In the past, whenever I did a workshop on decoding authentic recordings with learners, I’d invariably hear this from someone in the room: ‘But surely this is only for advanced learners??’

In my experience, you can certainly do decoding with Pre-Intermediate learners and higher, so I thought I’d record a snippet with my new group, which is B1. We’re doing listening decoding for the first time with this group in this lesson.

Before this part of the lesson, we watched four 30-second authentic videos for gist (these were videos showing small talk, and the task was to identify the topic discussed). The learners are now working with a gapped transcript, transcribing questions and responses from the video.

All in all, we spent 19 minutes doing listening decoding in that lesson: 14 minutes transcribing and then 3 minutes summarizing the features we’d heard. We then moved on to categorize the questions and have a bit of practice making small talk.

I generally try to incorporate listening decoding in this way every 2-3 lessons, and I also set TubeQuizard quizzes based on the same video for homework. And I normally start noticing progress in my learner’s ability to cope with ‘standard’ AmE accents after about 5-6 lessons that have a listening decoding element.


I thought I need to organize all EVO-related links – I’ll be adding links to this post.

The session syllabus.
A summary of three articles that heavily influenced the design of the session.

Week 1 (main focus: autonomous listening)

TED talks for autonomous listening: ten activities shared by the participants

Week 2 (main focus: traditional lesson framework and its application to authentic materials)

Authentic listening with lower levels: possible and highly recommended – experiences shared by the participants

Week 4 (main focus: listening decoding; features of connected speech)

Features of connected speech -for each feature, there’s a short description, a video and a TubeQuizard quiz that gives some examples of the feature in unscripted speech

Using Aegisub to work on listening decoding skills: a video tutorial

Week 5 (main focus: practical activities for teaching listening decoding skills)

Webinar recording – in this live session we looked at a range of listening decoding activities and software tools that allow the teacher to create such activities ‘on the fly’, and discussed how to incorporate this work into a traditional listening lesson and into the syllabus.

An annotated list of activities, lesson snippets and resources targeting listening decoding

Here’s one more quick post with materials from last year’s EVO session on Teaching Listening.

In my experience, a lot of teachers who set out to target listening decoding skills are very insecure about helping the learners to analyze the actual pronunciation in the audio they’re working with. This is why during the EVO session on teaching listening we briefly looked at features of connected speech. I realize that a lot of the readers of my blog are quite familiar with these features, but I thought it would be very handy to have all of these links in one place that I can refer people to, especially since good descriptions outlining these features come and go.

We looked at the following features:

  • elision and the glottal stop
  • weak forms and the schwa
  • assimilation
  • catenation (also known as consonant-vowel linking)
  • intrusive /w/, /j/ and /r/

Each feature includes

  • a brief description
  • videos explaining the features (mainly from the excellent BBC Tim’s pronunciation workshop series)
  • a TubeQuizard quiz that allows you to hear the feature in natural speech


Connected speech part 1: elision and the glottal stop


Elision is the loss of a phoneme. For example

next week may sound like nexweek
and I may sound like anI

Elision most commonly happens to /t/ and /d/ sounds at the end of a word.

Glottal stop

Glottal stop is the sound that you make when you ‘cut off’ the sound in your throat. This sound often replaces the sound /t/, e.g. before the sound /b/ in the sentence Could you give me that book?

Complete the following tasks:

1) Watch the following video to listen to examples with the glottal stop
2) Do an interactive quiz in order to listen to elision and replacement of ‘t’ with the glottal stop in authentic speech.

Connected speech part 2: weak forms and a schwa

schwa is a weak sound that occurs e.g. in the first and last syllables of computer‘. It’s always unstressed and it often occurs in articles, prepositions, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs (so-called function words) when they are unstressed, even if their dictionary form contains a different vowel.

For example, in fast speech words like can‘, ‘but‘, ‘there’s may sound more like cn‘, ‘bt‘, ‘thz‘. This ‘reduced’ pronunciation is known as the weak form of function words. You can find a very useful table that outlines weak forms for function verbs here.

Complete the following tasks:

1) Watch the following video to hear the schwa and some examples of weak forms
2) Do a quiz in order to listen to further examples of weak forms in authentic speech.

Connected speech part 3: assimilation

Assimilation happens when a sound changes because of the sound that is pronounced before or after.

For example,
this shirt may sound like thish_shirt
because you may sound like becauzhyou

In these examples, /s/ and /z/ at the end of a word assimilate to /ʃ/ (sh) and /ʒ/ (zh) because the next word starts with the /ʃ/ (sh) and /j/ sounds, respectively. 

Sounds can also combine to form a new one, e.g.
would you may sound like wouja (in this case /d/ and /j/ merge into /dʒ/).

