Monday, February 21, 2011

Dictionaries, Definitions and Vocabulary

Purpose: To give intermediate and advanced level students practice working with dictionaries and recognizing differences in the definitions of similar words, as well as increasing learners’ vocabularies

Preparation time: 10-15 minutes

Materials: class set of dictionaries, such as the Longman Student Dictionary of American English

Preparation: Prepare a short list of words that have similar meanings, and their definitions, to use in modeling the activity (see first example). Then create an additional list of 5-6 words and definitions (see second sample list). Plan to write both sets on the board, unless you prefer to create a handout.


I do it:

1. Explain that you are writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to complain about ways that your life has been negatively affected by the economic crisis. For example, city services have decreased, as have your hours at work, etc.

2. Ask the student(s) what you could do to find some other words that have meanings similar to decrease. Generate a list. If no one suggests looking in a dictionary, ask if anyone has ever used one to find words to use in writing.

3. Pass out the dictionaries. Ask students to look up the verb decrease and suggest some alternate words for you to use.

4. Discuss which words would work best in the context of your letter to the editor. Then write a few sentences on the board using those words. For example, you might use go down, drop, fall, diminish.

5. Since the alternate words can have slightly different meanings in other contexts, refer to the dictionaries again for sample sentences and additional definitions.

We do it:

1. Write the short list of words and definitions on the board in two columns. For example, you might choose the word see and write two or three others words that also mean see, but are used in slightly different ways:

2. Explain that all the words mean see but that they are used for different purposes.

3. Ask students to look up the first word in the dictionary. Can they help you match it with its definition?

4. Once you agree on the definition, draw a line from the word to its definition.

5. Ask students to look up the other words, then come up to the board and connect the words to their definitions.

You do it:

1. Now repeat the activity with the list of 5-6 words and definitions.

2. Let’s assume you’ve chosen the word tell. Explain that all the words mean tell but they can be used for different purposes.

3. Ask the students to use their dictionaries to match the words and definitions. Here’s a sample list:

Wrap Up: Students come to the board or in some other way indicate which words they matched with which definitions. Now ask them to use each word in a sentence. Check the sentences and select several to use for a dictation exercise.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Purpose: This method starts with a theme or context (the “whole”), pulls out specific parts to analyze, then goes back to a text to practice the “part” in context. It can help students work on spelling and pronunciation skills.

Preparation Time: 10-15 minutes

Materials: Work with your core text, a level-appropriate reader, or create your own text.

The Talk of the Block series from New Readers Press contains readings on various themes that work well for this type of activity.

Preparation: Look for vocabulary in a text that can be used as the basis for a spelling and pronunciation lesson. For example, in the story, "Food from the Heart" from the Talk of the Block series, words using the long “e” sound are featured. These include words like meal, meat, and peel, which illustrate different spellings for the long “e” sound. You could write a simple story of your own about family, using words like nurse, daughter, and first to illustrate the different spellings for the same sound.


  1. Based on your theme, elicit vocabulary from learners. Using visuals to prompt learners’ memories is very helpful. Add to these words the ones you want to highlight for your spelling/pronunciation lesson. Elicit spelling when writing all the words on the board and pre-teach any new vocabulary that students will encounter in the story.
  2. Focusing on the sounds and letter combinations you wish to emphasize, circle or underline them in the words on the board, model them, and practice the pronunciation.
  1. Erase the words on the board and give students a brief dictation or spelling test.
  2. Give students a copy of the story to read. You may decide to have them read it silently first, then aloud to see if they remember the spelling and pronunciation rules. Again, list the words in the story that illustrate the spelling lesson, or ask learners to identify them.
  3. Ask students to write sentences using the words.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Written Role Play

Purpose: To improve writing fluency and to practice language specific to the chosen role play situation. An interesting problem can get students writing without being too concerned about making mistakes.

Preparation Time: The time it takes to choose a scenario for the role play.

Materials: Paper and pens

Preparation: Choose a role play situation in which there is a problem to discuss. For example: Two roommates have different preferences for cleanliness with one that is quite messy and the other who likes things to be neat, or an employee is stuck in traffic and late for a meeting and a manager that has been waiting for twenty minutes.


1. Describe the role play situation from the point of view of one person in the role play. For example: You have a very messy roommate. You prefer to keep your house clean, but your roommate hasn’t cleaned up for weeks. You notice a strange smell when you walk into the house and decide that it is time to talk to your roommate about the problem.
2. Students get out pens and paper and write their names on their papers. Then they start writing what the person in the role play would say. Instruct students to write legibly so that someone else can read their writing.

3. After a few minutes ask students to finish writing their last sentence and then pass their papers to the right. Give students a minute or two to read.

4. Now all the students write the other role in the role play. They write whatever they want to in response to the original complaint. After a few minutes, students pass their papers back to the original writers who then get to write another response.

5. Continue trading papers and writing as long as there is interest.

Possible Follow up Activities: Students can read their dialogs out loud for other students to hear, they can edit their dialogs and then share them, or they can do the role play again as a conversation activity.

Variation: In a one-to-one tutoring situation, the teacher can write and then trade papers with the student.

Picture Flash

Purpose: Visuals cues provide an interesting and challenging way to review vocabulary, as well as testing students’ powers of observation. This activity works well in one-to-one situations as well as in a group.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Materials: If the group is large, you’ll need a projector so that everyone can see and participate.
Choose pictures from magazines, or the Internet, that relate to the lesson topic. You’ll also need
a blank sheet of paper to cover the picture.

Preparation: Select several photos related to your topic. Make sure all the students in a class can see the area where you are projecting the picture. If working with an individual student, sit at a table to facilitate showing the picture.

Explain that you will show the picture very briefly. Model this.

Ask the students to talk about what they saw after you cover up the picture. For example, you might flash a picture of a room. Encourage students to shout out what room it is.

Flash the picture again and see what else students can add. What’s in the room? Are there people in the room? What are they doing?

Flash the picture until students can’t add any more details.

Repeat with other pictures if desired.

Note: If you’re using a projector, don’t turn it on and off during this activity. That will quickly ruin the bulb. Cover and uncover the picture using a piece of paper.