Embedding English: Staging a recap session with the vocabulary box

The vocabulary box

Many teachers review key words and terminology by having a vocabulary box to store word cards in class and then providing opportunities for recap through games and tasks. This bank of word cards builds up session by session so that over time, the class has access to key words from a range of topics delivered at different points in the learning programme. The recap activities help learners to recall words, clarify misunderstandings and consolidate their use of the language in context.

I have used and seen different ways of presenting the word cards, in different settings. Some teachers write one word per card; some put the word on one side and the definition/example on the other, creating the possibility of “flip the card” games; some put the word on one side and a picture on the other. The presentation of the cards should be tailored to the level and needs of the learners and wherever possible, involve them in creating the cards in the first place.

I have written about creating a vocabulary box and the kinds of recap games you can play in this blog:

The vocabulary box

This blog is about staging a recap session using cards from your vocabulary box and was prompted by an email from Alex Melhuish, an Advanced Practitioner from Barnsley College, after attending some training with me recently. Thanks for the nudge to get this down on paper and hope it is useful for your colleagues and learners, Alex.

Stages of a recap session


Set learners into groups of three or four, with a range of abilities in each group if possible. Give each group of learners a set of about 16-20 cards from the vocabulary box.

  1. Activity One (categorizing)

As a group, they arrange the cards into groups of related words. You can either:

  1. allow them to group the words in any way that makes sense to them or
  2. specify an organizing principle such as by topic, by confidence in explaining the word etc.

Post-it note headings

Once the words are organized, learners use post-it notes to give each category a heading and then go to visit other groups to see how they organized their words and whether they want to challenge the groupings.

Visiting another group

Alternatively no post-it note headings are created but a visitor can be sent from one group to another to hear the explanation of their category headings.

These activities support learners with recalling relationships between words and how they occur together in different contexts. The main focus is on clarifying the meaning of words here.

2. Activity Two (word grab)

The learners spread out their words so they are not in categories but can be seen by the group as they are face up on the table. One learner will act as the teacher in this activity and will choose words at random and explain them without using the exact word. The other two or three students will race to grab the word described. The winner is the learner with the biggest pile of words by the end of the activity.

This activity focuses on the meaning of the word and the ability of the teacher to give a clear definition. It helps the learners to recall different contexts in which the words are used. It is more challenging than the previous activity as the teacher has to create a sentence to explain the word and the other learners have to combine listening to the “teacher” with selecting the correct word under time pressure.

3. Activity Three (what can you remember?)

The teacher role now moves to another student in the group. The rest of the group close their eyes or look away from the table. The teacher picks up and holds in their hand 6 or 7 words from the pile, without the other learners seeing which words have been picked up.

The teacher holds onto the words out of sight of the group while the learners try to recall what is missing from the table. Re-organising the words into their related groups can help learners to recall which words are missing and this consolidates those word association links in memory. If necessary, the teacher can prompt the group with clues or definitions, if they are struggling to remember what is missing.

This activity gives practice in recalling words from short-term memory and allows the group to re-visit how words are related to each other in topics.

4. Activity Four (Say It, Spell It, Use It)

 The teacher role now moves to another student in the group. The teacher picks out 6 words at random from the pile and chooses a student to work with 1 word from their selection. The learner has to spell the word, using the support of writing the word down if necessary, then create a definition and an example of the word used in the curriculum context.

This activity brings different aspects of the words together in one task – the spelling, the pronunciation and the use of the words to show the meaning and the grammatical form. The previous activities support learners in being able to complete this one together.

The role of the class teacher

 During these activities the main role of the class teacher is to facilitate the set up of groups and to manage time limits and behaviour in case the learners get over-excited by the element of competition here. As you circulate around the groups, you can hear words that may need some remedial work and use those in a whole class plenary slot at the end of the activities. It is helpful to have dictionaries available on tables and online during this session in case learners get stuck and need additional support with checking words.

This entry was posted in Advanced Practitioners, CPD, CPD for Teachers, Embedding English, embedding literacy, FE, Recycling, Revision, Staff Development, Teaching and learning, vocabulary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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