Complete the following task:

Do a quiz in order to listen to weak forms in an authentic recording:

  • part 1 (merging of /d/ and /j/ into /dʒ/)
  • part 2 (assimilation of /z/ to /ʒ/).
Connected speech part 4: catenation (also known as consonant-vowel linking)

When a word ends in a vowel sound and the next word begins with a vowel sound, often speakers add an extra sound between the word to help pronounce them.


China and Japan may sound like China rand Japan (intrusive /r/)
I am 
may sound like I yam
Go on
 may sound like Go won

Complete the following tasks:

1) Watch the videos below
2) Do a quiz in order to listen to further examples of intrusive /w/ in authentic speech.


What next? 

If some of this material was new for you, you could consolidate it by doing the following task:

Analyze features of connected speech in an authentic recording of your choice

Find a Youtube video that you would like to work with your learners. Choose a 5-10 second extract and create a YouTube link that will only play the extract by adding the start and end (in seconds) to the URL, like this:

Identify pronunciation features in the extract that are likely to cause decoding problems for L2 listeners and share the link with your analysis in the discussion area below. Here’s an example:

Video: (up to 00:20).

Transcript: At any given point, there’s always something wrong. Because there’s just too many things going on.

At_any (consonant-vowel catenation) given point th[ere]’s (weak form, sounds more like /ðəz/ with a very weak schwa to me) always something (assomilation: ng sounds like /n/) wrong. Cause (weak form, /kəz/) th[ere]’s (weak form again) j[u]s[t] (weak form – schwa, elision of /t/: /dʒəs/) too many things going_on (consonant-vowel catenation).

NB: If the extract you’ve analyzed is longer than 10 seconds, it’s better to split it into several short extracts, each one with a separate link, to make it easier for other participants to replay and analyze.

Technology tip 1: use or an online IPA typewriter to type the phonetic transcription, if you need it.

Technology tip 2: you can use a very simple tool called ytCropper to isolate and put on loop the extract that you chose. This will make it a lot easier for you and other participants to analyze the recording. Sample cropped extract:

Feel free to share your analysis in the comments to this post and explore other people’s  analysis.


As a follow-up to yesterday’s post (the recording of a webinar on Practical activities for teaching listening decoding skills, which was part of last year’s Electronic Village Online session on teaching listening), here are some links to activities that I collected for the session participants. These were meant as highly practical resources that could help the session participants to try out listening decoding in class. There are three sections:

  • activities that could be adapted to a wide range of listening texts
  • video extracts from lessons
  • materials and excerpts from published books that you could try out.

practical activities

SECTION A: activities that could be adapted to a wide range of listening texts

1. Fast speech frustrations by Olya Sergeeva (ET professional issue 112, September 2017)

Olya Sergeeva describes the lesson procedure that she uses in her Authentic listening courses with learners at B1 level and higher. The procedure could be used with any subtitled video stored locally on your computer, a TED talk or a subtitled YouTube video.

If you’re interested in this approach, you can also see a recording of a full lesson and sample materials in sections B and C.

2. Helping students become more effective listeners by Annie McDonald (the audio files to try out the activities are here).

Annie McDonald describes six activities that require little preparation and can be used with coursebook or authentic texts (files Decoding activities.pdf and the audio files). Activities iii.2 and iii.3 can be used with audio concordancing software (e.g. TubeQuizard or Aegisub). 

3. and Listening Discrimination by Anthony Schmidt

Anthony Schmidt describes a grammar listening discrimination activity that he created using playphrase.mean audio concordancing service that uses snippets from TV shows. The blog post includes a PowerPoint with listening files downloaded from and a worksheet that can be tried out in class. Anthony’s PowerPoint activity is for B2 levels, but the activity can be adapted to all levels.

4. Catch the sound by Michael Grinberg

Michael Grinberg describes a listening activity that could be used with any audio or video, provided that you have a transcript. There’s no preparation required, but you’ll need software that allows to isolate and play short extracts from the video (such as Aegisub).

If you’re interested in Michael’s approach and want find out more about the research behind this activity, please feel free to get in touch with him here.

5. Teaching grammar through listening by Gianfranco Conti (especially activities 2.1, 2.3 and 2.4)

6. Micro-listening tasks you may not be using often enough in your lessons by Gianfranco Conti

Gianfranco Conti describes some micro-listening activities that he likes to use with beginner students. 

7. Look through sample units in coursebooks produced by Sheila Thorn to get more ideas for listening decoding tasks (unfortunately, the audio files for these activities are not available).
Link 1: sample units for elementary, intermediate and advanced books in the Real Lives Real Listening series.
Link 2: sample units from another book produced in collaboration with Richard Cauldwell (scroll down to Writing project with Richard Cauldwell of Speech in Action).


SECTION B: videos of teachers demonstrating listening decoding work in class

1. A video lesson (30 minutes) in which Rachael Roberts demonstrates working on intrusive w, j and r.
The lesson comes from Nagivate Pre-Intermediate (B1) coursebook (Oxford University Press).
If you like the lesson and want to try it out with your learners, you’ll find the link to the materials in SECTION C.

