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Five games for vocabulary practice on CELTA

Updated: Feb 16

Five games for vocabulary practice on CELTA
Games can be a great way to engage students

New teachers sometimes think that 'controlled practice' means 'boring practice'. It's true that controlled practice activities include typical course-book exercises like filling in the gaps or putting words in order in a sentence or matching sentence halves. And there's nothing wrong with activities like these. However, it can be a good idea to lift controlled practice off the page and make is more engaging and interactive. Here are a few simple ideas to help you do this:

1. Hotseat (sometimes called Backs to the Board)

In this game, two students come up to the front of the class, with their backs to the board. The teacher writes one of the new words on the board and the students work in two teams, and have to get the student with their back to the board to say the word on the board by giving definitions and examples. The first student to say the word gets a point and then another member of each team must come up to the hot-seat and the teacher will put a new word on the board. The teams continue to compete for points. This game is very popular - I have seen it work equally well with groups of children as with groups of businesspeople in suits.

2. Charades

In charades, students work in teams and act out a new word for a chosen classmate. Again, this can be done as a race for points. Charades is great fun - and it can work even better when a word doesn't have an obvious gesture associated with it, forcing students to really think about the words they're acting out.

3. Pictionary

Just like in charades, Pictionary is played by teams, where one team member will draw a picture of the new word while the other students guess what the word is. Again, this can be done against a clock for points if your students are competitive. This game can be a bit trickier with older groups or people who are self-conscious about drawing, but it can also work very well.

4. Definitions mingle

This activity is very simple. It's not a competitive game, but it is a way of taking vocabulary practice off the page. If you have a slip of paper with each of your new words on a slip, all the students stand up and receive a slip. They must define their word for a partner and their partner must guess the word. When both partners have guessed the word correctly, they swap the slip of paper and move on and define their new word for a new partner and so on until they've spoken to every classmate and defined every word.

5. Peer test

I think this is the easiest controlled practice task imaginable and it doesn't take any preparation at all. The students work in pairs; one student in each pair is a 'teacher' and the other student is the 'student'. The teacher can look at the book/their notes and they must define the new words (give their 'student' a 'test'). The student will have to guess the words being defined. After a while, you can swap the roles.

All of these activities are a lot more enjoyable than the typical vocabulary practice activities that you find in books, They are all easy to do and require minimal preparation. This is why so many teachers use them.

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.

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