Tag Archives: vocabulary

Game: Team Crossword Challenge

My favourite way to start a lesson is by involving all my students in an activity that helps them revise previous content.

I usually like to engage my students in a fun activity, most of the time teacher-guided, and that will require their attention and active participation. It can be quite challenging, though, because my classes start at 3 pm, right after lunch, and most of them are feeling pretty full and sluggish. (Side note: I live in Spain.)

For this activity, we will complete a crossword using clues related to work vocabulary, but this game can be easily tailored to any vocabulary or level of difficulty. So, if you are looking for a fun and engaging way to test your students’ vocabulary and teamwork skills, you’ll love this game.

As expected, being a technology enthusiast, I have used a digital tool to design a crossword that is completely adapted to the vocabulary I have taught my students.

  • Crossword game
  • Teacher-paced
  • Topic: Work
  • Level: B2+
How to play

The rules of the game are:

  • Divide the class into two groups, with each group choosing a representative.
  • A coin flip will determine which team starts the game.
  • The active team will select a number, and the corresponding definition will be read out loud.
  • The active team has 10 seconds to provide an answer, which will be given by their representative. If the answer is correct, the team can keep playing. Yes, they keep on playing.
  • If the team cannot provide an answer or makes a mistake within the time limit, the other team will take their turn.
  • The game is won by the team that correctly answers the final question.

Note:Click on the red arrows in the top right corner to enlarge the crossword.

Tool used: Learningapps

Flowers by Miley Cyrus in my Class

I can’t. I couldn’t resist the temptation of using this song in class. I know you have heard it everywhere, as it has become a global hit in just a few days. And as it turns out, it is also in my English class.

How can I incorporate the song into my lesson plan in a way that goes beyond just a fill-in-the-blank exercise?  Easy. We are going to do an activity that combines some of my favourite ingredients:

  • A touch of technology
  • A game-like speaking activity
  • Singing? if not singing, lip-syncing.

STEP 1. Before the game: working on form
  • Show students the lyrics with the gaps and ask them to predict the lexical category or part of speech that could fit each of the 10 gaps in the song: is it a noun, an adjective, a preposition or maybe an article? Allow a couple of minutes for this task. You might want to show an example.

For example, I wrote a letter___ my mother (students will most likely agree, they’ll need   a preposition to fill in this gap)

STEP 2:  Defining and Guessing

  • Hide the gapped text. To begin the activity, the text will be hidden from the students’ view.
  • Students will work in pairs. Student A will face the board. Student B will face away and write on his/her notebook numbers 1 -10 (there are 10 gaps/words to be guessed)
  • Tell students you’ll write the missing words on the board in random order, but each of the words will be identified with a number.
  • Write the first of the missing words in the cloze on the board, and ask student A to define the word, or give a synonym or antonym for student B to guess and write down. For example, if the word on the board is “1. wrote”, Student A might say, “number 1 is a verb in the past, and you use a pen or a pencil to do it”. If Student B guesses the word, he will write in his notebook, next to number 1 wrote. If he cannot guess the word in the allotted time, he will write 1-___.
  • Tell students you’ll write a new word every 30 seconds.
  • Continue in the same way until you have written all the missing words on the board. Remember that the words should be written in random order.

STEP 3:  Fill-in the Gaps Race.

  • Once they have all the words, Students A and B will work together to complete the gapped test.
  • Place a bell on your table. The first pair to complete the task ( i.e. putting the words in the right order to complete the lyrics of the song) rushes to the teacher’s desk. The teacher checks that the exercise is correct and if it is, they ring the bell on your table (well, if you have a bell to ring). From that moment, the rest of the class will have one minute to finish the exercise.

STEP 3:  Singing or lip-syncing

Yes. If some students need a pit of persuading, tell them it is a very good exercise to improve pronunciation.

STEP 4: Conversation questions. We talk a bit now.

  • Can you describe a time when you experienced a heartbreak?
  • How did you cope with the feelings of heartbreak?
  • Have you ever helped a friend through a heartbreak? How did you support them?