2. A video (13 minutes) in which Mark Rooney demonstrates how listening decoding diagnostics and training could be introduced into any listening lesson through a few simple tweaks.

3. A lesson snippet (6 minutes) in which Julia Galichanina helps learners (B1+) analyze the speaker’s pronunciation in an authentic listening extract.
In this lesson extract,
(1) the teachers uses Aegisub to play one sentence from the video. The learners listen to the sentence several times and try to fill the gaps in the transcript
(2) the teacher elicits all learners’ ideas and boards them
(3) the teacher tells the learners the answers, and then replays the extract for the learners to analyze how the words in the gap were actually pronounced by the speaker;
(4) after this, the procedure is repeated with the next sentence.

4. A lesson (90 minutes) by Olya Sergeeva

This lesson was an introduction into listening decoding for this group of learners, who had never done this kind of work before. This particular group is Upper-Intermediate (B1+), but Olya has also done the same procedure (with different videos) with B1 groups.

If you want to try this out, the materials are in SECTION C and Olya’s article about this approach is in  SECTION A. 


SECTION C: materials (e.g. coursebook samples) that you can try out with your learners

1. A lesson (levels: strong B1 and higher) by Olya Sergeeva designed to raise the learners’ awareness of features of connected speech and the role they have in listening. The material is based on a subtitled YouTube interview and includes TubeQuizard quizzes.

2. A sample lesson from Navigate Pre-Intermediate (B1) by Rachael Roberts (free but registration required).

3. During his live session in Week 4, Richard Cauldwell spoke about and demonstrated a classroom activity ‘Jungle Listening: Survival Tip No. 10‘. Here you can download the Student’s book, Teacher’s book, and Audio for all ten units in these materials. Level: B1.

If you use Survival Tip no. 10 – or any of the other nine tips – in class, do get in touch with Richard to let him know how it went. You don’t have to be polite! If you do not like the materials, say why (it will be helpful for Richard). Also, if you like them, say why (which will also be helpfuul to Richard!)

4. A sample lesson on decoding weak forms of function words (levels: B1-B2) from Authentic Listening Resource Pack by Marck Hancock and Annie McDonald.

5. Pronunciation as a listening skill by Mark Hancock is a collection of awareness raising activities that could be used at a range of levels. Also, explore the site with fun materials created by him and Annie McDonald. Don’t miss Hay Chewed and the classic, The Word Blender.

6. TubeQuizard offers a selection of YouTube-based listening decoding activities. You can use the selection of ready-made quizzes or create quizzes based on any subtitled YouTube videos. Find a 12-minute tutorial here.


I hope you find this useful – if you think I’m missing a good resource, could you share the link?

This blog post was 18 months in the making.

Last year I did a webinar on Practical activities for teaching listening decoding skills for the Electronic Village Online session on Teaching Listening. The recording created by the webinar platform was in .exe format so I couldn’t share it, but I really enjoyed the webinar and have been meaning to create a screencast. Today I finally got round to making one, so here goes! The recording is divided into several parts because during the session I gave the participants links to some YouTube videos that I don’t own the copyright to. Would be very happy to hear your feedback if you watch it.

Best wishes,

TitlePractical activities for teaching listening decoding skills

Abstract: During the session we will:
(1) discuss how to incorporate working on listening decoding activities into your lessons and syllabus;
(2) try out a variety of listening decoding activities;
(3) watch and discuss videos of teachers demonstrating work on listening decoding skills;
(4) look at some software tools that you could use to create listening decoding activities.


Part 1: an overview of the webinar:



Watch this video and think what levels you could use it with:


Part 2: analysis of Leo’s speech + an overview of two types of listening decoding activities


Watch and analyze an extract from a lesson by Mark Rooney. What support does he give the learners when diagnosing their problem? How does he help them to train to distinguish between the sounds?


Part 3: analysis of the extract with Mark Rooney:


Watch this extract from a lesson by Rachael Roberts, one of the authors of Navigate, and guess which feature of connected speech she’s focusing on:

Part 4: 

Watch another extract from Rachael Roberts’s lesson and analyze what kind of support she gives (link:

Part 5: the rest of the session (in this part I mention Aegisub, a handy tool that allows users to create some activity types ‘on the fly’. At the end of this post there’s an 8-minute tutorial that explains how to work with Aegisub.)

