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One-to-One Vocabulary Review Activities

September 5, 2017

Recently a subscriber asked us to share some ideas on reviewing vocabulary in a one-to-one teaching setting. Getting vocabulary to stick is often a matter of choosing vocabulary that is necessary or relevant for your student. After you pick the right vocabulary sets, find different ways to play with the words to ensure they become part of your student’s active vocabulary.

Here are some ideas to try in your one-to-one lessons:

Wh- Questions

After your student learns a new word, work together to come up with 5 Wh- questions that relate to it. Example: “interrupt”

  • Who interrupts you a lot?
  • What do people interrupt teachers for?
  • Where do people often interrupt?
  • When is interrupting essential?
  • When is interrupting rude?
  • How do you interrupt politely?

Speed Sort

Choose a set of words or flashcards that you’ve been working on and place them on individual slips of paper facedown in front of your student.

Now, have your student flip over the cards quickly, sorting them into two piles, Words I Know and Words I Don’t Know. Any time you see your student hesitate when placing a word into the Words I Know pile, shout “Challenge” and ask your student to place the card in front of the two piles.

Now your student has to be able to define the word and use it in a sentence. You may want to test your student’s spelling and pronunciation, too.

If your student gets a word wrong, move it to the Words I Don’t Know pile. After the sorting and challenging is over, go through the Words I Don’t Know pile and help your student learn these words by going over definitions, examples, pronunciation, etc.

Play again at the beginning of your next session. You may want to pull a few random cards from the Words I Know pile to make sure your student really knows the word.

Tip: Be sure to search our Flashcard section to see if we have the words you need. Keep in mind that you can edit the text of an image to any word or word form you need!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Choose 10 words from a reading that you are working on. Work together to write a story, poem, or letter that features all of the new or tricky words. You could write it like a chain, where your student writes one sentence (and crosses off a word) and you write the next.

Vocab Collage

Bring in some old magazines and have your student cut out objects and large words that he or she is familiar with in English.

While your student is making a collage of familiar words, point to useful words and objects in a magazine that your student may not know (but should). If your student does not know the word, cut the picture or word out and make your own collage with the unfamiliar words.

Go over the word collage regularly until your student knows all of the vocabulary. Try to use a balance of words and pictures to make the collage visually appealing. Vocab collages can be done in themes or just as a random vocabulary building activity that will also get your student talking.

Role Reversal

Teaching is the best way to learn. Tell your student to pretend that you are the learner. Your student will have to use examples, definitions, and drawings to get you to guess words from a list of new words.

Word Soup

Build Word Soup by focusing on themes or word forms. Draw a pot on a piece of paper or on a board. Slowly call out related words and have your student write them in the pot (e.g., school, teacher, pencil, pen, desk). Then call out a word that doesn’t belong (e.g., vacuum cleaner). If your student detects the odd word, have him start a new Word Soup beginning with this word. If your student doesn’t spot the word, keep going for a while and then ask your student to spot the odd ingredient.

Get your student to create a big Word Soup before writing a word that doesn’t go into it. You could do this with themes or with word forms (e.g., Verbs, Adjectives). For odd words, choose words that go with other word sets you have studied in the past. Make notes of the spelling mistakes and review them with your student.

RSP Detective

Have your student do regular detective work by trying to find a root and a suffix or prefix for a new word. Then open a dictionary together and try to find at least one related word.

Example: “interrupt”

prefix – inter

root – rupt

related words – interrogate, interaction, rupture, erupt

What Would an Elephant Do with This Word?

When you get to know your one-to-one students well, you’ll learn what topics they are interested in (or even obsessed about). Find one animal, character, sport, or other subject that your student is passionate about (e.g., elephant, soccer, baking). Whenever you come across a new word, ask your student to come up with a sentence that combines this passion and the new word.

For example, imagine the new word is interrupt and your private lesson students have the following interests:

Elephant An elephant would interrupt a sleeping family as it walked by.
Soccer Don’t interrupt me when I’m watching soccer.
Baking Someone always interrupts me while I’m measuring sugar.

