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A simple, useful game to teach vocabulary

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I want to share with you a simple and funny game I used over the years to tutor foreign language students. It works better for students at an intermediate-advanced level, when they can hold a simple conversation, but their vocabulary is limited.

I create a scenario in which the student is the main character, and he/she has to overcome obstacles to reach an objective. For example, I tell them they were shipwrecked on a desert island, and they need to find a way to survive and to get back home.

Each progress in the story is tied to language. For instance if their character needs to pick up a wild berry to eat, they need to say "I pick up the berry". If they don't know how to say something they can try circumlocutions or in the end they can ask you for help. You can insert any number of events in the story, like an aggressive animal on the island, or an incoming storm, thereby changing the semantic field of interest pretty often.

In the example I'm using, when they need to gather wood an intermediate student will probably say "pick up", and you can teach him or her the verb "to gather". And explain them that they're building a "raft", not a "boat". And so on. If you have fantasy you can keep it up for a long time, I've never seen a student tired or bored of this game!

If you can draw decently you can also draw the locations and the events on a piece of paper, it helps students feel more in the story. And you can also draw a mountain that they have to climb, or a hole they need to avoid.

Most importantly, you can create a few characters that the student meets in the story, interpreted by you obviously. You'll have a great source of conversations that don't feel forced or boring.

It takes a lot of improvisation by the teacher, an active student, and a certain degree of confidence, but in the end you have a great way to revise and strengthen their existing abilities, and to help their vocabulary grow. It's somewhat similar to writing a story, but it's more interactive and more creative. And it can be a lot of fun!

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  • 1 month later...
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    That sounds like an amazing way to get all your students engaged, participatin, and most importantly, learning.

  I have had some classes that would have absolutely loved this. It would be a Friday afternoon activity for my class and then with the vocabulary we cover, I could assign homework, or have a review quiz.

  Oh how the ideas start to flow once the creative spirit is awakened!

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What a great idea! Even if imagination isn't your strong point, you can still prepare a class in advance and create enough material that will last for an hour or more. Before you know it, the class will be over, and the students are still engaged in the story, wondering what will happen next. I think it's a wonderful way to teach people how to express themselves in a creative way.

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  • 2 weeks later...

That sounds like a fantastic idea to keep students engaged and interested! Not to mention, creating little stories like that is one kind of mnemonic device to help cement things better in our memory to begin with. I love this idea and will try using it soon, thank you for sharing it with us :) .

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it appears that everyone is all in agreement that what you suggested is indeed a marvelous idea. i couldn't agree more with the rest. i remember my boss instructing me to teach his daughter in a similar manner. in fact, he wants a lot of 'make a story' exercises done. he said his daughter is able to learn faster through this combination of creative thinking and 'action' english.

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  • 1 year later...

That's a great idea.  Not only does it help them with learning the language, it also stimulates creativity.  Another good thing about it is that it helps them realize what it would be like to have real world conversations.  Not that it's likely they will be stranded, but the very real instance of having to pull a foreign word out of thin air.  Very clever.

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