Aegisub tutorial:

Ever since I started giving CELTA Technology input sessions about two years ago, I’ve  invariably mentioned to the trainees how to look for videos with high-quality subtitles on YouTube (answer: add ‘, cc’ to the search, e.g. ‘unboxing & comparison, cc‘) and how to check if the video you want to use contains good subs or auto-generated subs (answer: open the transcript by clicking on the sign under the video and check if it says ‘English auto-generated’ – if it doesn’t, it was uploaded by a human being. Sometimes the video has both auto-generated subs and good subs, in which case you’ll be able to switch to the good transcript. After that you can copy it by dragging your mouse over it while holding the left button – the way you’d do that with any text on the internet).

subsHowever, what I didn’t realize was that, even if the video only had auto-generated subs, I’d still be able to use the transcripts with my learners. I’ve always assumed that auto-generated transcripts were so inaccurate that it would take ages to edit them – too much hassle! But then a couple of months ago I was looking for a perfect phone comparison video to explore expressions for comparison with my group. I found a great video that contained lots of very useful language and, although it was quite long (nine minutes), I wanted the transcript so badly that I was prepared to spend hours weeding mistakes out of the auto-generated subs.

Only it didn’t take me an hour – it actually took me about 10 minutes. 

Let me walk through what I did:

First, I copied the auto-generated transcript and pasted it into, a nifty free web-service for transcribing audios and videos:


Then I clicked on the ‘Choose YouTube video’ button and provided the link to my video. After that the service goes into the editing mode, allowing you to control the video using the keybord, which makes editing extremely easy: press F1 to rewind the last few seconds, F2 to skip a few seconds, ESC to pause the video/start it again (and when you start it, it automatically rewinds a couple of seconds, which is extremely handy).


When I started correcting the transcript, I was amazed to find that the transcript was actually pretty accurate. The fact that oTranscribe is so easy to use and that the automatically generated subs were quite accurate, I was able to edit the transcripts in one listen, occasionally stopping/rewinding here and there, and the whole process took me only a few minutes longer than the actual video duration. Amazing!

Let me know if you try this!

Best wishes,

In the school where I work, apart from the usual CPD options (workshops, lesson observations etc) there’s a mentoring scheme – I mentor half of our team, meeting with my colleagues regularly and discussing the issues they’d like to talk about and the steps they could take to explore techniques and issues relevant to them. At the moment I’m going on an extended leave and we’re planning to replace part of that scheme for some time with peer coaching, which is why I’ve been looking for resources on options for effective peer collaboration. There’s already a write-up on this blog of a very interesting IATEFL talk on peer coaching from three years ago (by Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell), and this post is a write-up of another talk, by Ana Garcia-Stone, from this year’s IATEFL (the video is available here).

Talk title: Teacher agency: empowering teachers through self-directed peer observations

Presenter: Ana Garcia-Stone, @AMGS1958

Contact details

Description: This talk describes a peer observation project carried out by two colleagues, done over a year, experimenting with three different types of observation. This process empowered both teachers and the observations revealed different dimensions of agency.


Ana Garcia-Stone, a teacher and teacher trainer with over 25 years’ experience, felt stuck in a rut with her development and she didn’t know how to go forward. At one point, at an IATEFL conference, she was talking about that with Tessa Woodward, who suggested working with a less experienced colleague. Ana Garcia-Stone thought it was a good idea and she approached Kat Scuba, a colleague who’d been with her centre for about a year – someone who didn’t know much about her and her teacher training reputation, and who reminded her of her younger less experienced self.

Before starting the project:

They carried out the project without any ‘agenda’  – they just wanted to see what would emerge out of observations.

Before they started the project, they agreed that what they discussed would be confidential, so that they would be able to expose their weaknesses and grow:

Quote (trust)

The project. What they did: 

Here are the peer observation ideas that they tried out:

Unseen observation

In this ‘observation’ type you meet, discuss your class and what you’re going to do, go off and teach your class on your own, and then we get together afterwards and discuss how you feel that class went.


The two teachers had very different goals here. Ana Garcia-Stone’s partner, Kat Scuba, decided to use this opportunity to support her with teaching a group of young (four year old) learners, as this was the first time she was teaching a group of that age. She arrived at the meetings with pages after pages of notes and ideas, and the upshot of the experience was that she developed a framework for teaching that age group in the coming year.

Ana chose a different focus: a strong task-based approach, and she found that this experiment encouraged her to break out of the routine you fall into when you’ve got a lot of experience, and get back into lesson planning – her lesson plans got longer and longer and longer and she was thoroughly enjoying it.

In terms of the observation itself, a positive aspect was that, this being an ‘unseen’ observation, they only had to please themselves – thus avoiding the situation when you feel you have to ‘plan for the observer’. In the post-lesson observations, there again was no stakes – as there was trust between the participants and they felt free to discuss what had or hadn’t gone well.

Outcome: both participants found this experience extremely rewarding and they learnt a surprising amount from this type of observation.

I plan for my class, you teach my class, I observe

Ana and Kat met before and after the class to discuss that lesson.

