Vocabulary Activity: Word Association

Here’s a good use of those final minutes of class time. Review key vocabulary via a word association game. It not only reinforces knowledge of definitions, but also sharpens students’ understanding of connotations and contexts in which vocabulary is used.

STEP 1 – If this is the first time you’re playing the game, you’ll need to model the task: Write two key words on opposite sides of the board. Example (from Chapter 17 of Vocabulary Power 1):

                LOCAL                                                                                   LOYAL

Next, think out loud and write a word you associate with the key word on the left: “When I think of LOCAL, I think of things in my NEIGHBORHOOD.” Write this word on the board to start forming a chain of associations:

                LOCAL – neighborhood…                                              LOYAL

Continue the process until you finally get a word associated with the key word on the right:

                LOCAL – neighborhood – neighbors – friends –- LOYAL

“When I think of NEIGHBORHOOD, I think of the people in it: NEIGHBORS. When I think of NEIGHBORS, I think of FRIENDS. FRIENDS are LOYAL.”  The goal is to form the shortest chain possible with each association being clear and logical.

 STEP 2 – Have students work in pairs. Assign two key words to each pair of students. Allow them approximately one minute to form a chain of associations.

 STEP 3 – After the allotted time is up, ask students to share their associations with the class. The other students must listen and either approve or challenge the associations.

VARIATION: If you literally only have one or two minutes left, you can play the game as a whole class. Just write two key words on opposite sides of the board and have students call out associated words to link the first to the second.  Keep playing the game with new pairs of key words until you’re out of time.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. speedreading says:

    thank you very much for all your help about learning english..
    happy new year

  2. Harvey says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks again for such a great idea. I’ve been using this for all my classes, regardless of the level. Students have great fun and it really adds new life and a bit of spontaneity to target vocabulary words.

    Funny enough, there’s a show on the Game Show Network with this very same idea (YouTube has clips a plenty of how the game works). But the great part which would really provide inspiration to future activities to teachers everywhere is their bonus round, which could help students at the lower levels to activate sentence-building strategies.

    Here’s a clip from YouTube (just skip the mindless small talk in the beginning):

    1. Fun game at end. It reminds me of one I think Jeremy Harmer shared. It had a different goal, but students worked in small groups, limiting themselves to one word at a time. They spoke as “experts” on a particular subject.
      (For the record, I started using the word association game soon after 2001. LOL)

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