All About Mr. & Mrs. Smith: An activity to review vocabulary

Vocabulary textbooks often include review units, but they tend to favor focused practice which lends itself to self-study in addition to classroom use. These exercises range from fill-in-the-blank to True/ False statements. If you’re looking for a way to go beyond students’ comprehension and test their ability to use vocabulary meaningfully and accurately, consider the following communicative activity. It’s a cross between a game of dominoes and chain stories. The activity works best as a review because 20-30 words are needed.

[To illustrate the activity, I’ll use the 30 key words from Chapters 1-3 in Vocabulary Power 2: Practicing Essential Words.]

STEP 1 – Preparation can be done by the teacher before the review lesson; however, by asking students to assist in the prep work, you’ll save yourself time and more important, the students will review the spelling of target words by having to write them down.

You’ll need blank sheets of paper (8 ½ X 11) and scissors for small groups. Groups of 3 or 4 would work best. Write two columns of words on each sheet, one column on the far left and one column on the far right. See photo.

Key words on sheets of paper: prep step 1a

Then cut strips of paper so that one slip has a word on the far left and another on the far right. For example, if your review lesson targets 30 words, you’ll have 15 slips of paper. See photo.

Strips of paper with key words: prep step 1b

You’ll need one set of strips for each small group.

STEP 2 Have students work in small groups of 3 or 4 at a table or around one desk. Distribute the strips of paper evenly.

STEP 3 – Working clockwise, students will take turns building sentences about a fictitious couple named Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Ideally, their sentences will form a narrative, but since the game is called All About Mr. & Mrs. Smith, their ideas can be unrelated as long as each sentence provides new information about the couple.

SUGGESTION: If you’d like, you can post photos of a man and a woman to help students imagine the life of this fictitious pair.

The game begins when one student forms a sentence using both words on a single strip of paper. For example, [concentrate, debt] “Mr. and Mrs. Smith must concentrate on getting out of debt.” The next student must place a second strip of paper in such a way (up, down, or horizontally aligned) so that one of the new words is next to one of the old words. The second sentence must use both the new word and the old one. For example, [debt, intend] “They never intended to fall into debt.” The game continues. Additional sentences might be as follows: [data, process] “Data shows that for many families it isn’t an easy process to get out of debt.” [analyze, tempt] “Mr. and Mrs. Smith analyzed their problem and understood that sales people in stores always tempt them to buy too many things.” See photo to understand the possible layout of the words.

Layout model - Step 3

SUGGESTIONS: Students can refer to their books and dictionaries as needed. This is especially helpful to recall collocations. You can allow other word forms, too. For example, the key word may be tempt, but a student may use temptation or tempting in the game.

STEP 4 – You can set a time limit or the game can end when one group has used all its strips of paper. Each group should record the sentences on one piece of paper. (This can be done as each sentence is formed as opposed to having to recall and write them down at the end.) When the game ends, have the group proofread their sentences together one final time. Their sentences can then be read aloud to the whole class.

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