Reflection: This mode may make you more aware of your planning – although Ana Garcia-Stone found that she only saw the weaknesses and strengths that she was aware of anyway. One interesting thing that happened was that this highlighted how you need to ‘start planning from your students’, as your know your students, but this is not always explicit in the plan. When she was observing, Ana Garcia-Stone saw things that were absent from the plan (e.g. you need to check this thing with Z. as he tends to get these things wrong or it might be better to separate these two students as they tend to distract each other). Her partner, Kat, found it difficult to teach her plan, because she didn’t understand the transitions and found them awkward/didn’t quite understand the logic of the lesson, even though they’d discussed this before the class. This highlighted the fact that transitions are things that are very automated and we tend not to write them out in the plan.

Ana taught Kat’s class – a C2 class of learners preparing for CPE. Kat’s approach to teaching this level was very different from what Ana normally does at C2 level. Ana normally introduces loads and loads of vocabulary, whereas Kat’s class was planned around a series of flipcharts, without heavy lexical input, and Ana felt that the learners were learning equally as effectively. So for Ana, the experience of teaching with those materials raised questions about her belief about the importance of teaching vocabulary at higher levels and whether what she was doing was useful. As a result, Ana went on to do some research about teaching vocabulary to higher level learners, she ran a community of practice around it, and she learnt a lot and changed the way she presented vocabulary to higher level learners. For her, this experience was very valuable.

I video your class, you watch on your own, you choose what to discuss, we discuss it

Reflection: The participants felt that, although they were both comfortable with one another and with one another’s classes, videotaping the classes was intrusive for both the teacher and the students, (the teachers felt nervous, the learners, who were twelve year old played up).

Neither of them felt they got anything particularly useful out of the experience – they felt they needed a task focusing on something visible, e.g. teacher-student interaction, the way the furniture is organized, transitions, etc.

The only outcome was that Kat felt that her classroom was ‘two-dimensional’ and she wanted to investigate making it ‘three-dimensional’.


Did the experiment foster agency?

The definitions of agency that Ana Garcia-Stone focused on at the beginning of the talk:


They were able to act (as in their centre they don’t have to ask for permission to carry out a project like that), and they were able to affect change in their classroom, but not beyond their classroom. The result of engaging in this kind of project is that the responsibility for one’s professional development shifts from ‘others’ to the teacher.

Also, in the words of Simon Borg, teachers will only change if their teaching beliefs are brought to the surface and their teaching beliefs change – this is what development is, and Ana felt that this was what happened with one of her teaching beliefs.

Evaluation quotes


  • What teachers want to focus on might be at odds with the aims of the institution (e.g. what if the institution wants the teachers to use more IT but the teachers don’t want to explore that?)
  • In the institution there might be some systems of accountability, e.g. a performance management system – so how do you account for this learning to someone who wasn’t there? I feel that I learnt and I can write a report on what I learnt, but that might not be enough for my manager at my institution.
  • Time constraints – e.g. does the timetable allow to observe each other’s classes?



All in all, the experiment was definitely worth doing for a year, and both the participants miss it – maybe not the peer observations per se but the communication.


I’ve been thinking of engaging in a peer coaching scheme ever since attending the talk by Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell that I mentioned at the beginning of the post – haven’t been able to do this, mostly because I’ve been finding it difficult to find time for things, what with being a new parent, juggling family and a heavy workload for the past two years. 

However, I really hope to get the chance to do that in the next academic year, and what I found especially valuable about Ana Garcia-Stone’s talk was specific ideas for things to try out and examples of specific takeaways, which gave me a better insight into what kind of things might emerge out of a project like this one. 

I hope that my team, who I’ve written the talk up for, will also find this talk inspiring and useful. 

EVO 2018

Dear readers of this blog,

I’m happy to let you know that this year we’re running the Electronic Village Online session on Teaching listening one more time.

This is a free five-week professional development session for English teachers, during which the participants will design, try out and discuss listening activities informed by research. The session is part of this year’s Electronic Village Online.

The session will focus on the following topics:

  • Encouraging autonomous listening out of class (with a live session with Lizzie Pinard)
  • Traditional listening lesson framework: Dos and Don’ts (a live session with Elena Wilkinson)
  • Critical thinking and high order thinking (HOT) listening tasks (a live session with Jennie Wright)
  • Beyond the comprehension approach: decoding skills (a live session with Richard Cauldwell)
  • Practical activities for teaching listening decoding skills (my live session)

We ran this session last year and this was an incredible experience. We had a vibrant community of more than fifty English teachers sharing their teaching ideas and favourite listening resources, and we received very positive feedback from the participants, who rated the session at 5.0 out of 5.0.

You can read more about our syllabus and this year’s list of moderators here:

The registration is now open and the first live session is scheduled for coming Sunday (14 January) at 16.00 GMT.

To register for the session, create an account at After that, open Courses, click on Join and use this access code:

If you wish to share and discuss ideas and resources on teaching listening on social media, you could also join our Facebook group.

Email me at if you have any questions about the session or have issues signing up.

