Redefining Live Instruction: Real-life Vocabulary Activities

In a recent vocabulary video lesson, I chose to highlight idioms and other conversational expressions, from window shopping to something speaking for itself. I do believe that ELLs need a steady diet of general and academic words, but I also think their vocabulary studies should include exposure to informal words and expressions. It’s not that they must learn to use all the conversational expressions they hear, but rather they should develop the ability to infer meaning from context. This form of practice with informal speech, though perhaps less frequent than the study of general and academic words, will help to increase a learner’s confidence as a participant in casual conversation.

If you decide to share my video with your students, I’d recommend taking the lesson one step further by setting up a real-life activity that helps them internalize the meaning of the target vocabulary. Here are two possibilities:

  • Student Swap. From the video, recall the saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Invite students to bring in one item from home that they no longer need or want. You yourself can bring in a few items in case some students have nothing to share. Let each student present his or her item by telling what it is and what value it once had. Model: “This is pencil holder. You can also put pens or other desk supplies in it. It’s still good. It’s not broken, and I do like it. But this was a gift, and I already have a pencil holder on my desk at home.” After the items are presented, have students stand up and find someone in the class with whom they can make an exchange. Let them swap an unwanted item for something more interesting. They can make more than one swap. Have them sit back down and discuss questions with someone with whom they did not make an exchange. Try to incorporate other vocabulary in these follow-up questions: Do you feel you now have junk or treasure? Do you think you could make a few bucks by selling this new item? You saw all the items being swapped. Do you think the class could make a killing by selling it all? Etc.


  • Yard Sale. Discuss other forms of community sales: garage sales, flea markets, and sidewalk sales. Which could you have? Decide on a location. You can turn this event into an indoor sale right in your school lobby. Assign students roles and let them organize and participate in a yard sale. Different students can handle the tasks of advertising, seting up tables, and selling the items. Unwanted items can first be collected from among the student body. All profits can be used to purchase something for the school. Have each participant write a short paragraph about their experience. Provide questions to prompt ideas and be sure to include other vocabulary: Were all prices fixed or was everything negotiable? How long was the sale? When did it wind down? Did more people do more window shopping than actual buying? Etc.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Oooh, I love the student swap idea. I’ve done a lesson where I bring in pictures of products ripped out of magazines and had students exchange them, but this is even better:) Thanks!


    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      The magazine version would be fine, too. That gives teachers the option of doing the activity on the spot. You could still give some personalization to the items by allowing the students to quickly select a picture. Maybe you could change the scenario to each student choosing a birthday present for a friend, and then telling them that they’ve changed their minds about the gift and want to exchange it for something else. They can swap more than once, so it may be funny if some end up with their orignal selection. 🙂

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