The List: A Simple Retrieval Activity before a Speaking Exercise

I spend a possibly unhealthy amount of time designing activities that have to do with retrieval practice. I think I might be becoming an expert.  In my head, I design the idea and then, I am confronted with two options:

  1. Make it simple, using a simple sheet or slip of paper.
  2. Make it more appealing and spend time I don’t have looking for a nice design that in terms of learning is not going to make any difference.

Guess which one do I normally choose?  Yes! That one.

I always do some retrieval practice before giving my students a topic-related oral activity. I think it is essential to bring to the front of their minds what they have, with luck, stored at the back. Otherwise, in their conversations, I might not hear the desired newly-learned vocabulary but the old boring one from the previous level. And we don’t want that, do we?

This retrieval activity can be done using regular sheets of paper or this beautiful template on Canva designed by Sara T, which I have shamelessly modified to suit my needs. Here’s mine, which you can easily modify as long as you have a Canva Account.

Now, let me explain this very simple activity.

  • Level: can be done at any level. In my case, B1.
  • Topic: Education. Again. It can be adapted to any level.
  • Time: about 10 minutes


  • Choose three words for each student in the group to revise. You will need a different list for each student in the group, so if you form groups of 4 students, you will need 12 words.
  • It should look something like this


  • Put students, ideally, into groups of 4.
  • Give each student a list.
  • Before the activity starts, they need to make sure they know how to define and pronounce the words on their lists. Allow some time for this part.
  • Student A starts defining his/her words, one by one. Students B, C and D write Student A’s name in the space provided (_____’s list) and their guess at the words being defined by Student A. Then, it is Student B’s turn, then Student C and finally Student D.
  • Once all the students have finished describing the words on their lists, it is time to check how many they have guessed correctly.  You can do it as a whole class, with Student As re-explaining the definitions and any other student in the class volunteering their guess or, alternatively, you can let them do it at their pace, in their groups.
  • Each correct guess scores 1 point.
  • And well, you know, a round of applause or a sweet for the winners.

Now, they are ready to use this vocabulary in a speaking activity

2 Engaging Retrieval Practice Activities to Start your Class on the Right Foot

Two ideas that can easily be adapted to your own context.

True to my habit of beginning the class with a retrieval practice activity, I have added to my growing arsenal two new ones:  playing hangman and doing crosswords. This is how I have modified the rules of the games to adapt them to teaching/learning more effectively.


Playing hangman is an old classic. Well, at least for me. I cannot count the number of times me and my friends whiled away the time between classes (sometimes during classes) playing the paper and pencil version of hangman.

And playing hangman is just what I need to start my classes this week.  (Aside note: did you know that the hardest word to guess in Hangman is Jazz?) This time, the word will be easier. Students will need to guess what topic we will cover in class next, But…. There are rules to follow:

  • The class is divided into 2 teams. Each team names a spokesperson.
  • Let’s say Team 1 starts. Now, to get the chance to say a letter to solve the puzzle, they’ll have to answer a content review question.  For example: “what preposition collocates with the verb “depend”?”. After a quick discussion with the members of their group, the spokesperson will give an answer. If correct, they can suggest a letter. Whether it is a correct or incorrect guess, the turn will pass to Team B, who will get another content review question and the chance to guess a letter if the answer to the review question is correct.
  • Important: Teams can’t try to solve the puzzle until half the letters have been guessed(i.e. if the word has 14 letters, 7 must have been guessed) and only the Team playing will have this chance.
  • If they guess and fail, their turn will be skipped.

Tool used: Learning Apps


Ready for another engaging gamified retrieval practice activity? Here we go!!

  • Divide the class into 2 teams.
  • Team A chooses a representative who chooses a number from the crossword puzzle, reads the description, and has 15 seconds to guess the answer with the help of their team.
  • If they guess the answer, they can continue playing until
  1. they can’t guess the word,
  2. they run out of time (remember 15 seconds) or
  3. they guess three answers in a row.