PS do check out the other 13 free EVO sessions on topics ranging from Classroom Research to Business English to CLIL to Mother Tongue Use in the EFL Classroom to Teaching Pronunciation Differently, and a lot more!

One of the things we do for professional development in the school where I work are so-called ‘experimentation cycles’, where the team chooses a topic, we pool resources (books, resource packs and blog posts with all sorts of activities on the topic), after which everyone who is interested in the topic picks a few activities and tries them out in class. Finally, we organize a workshop to share the activities we liked.

This post is a summary of one of these workshops, which was focused on Vocabulary revision activities. As I mentioned above, the activities mostly came from books and the Internet, and I’m sure you’ll see here quite a few ideas that you’ve tried too – so if you have a variation that you love, could you share it?

‘Vocabulary revision’ is a very broad term and activities could be very different in terms of what the learners need to do with the words:

  • am I given something or do I need to retrieve something from memory?
  • am I given / need to retrieve the meaning or the word itself?
  • how many times?

Based on these questions, the activities here can be roughly categorized (with some overlap) into four groups (ordered according to how cognitively demanding they are):

  1. recalling the meaning of an item
  2. recalling the item (to be more exact, these are mostly pairwork activities in which one person recalls the meaning of the item and explains the item and/or uses it in an isolated sentence and the second person recalls the item) 
  3. recalling and using multi-word items
  4. using lexis in extended speech

Recalling the meaning of an item


Elena Wilkinson shared an activity in which the learners review lexical items learned previously and sort them into three categories: I know, I’m not sure that I know, I have no idea. They then discuss the words in pairs, with people who know words explaining them to those who are not sure / have no idea. The pairs then get combined into groups of four and so on. A variation is to do this activity with the lexical items on slips of paper.


Source: Elena Wilkinson

Vocabulary auction

In this activity the learners review a list of words and expressions and discuss what they mean (a variation: they come up with a definition and an example sentence). Depending on how certain they are, they place a bet on each definition – the bets should add up to $1200.

Once that’s done, the whole class goes through the list word by word. For each word, the team that placed the highest bet explains the word. If the definition is correct, they gain their bet. If it’s wrong, they lose their bet and the chance to define the word is given to a team with the second highest bet. However, if this second team gets the definition correct, it gains the amount the first team bet (e.g. if Team A bet $150 on a word and got the meaning incorrect, Team B, which bet $100 and explained the meaning correctly, will get $150, not $100).


Source: Olga Akimkina

I think this game could work especially well with easily confused words, false friends and lexical mistakes commonly made by the learners in the group.

Recalling the item

Memo (tried out by Olga Akimkina)

In this simple activity the learners look at a list of words/expressions on the board for 30 seconds. Then the list gets erased and the learners try to recall as many expressions as they can (for one minute). They check in pairs – the pair that has recalled the most words is the winner.

Tip. Explain to the learners that they’ll need to recall the words before you display them.

Vocabulary die (tried out by Olga Akimkina and Irina Dubovitskaya)


For this activity you need a set of vocabulary to revise for each pair/small group of learners and a die with tasks (you can create your own dice using this free dice maker). Alternatively, use standard dice and write the tasks on the board (1 = give definition; 2 = draw it, etc).

Tip. Both teachers who tried out this activity found that it worked quite well with ‘concrete’ verbs (see sample images produced by the learners below), but didn’t really work with more abstract concepts like ‘stagnation’.


Source: Olga Akimkina


Polina Safronova shared a nice crossword maker that automatically creates half-crosswords for pairwork guessing games. In this type of crossword student A’s version contains only the horizontal words, while student B’s version contains only the vertical words. The students need to complete their crosswords by listening to their partner’s explanations.

The tool requires registration. Once you’ve registered, the process of creating a crossword is very simple: choose Pairwork crossword and tick I want to make my own:


Type your words (for some reason the words without clues didn’t show up in the crossword, so I simply typed dots for clues) and click ‘Make my crossword‘:
editingHere’s what the resulting crosswords look like – you can print it into a pdf document in order to keep the worksheet for future use:





In this guessing game (tried out by Evgenia Antonova and Irina Dubovitskaya) the learners pick a slip with a word and say an example sentence, substituting ‘banana’ for the target word. Here are some examples:


Source: Evgeniya Antonova

Walk and swap

This is a variation of the Banana activity which requires only one set of cards for the group and allows the learners to stretch their legs. At the beginning each learner is given one or two cards with words. They get up and mingle to play banana. Each time someone guesses a word on their card, they give the card to that person. The aim of the activity is to swap cards as many times as possible.

Hot Seat

Another well-known simple activity that requires no preparation at all is Hot Seat. The class is split into two teams. Two learners (one from each team) sit with their back to the board. The teacher boards a word. The team explain the word to the person on the chair – the first team to guess gets a point.

