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25 ideas for using unit word lists in the classroom

Teacher and young adult students developing their skills with classroom activities

Many ELT series have unit word lists, either in the student book, or available in the teacher resources. However, few teachers make active use of these unit word lists on a regular basis. In an attempt to address this situation I have produced a set of 25 activities which teachers can easily incorporate into their regular teaching practice.

All of the activities have the following three principles:

  1. they can work with almost any ELT unit word list;
  2. apart from the students having access to unit word list itself, they require only basic classroom resources i.e., pencil, paper, board and marker;
  3. they require no previous preparation from the teacher.
Example from: Smart Choice 2nd edition, OUP

Note: Unless otherwise stated, students need to be looking at the word list to do the activity.

  1. Which words do you know (before starting the unit)? – Individually, before starting the unit, students put a tick (✔) on the right next to all the words they know.
  2. What is your favorite word? – Individually, each student identifies their favorite word from the list. Students explain their choice in groups and/or to the whole class.
  3. Which ones are similar to words in your own language? – In small groups, students look through the unit word list and identify all the words that appear to be similar to words in their own language. These could be cognates or false cognates. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  4. I don’t like this word because… – Individually, each student identifies a word from the list that they don’t like. Students explain their choice in groups and/or to the whole class.
  5. Rapid underlining – The teacher chooses between 5 and 10 words from the unit word list and calls these out quite quickly. Individually, students listen, find and underline these words in the list. Students then compare and check that they have found the correct words.
  6. Find the word in the unit – The teacher chooses a word from the word list and calls this out and the students need to find the word in the unit of the course book. This can be done as a race.
  7. Which is the most useful word? – Individually, each student identifies from the unit word list the word they think is the most useful. Students explain their choice in groups and/or to the whole class.
  8. How many of the words are things you can touch? – In small groups, students identify how many of the words in the unit word list are things that can be touched. The teacher elicits and discusses. There might be many different ways to interpret this and can lead to interesting discussion.
  9. ‘Killing’ vocab items – In small groups, students decide on 3 words they want to eliminate from the unit word list and which will not appear in the next test. The teacher then elicits from each group the 3 words they chose. The teacher writes these words on the board and identifies which 3 words are the most frequently chosen from all the groups. The teacher promised not to include these in the next test. (Dudley, E. & E. Osváth. 2016. Mixed-Ability Teaching. OUP)
  10. Rapid translation – In pairs, students take it in turns to choose a word from the unit word list. The other student has to try to give the translation in their own language.
  11. How many have you seen today? – In small groups, students identify how many of the words in the unit word list are things / concepts / actions they have seen today. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  12. Identify the words from a definition – The teacher chooses about 5 words from the unit word list and then one word at a time tells the students a definition of each word. Individually, students look at the list and underline the words they think the teacher is describing. The teacher elicits, checks and discusses.
  13. How many have 3 syllables? – In small groups, students identify how many words have 3 syllables. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  14. Which word is the most difficult to pronounce? – Individually, each student looks at the unit word list and identifies the word they think is the most difficult to pronounce. The teacher elicits and helps students pronounce the words they chose.
  15. Bingo – Individually, students choose any 5 words from the unit word list and write these on a piece of paper. The teacher reads and crosses off words at random from the list until a student has crossed off all of their 5 words and calls out ‘bingo’.
  16. How many words have the stress on the second syllable? – In small groups, students look through the unit word list and identify how many words are stressed on the second syllable. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  17. Which is the most difficult word to spell? – Individually, each student looks at the unit word list and identifies the word they think is the most difficult to spell. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  18. Test your partner’s spelling – In pairs, one student looks at the unit word list and chooses 5 words and dictates these to the other student (who is not looking at the list). After the dictation of the 5 words the students both look at the list and check the spelling.
  19. The teacher can’t spell – The teacher choices 5 words and spells these aloud to the student but makes a deliberate spelling mistake in 2 or 3 of the words. Students listen while looking at the word list and try to identify which words were misspelled.
  20. Quick spelling – In pairs, students take it in turns for one student to choose a word and spell it aloud quickly to other student. The second student tries to say the word before the first student has finished spelling it aloud.
  21. Which word has the craziest spelling? – Individually, each student decides which word, in their opinion, has the craziest spelling. The teacher elicits the words from the students and the class identifies which word was the most frequently chosen.
  22. Which are the 3 longest words? – In small groups, students look through the unit word list and identify the 3 words with the most of letters. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  23. Guess my word – In pairs, students take it in turns to choose a word from the unit word list. The other student needs to ask yes/no questions to work out the word.
  24. Can you make a sentence using 4 of the words? – Individually, each student makes a sentence using any 4 of the words from the unit word list (combined with other words to create coherent sentences). Students then compare and decide which sentence they like best.
  25. Which words do you know (after finishing the unit)? – Individually, after finishing the unit, students put a tick (✔) on the left next to all the words they now know. They can compare this with the number of words they knew before starting the unit and see their progress.

