Vocab Bag

Professor David Crystal

Building vocabulary is key to learner progress.

The English language is lexically very rich, although estimates of how many words there are vary wildly. See Prof. David Crystal’s article, ‘How Many Words‘ for a professional analysis. 

The idea of a vocab bag came from an INSETT session given by a colleague of mine, Miranda Hamilton. Here’s how it works…

  • You don’t need anything special to set this up – just some strips of scrap paper and a small bag to keep them in. This is your vocab bag and is dedicated to this particular class.
  • Assign one or two students to be the ‘secretary’ for that class. It’s their job to note down any new vocabulary that comes up. 
  • When a new word or phrase comes up, note it down on the board and have the secretary note it down on a new piece of paper. They can use a translation, give examples how to use the word, represent it visually, provide a synonym, or all of these methods to make sure the meaning of the word is clear. Depending on time and level you could also explore collocations and idioms…

  • At the end of the class or the beginning of the next, take 5 or 10 minutes to go through new vocabulary that has gone into the bag. Here are just a few ideas for activities that could come from the vocab bag…
    • Crossword – either make it yourself, or have two groups make it for each other (no prep!)
    • Wordsearch – make it extra challenging by not giving the students the list of words to find and getting them to try and remember which words came up that week.
    • Back to the board – Write a word on the board and get students to explain it to each other.
    • Taboo – Just like the board game. Write down 3 or 4 words that students can’t use to explain the new vocabulary. Their team has to guess what they’re explaining.

As always, experiment with it and make it a regular activity that you and your class (adult or YL) feel comfortable with and can learn from.


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