If this happens, it is Team B’s turn.

  • The winner is the team that solves the last clue.

In this case, the terms in the crossword were related to the “relationships”
NOTE: (click on the top right-hand corner to enlarge the crossword)

  • Tool used: Learning Apps

I hope you have enjoyed these two activities I have created for my students.

Retrieval Practice Activity Using Cards for Any Level

And I am back. Yeahhhh!  Hopefully, I’ll have more time to write about all the activities that have worked wonders in my class. Hopefully.

But, before you continue I have an important announcement: I love retrieval practice activities! And this activity is all about pulling vocabulary out. Are you ready?


Whether you have just stumbled upon this blog or are a long-time visitor, you have to know that, first and foremost in my mind before I give my students a writing or speaking activity, is retrieval practice. We need to bring to the front of their minds the language we want them to use. If we don’t do it, what inevitably happens is that students will keep on using what they already feel comfortable using. And that won’t work. We are aiming at improving their level of English.

So, let me summarize this simple, highly-adaptable  idea.

  • Part 1: students, in groups,  revise key vocabulary using cards that contain the definition for the target language.
  • Part 2: students use these cards in a speaking activity.

NOTE: I am sharing with you the card template, but you can easily simplify the activity by just typing the definitions on a slip of paper. Me? I love visuals. I think they make a difference.

Now, that you are interested, let’s explain in detail:

  • Vocabulary. Choose some vocabulary you want your students to use and revise. It shouldn’t be new vocabulary. Remember, this is a retrieval practice activity. Type (if digital) or write the definition. Print and cut the cards. You will need a set of cards per group. As explained above, I love using visually appealing stuff, but you can easily simplify this part using scraps of paper.
  • Conversation Questions. Prepare some conversation questions related to the topic.

Here’s the template in Canva I have used. You will need to create a free account to download it. And here’s my version of this beautiful template created by Görkem Arbak Bilek.


STEP 1: Arrange students into groups of 3 and give each group a set of cards. Working together, they read the definition and try to come up with the word/expression that matches the definition. Ask them to use a pencil, as they might not get all the answers right.

STEP 2. Whole class. Check answers. Clarify. Work on pronunciation.  You know the drill!


STEP 1: Students in the same groups. Ask students to put the cards in a pile face down on the table.

STEP 2: Tell students they are going to do some speaking practice and the first student to start speaking, for example, will be the youngest, and then, the activity will continue clockwise. Let’s call him Student A.

Ask the first question and Student A will pick up a card and show it to the other students in his/her group. Student A will have about 90 seconds to answer the question, trying to use the word/expression on the card. If he manages to use it, he can keep the card.; if not, it will be returned to the pile.

I forgot to mention you would need a timer. You can easily find one on Classroomscreen

Repeat procedure for Students B and C and repeat until all the cards have been used or you run out of questions.

How many cards?  A multiple of three works well since we are working with groups of three students. Thus, 6, 9, or 12 will work fine.  If you revise 12 words and only give them 6 questions, that should be fine too. They don’t have to use all of them. As an alternative, you can instruct students to choose two words rather than just one and keep the one(s) they have managed to use.

Note: I have used this activity in C1. The topic was Relationships and the answers are as follow:

1.the main breadwinner 2. black sheep 3. the spitting image 4. to fall out 5. to take after (phrasal verb) 6. to see eye to eye 7. to keep an eye on someone 8. sibling 9. to be under age 10. To come of age 11. to get on/along with somebody 12. to make up

AND AGAIN. Yes. Again

Whole class now.

  1. Gather all the cards and review the target vocabulary again while providing definitions.
  2. Give each student a card. Have them read the definition aloud and give this card to the first student who answers correctly and manages to give a sentence using the word/expression. I guess you know who the winner of this little game is. A round of applause for the winner is a good prize. We are poor teachers, here.

I hope you have liked this simple game. If you put it into practice, please let me know how it goes.