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Philip Haines moved to Mexico from England in 1995, and currently works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico. He has spoken internationally in three continents and nationally in every state in Mexico. Philip is the author/co-author of several ELT series published in Mexico.


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10,000 hours of English – how do you teach yours?

students critical thinkingToday, we feature a post from a guest blogger. Irina Lutsenko is a teacher of English from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Over her 10 years in the profession, Irina has taught teenagers, university students and adults. The courses she has taught include General English, Business English, IELTS preparation and TOEFL preparation. In this post, Irina explores how learning English can be much more than just following a course book, and how to fit ‘extra hours’ of English into the learning practice. 

Being a teacher of English, I deal with piles of course books on a daily basis. Course books are really engaging these days, and I inevitably draw a lot of inspiration from them. Sometimes, a single sentence can start a long train of thought. In this post, I’m exploring one such instance, which led to a surprising realization! Lesson 9A in English File Intermediate (Third Edition) centers around the topic of luck. In this lesson the students read a text called ‘A question of luck?’ which explains why certain people become extraordinarily successful, and what factors contribute to their success.

Have a look at the final paragraph of the text:

10000hours

I don’t know about the specific number – 10,000 hours seems a little excessive! – but the theory behind it makes a lot of sense for language learning.

When deciding to embark on the journey of learning English, many students pin their hopes on the teacher and the course book. Unfortunately, just going to classes and following a course book is not enough. You do need to put in a lot of extra hours to become a successful language learner.

So how can you increase the amount of time you spend on English?

We’ll need to do a little maths here. Let’s say you have English classes twice a week and each class is one and a half hours long. That’s three hours of English a week. If you don’t do anything else – that’s just three for you. However, you can (and should) add the following:

Do your homework. That’s at least one hour per week. I love giving my students ‘enormous’ (in their words) homework. That’s at least one to two hours more. Add: three hours.

Start your day with a TED talk. These are short – 15 minutes on average, which gives you around two hours more per week if you start every day from listening to a TED talk. Add: two hours.

Read or listen to something in English on your way to work / school. Read a book if you go by metro or listen to an audio book if you go by car. Optimistically speaking, your way to work / school takes 30 minutes, multiply it by 2 and then by 5. Add: five hours.

Watch a series and/or a film in English. Most episodes of most series are only 20-30 minutes long. One episode each day multiplied by five working days gives you two and a half hours. At the weekend, watch a film. Add: four and a half hours.

Do some speaking. Find an English-speaking partner online, speak to your friends, join a Speaking Club. Add: one and a half hours.

Let’s throw in an additional hour for times when you check some vocabulary and/or make notes. Add: one hour.

Adding these together comes to seventeen additional hours of English – plus three hours of classes with a teacher. Combined, they total twenty hours of English a week!

It is overwhelmingly obvious that students who put in twenty hours of English a week will be more successful than those who put in just three. The extra hours – tens turning into hundreds, hundreds turning into thousands before you know it – they truly work wonders!