, have students write a question using the word in a real,  meaningful context. Give them a few moments to circulate and ask and answer questions of each other. Discuss as a class as necessary. This is very important in giving students the chance to use the vocabulary more personally and in meaningful contexts

#2 BOOM! -
You need :
  • relevant vocabulary for review on the board or on slips of paper.
  • a ball (or pencilcase or similar that can easily be tossed and caught.)
the game is played as followed:

  • Choose a "BOOM number" - 3 is a good one to start with.
  • Students stand in a circle
  • Toss the object from student to student randomly. 
  • Each person catching the object must count as they do so.
  • Whenever they come to a multiple of the BOOM number, they must say "BOOM!" instead of the number, as follows, "1 - 2 - BOOM! - 4 - 5 - BOOM! - 7 - 8 - BOOM!"
  • Whenever someone counts incorrectly or drops or misthrows the ball, they must take a slip of paper or choose a word from the board to make a question to ask of the group.
  • repeat until all vocabulary is dealt with.

This activity has the advantage of not only reviewing important vocabulary, but also giving students practice in the important communication strategy of 'talking around' the words they lack by describing them with other words. For higher level students, having a good opportunity to painlessly and naturally practice relative clauses is a bonus extra.

Once again all you need are the words written on slips of paper.
Students can be placed in teams which have their members take it in turn to choose a word.
This they must describe until their teammates identifies the word.

For example, if the word were say PAINTING, the student might say, "It is thing you put on the wall. It is art. They have many of them in an art gallery..."     

Points can be given to the teams if your class enjoys competition.
3 points for a word guessed correctly with the first students identification.
If the student is unsure of the meaning of the word, or if her teammates are unable to identify the meaning of the word, another team member can join her - but the team will only earn 2 points. 
Of course, any point system can be varied according to what works with the group.

As discussed in a previous post all important incidental vocabulary that comes up during a class can be recorded in a margin of the board for this type of follow-up use in the next class.

It is important to tell students they will be 'tested' on the vocabulary in the coming class.

Their delight on discovering the 'testing' is all in good fun does not diminish the formation of a habit of taking careful note of new vocabulary by knowing that it will be important to them in the coming class.

If you have any ideas to add, I'd be delighted to hear them!

I find one of the most important things is to vary warm-ups so that your classes are never predicitable.



  1. Hi Lucy,

    Nice post! I've not tried "Boom," but I like the sound of it. I'll have to try to use it in one of my classes soon.

    I like circumlocution very well, and depending on the students and the number of words, you could even combine circumlocution with a game of memory.


  2. Yes, the great thing about BOOM! is, being so kinesthetic, it really gets students smiling and engaged, and their brains nicely irrigated to be receptive to learning.

    Also it is very adaptable to add zing to all kinds of different classroom tasks; even something as dull as checking grammar exercises.

    For practicing numbers, you can count in multiples of five or ten. You can use the alphabet instead of numbers.

    And as for using it for vocabulary: When vocabulary is more challenging I like writing all the phrases on the board and thus the students can choose which of them they feel most secure about to formulate their question - so lowering their stress levels... but also the game becomes increasingly challenging as the more difficult words/phrases remain. As a last resort, clever students can ask:"Can you tell me what ----- means?"

    This also gives good feedback to us as educators about what they have mastered and what is difficult. It is all good!