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I've commonly found that although students are able to remember words and what they mean, they still have problems when they actually try to use the words in a sentence. This activity highlights the problem and helps to move students' knowledge of the word on to beyond what the word means.
Collect together a list of words your students have learnt recently and some quick definitions of the word. Draw a large grid on the board. The size will depend on the number of students you have, but limit to a maximum of 20 as beyond this their concentration is likely to lapse.
- Read out one of the definitions and see if the students can remember the word. As students guess the words write them up on the board in one of the spaces on the grid. You can make this stage more competitive by putting students into groups and awarding points.
- Keep reading out definitions and getting the students to guess the words until the grid is completely full of words. Then put the students into pairs or small groups and get each group to choose two of the words from the grid. Try to make sure that each group has different words and that as many of the words as possible from the grid are chosen.
- Once the groups have chosen their words, tell them that they must write a single sentence that uses both words and that you will award points for the most interesting sentences. At this point it's better to focus them on the creativity rather than accuracy of the sentences.
- Once all the groups have written their sentences you could either get a volunteer to write each sentence on the board, or read the sentences out. At this point you should award points for the sentences for their creativity and good use of the words.
- Try to involve the class in voting for the sentences that they like the most and awarding points. You could even make this more fun by having number cards for you or the students to hold up giving marks out of ten.
- Once this is done you can then look at the sentences again to see how grammatically accurate they are and how appropriately the students have used the words. Particular things to look for are correct collocations and the appropriate degree of formality, etc.
- Try to get the students to check each other's work and see if they can correct any errors. You may like to award extra points if they can find and correct errors in their peers' work.
Another approach to correction that I've tried is taking the sentences in and looking at them closely myself. Instead of correcting them though, I write up a list of collocations or grammar 'rules' that have been broken and then give them back the sentences along with the rules so that the students can find the errors and try to apply the rules themselves.
This is a variation on an activity that I first saw in a book called A Way with Words by Stuart Redman and Robert Ellis.