Now imagine the new phrase these three students learned was special occasion. They might come up with these sentences:

Elephant I rode an elephant once. It was a special occasion.
Soccer At special occasions, the men in my family sit in the living room and watch soccer.
Baking I bake cakes for special occasions such as birthdays.

Top 10 Booklet

Who doesn’t love a good Top 10 list? Whenever you cover a theme or grammar target, have your student make a Top Ten list. Keep all of the Top 10 lists together and quiz your student on these words regularly.

  • Top Ten Simple Past Verbs
  • Top Ten Entertainment Genres
  • Top Ten Kitchen Nouns
  • Top Ten Adverbs
  • Top Ten Small Talk Subjects

See our Word Bank lessons for other ways to review 10–12 words in a set.

Word Fit

One-to-one lessons often take place in libraries or study halls where you feel like you have to keep your voice down and sit in one place. Why not get out and about once in a while? Grab two pens and two notebooks and go out for a walk. Set a time limit. Set a vocabulary goal too. Here are some possible vocabulary goals for a walk with your English student:

  • spot 10 words you learned this week
  • write down all of the action verbs you see
  • write down ten things you see that you don’t know the word for (in one’s own language, try to describe in English back in the class)
  • write down 20 natural things that you see
  • spot 20 manmade objects
  • write 20 adjectives that come to mind as you walk (in class have the other person guess what noun went with them)
  • write 10 things that you don’t know how to pronounce properly
  • write 10 business names that you see (in class discuss any play on words and talk about why these names are appropriate or not)
  • make a list of opposites (e.g., one of you writes beautiful things and the other writes ugly things, or one writes white things and one writes black things)

When you get back to your lesson area, have a discussion about what you saw. Go over your lists.

Record and Compare

Record a word list, and have your student record it too. Compare the recordings. Does your student’s version need some pronunciation tweaks? Practice any difficult sounds or words. Then have your student try recording it again.

Yes/No Questions

Have a word list in mind or create one together based on your last few sessions. Then play a game where you think of one of the words, and your student has to ask Yes/No questions to find out which word you are thinking of.

A: Is it a noun?
B: No.

A: Is it a verb?
B: Yes.

A: Is it something you do at work?
B: Yes.

A: Is it a nice verb?
B: Umm. No.

A: Is it a rude verb?
B: Yes. Sometimes.

A: Does it start with an “i”?
B: Yes!

A: Is it “interrupt”?
B: Yes!

Vocabulary Box

As you introduce new vocabulary, try collecting items that represent or relate to the new words. These can be actual items or pictures or objects that relate to the words. Place the items in a box or bag and look through it at the beginning or end of a lesson. Can your student remember why each item or picture is in the Vocabulary Box?

You can also use the Vocabulary Box for other activities such as writing prompts or spelling quizzes. It may even come in handy when you need game pieces for a board game. Clear out the collection once in a while and start a fresh collection!

Share your ideas…

Do you teach one-to-one? Leave a comment with your tips and ideas for reviewing vocabulary and using ESL Library materials! Which sections and tasks from our lessons work well in your private lessons? What adaptations have you made?

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Comments (4)

Bente S.(Teacher)

Great ideas! When I teach new vocabulary, I give them a definition in words they already know. Then I put it in a sentence for them. Next I get them to produce a sentence with the new word orally. For homework, I have them write sentences with the new words. To review, I give them a word and they give me the definition. Then we switch. I also have them look up synonyms, opposites and collocations.

Reply to Comment

Lisa B.(Teacher)

I teach adults refugees and immigrants English.
In addition to teaching words with English words or pictures I teach my students to use their cell phone to access the internet and Google. I have them type in the search box: define word. I like the box of information that usually appears first. It frequently has a button for the student to hear the word in English, definition, synonyms, etc. I also teach them how to use the pronunciation guide and its markings.

If that does not help I then have them return to the Google search box and type: sentences with word. If they understand every word of a sentence they copy it. Often I have them search for 5 or 10.

I use the sentences they find and have them change subjects and objects or other pieces of the sentence to practice using the word.

Hope this helps. My students tell me this is useful for them.

I can't teach them everything but I do try to help them find answers for themselves.

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