Tying out of class revision with classroom activities

One thing that has really grown on me in the past couple of years is using Quizlet for vocabulary learning and revision. Quizlet is a free web service that allows you to create sets of flash cards and then share them with the learners by link. The learners can play a number of games with the flash cards (moreover, if they install the mobile app, they’ll be able to access them even when they’re offline).

The beauty of it is that the site also allows you to print out two-sided cards based on the sets that the learners worked with for homework. For example, here’s a worksheet generated from this set. This makes it possible to play a whole range of games in class based on exact same cards that the learners studied at home, without any extra preparation apart from cutting up the cards and printing the game boards. For a set of game templates that could be used with any set of cards, see this post (where you’ll find nice tic tac toe templates, dots and boxes, variations of snakes and ladders, battleship, blockbusters, Game of the Goose and a few other templates).

Revising multi-word items

Collocation cards

One really simple way to revise collocations is to prepare a set two-sided cards: a word on one card and 3-5 collocations taken from the collocations dictionary on the second side. Each turn, a learner takes a card, looks at the collocations and guess the word. Again, these cards can be prepared using Quizlet – in fact, see here for more examples of Quizlet sets that help learners practice collocations (created by Leo Selivan).

collocation cards

Source: Olga Akimkina

Tic tac toe

Another activity is to put gapped multi-word items on a Tic Tac Toe grid. The goal might be simply to recall the expression or to use it in a sentence to say a truthful fact or opinion.

Tips. If you’d like the learners to be able to check their answers, provide them with empty grids and two-sided cards. A no-cut alternative is to do the activity in groups of three, with one learner checking the players’ answers using a cheat sheet.

Tic tac toe

Source: Olga Lifshits

Discussion gapfills 

Another suggestion, also shared by Olga Lifshits, was to provide the learners with a gapfill in which each sentence is a question. Gapfills can be done with any vocabulary, but they work particularly well with multi-word items where only part of the item is gapped out.

After the learners do the gapfill, they pick 3-5 questions they’d like to discuss with their partner – this won’t necessarily make them use target lexical items in speech, but it will help them to process their meaning more deeply.

Here’s a sample set of questions:


Source: Olga Lifshits


Pelmanism is a game that allows one to revise two-part expressions (e.g. two-word collocations such as ‘meet + the deadline’, dependent prepositions, such as ‘interested + in’, two-word compound nouns, such as traffic lights, and so on).

Prepare a set of cards for each pair of learners (each expression should be split across two cards). The players spread the cards on the board, blank sides up. Each turn one player turns over two cards – if they form an expression, the player keeps the cards. If the cards belong to different expressions, the player puts them back.


Compound nouns (pelmanism). Source: Olga Lifshits

A lot of teachers avoid this game because it seems too time-consuming and because it focuses only on form without any emphasis on the meaning of the expressions. Here are a couple of modifications that may make it less time-consuming and more useful in terms of language practice:

  • each turn, a player turns over one card – if they can remember the whole expression, they’re allowed to look for the second card (or, to keep the element of chance, they are allowed to turn over, say, up to seven cards);
  • each time a player finds an expression, they need to either use it in a sentence (again, telling a true fact or stating an opinion) or ask their partner a question that contains the expression.


Another activity that allows one to practice two-part multi-word items is dominoes, which can easily be created in a Word document (see a sample Word table below). The players work in pairs or small groups. The learners need to arrange the dominoes on the desk in such a way that they form a circle.

Again, Dominoes is primarily a form-focused activity, but it can be adapted to focus on meaning by asking the learners to make a statement or ask their group a question with an expression each time put two dominoes together..


Collocation dominoes. Source: Olga Lifshits

Using lexis in extended speech

For all activities in this category you need a set of vocabulary cards to revise – these can be prepared by the teacher or pooled by the learners – simply give them 5 minutes to flip their notebooks and coursebooks and put on cards any words and expressions they’d like to start using but haven’t started using yet.

Guess my word

Prepare a set of discussion questions and a set of cards for each pair / small group. Each turn, one learner picks a vocabulary card and a discussion question. Their objective is to talk for a minute about the question and to use the word on their card at some point. The objective of their partner / group is to guess which word was on the card.

A by-product of this activity is that it encourages the learners to use more ‘interesting’ vocabulary, so that the ‘fancy’ word on their card isn’t too obvious. Another reason I liked this activity is that it can be used when each person has their individual set of cards (e.g. I used it with a group of teens who did out-of-class reading and accumulated their own vocabulary sets based on the books they were reading).

Picture-based story (tried out by Evgenia Antonova)

Prepare a set of target expressions, a picture and an opening line of a story (here’s a nice ‘first line generator’). Learners work in pairs or groups of three. Each team picks about 7 cards with vocabulary and a picture. They have about 10 minutes to create a story based on their pictures that uses the words they picked. Here are sample materials that were used with a group of advanced learners (but the activity worked equally well with a pre-intermediate group):

Picture based story


Source: Evgenia Antonova


The learners work in pairs. One person picks a slip with a word. They ask their partner a question trying to get them to use the word in the answer. The important thing is that their conversation should be as natural as possible: they shouldn’t give the definition or reply with just one word.

Here are some examples of questions that the learners asked to elicit vocabulary items:


Source: Evgenia Antonova

4-3-2 Speed dating 

This is an activity that I actually learned only today from Julia Galichanina, another colleague of mine, and I really look forward to trying it out.

Part 1. Give the learners a list of expressions and a list of categories (e.g. ‘Hobbies’, ‘Things I do every day’, ‘Things that aren’t related to work’, etc). Get the learners to decide which words could relate to which category (e.g. ‘occasionally’ could work everywhere, but ‘golf’ is more like a hobby)/ After that, each learner writes several sentences related to each category using target lexis.

Part 2. Split the group into interviewers and interviewees. The learners stand in two circles, with the interviewers in the inner circle.

  • During the first round (4 minutes) interviewers ask one interviewee any questions related to the categories, and the interviewees need to reply using as many target expressions as possible. The interviewers tick the expressions that the interviewee used. Conduct quick group feedback asking which expressions were used.
  • The learners go to the next partner and repeat the procedure in 3 minutes.
  • Finally, with a new partner, an interviewee gives a monologue summarizing their answers to the two interviewees questions.
  • The interviewers and interviewees swap roles and the 4-3-2 cycle is repeated.


Finally, here is another nice activity which was shared by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus at her conference workshop at IATEFL Poland:

Going through my notes from the workshop while writing this post, I realized that while I learned a few very useful activities that have since become my favourites, I completely forgot about some of the others. In particular, I’ll definitely be trying out picture-based stories and vocabulary dice.

Are there any great vocabulary revision activities that you’d add to this list?

A couple of weeks ago Irina Dubovitskaya, a colleague of mine at EPAM Systems, told me about an activity that worked really well with her students. I loved the idea behind this activity and asked Irina to write a guest post about it. The activity is highly adaptable, very personalized and uses a very simple, visually appealing tool that the learners can access from their own devices. See for yourself:

Irina Dubovitskaya

Irina Dubovitskaya

Level: B1+
Target structure: hypothetical conditional (conditional II)
Activity type: pre-class task (for homework) + warm-up

If it weren’t for Russell Stannard’s webinar “Key tools for quick collaboration between students” (an LPM’s Globinar organized by Jürgen Wagner), I would probably have never learnt about AnswerGarden, a convenient “feedback + word cloud” tool that can be used in teaching English. “Plant a question and invite participants to your AnswerGarden. Their answers will instantly form a growing word cloud!” says the promo, not mentioning that the growing word cloud can then blossom into a very engaging communicative task.

I decided to use the tool to prepare a warm-up activity focused on drilling Conditional II with my B1+ group of adult learners.  The objective of the task was to engage them in a discussion and encourage using Conditional II as much as possible. Here’s what I did.

Before class:

1. Think of a question.
In order to revise Conditional II I prepared two questions:

  • “What would you change about your working conditions?”;
  • “If you had more spare time, how would you spend it?”.

2. Get answers from participants.

As there are four students in my class (2m/2f) I paired them up and gave each team one question. To share the question with the students, I opened AnswerGarden, clicked on ‘Create an AnswerGarden’ at the top of the page and inserted my question.  This created a  link to a dynamically updated word cloud that I could send to my students – here’s what it looked like for them:


3. Print the word cloud.
Ss’ answers formed word clouds that I corrected and printed.

NB. I decided to set this idea generation stage for homework as my students sometimes have problem with what can be called “spontaneous imagination” in class. However, the whole activity can also be done in class, provided that the students have some technology to access the internet, to type their answers. Also, since each cloud has a unique URL, instead of printing the clouds you can simply share the links.

In class:

Warm-up. Part 1.
In class, I handed out the word clouds. Each group received their partners’ clouds. The first task was to reconstruct the original question. The only requirement should be met – the question should be formulated using Conditional II. It took the Ss about 3 minutes to guess the initial questions.

Warm-up. Part 2. 

Then the Students were asked to discuss the answers and decide which of their classmates gave them. As the groups were gender equal (a male and a female), they relied not only on the facts they knew about their classmates, but also on some gender stereotypes that proved to be totally misleading. In order to check their guesses, the Ss had to ask another team questions using the second conditional:
“Ilya, would you add more monitors?”
“Maria, would you get married if you had more free time?”
Surprisingly, it was Andrey who would get married and Olya who would add more monitors. 🙂


I really liked the task because of its power to generate an engaging discussion. Not only did my students use Conditional II every now and then, but also they extended both their answers and questions to get more information about their classmates and to get to know each other a bit better.