These are two of the lexical threads that I use when dealing with the vast amounts of words that come up within my own classroom teaching.

Shaun Dowling

The main advantages of lexical threads are that they become familiar to the learners, they are easy to plan and they aid memory. After doing these activities, students don't need any further explanation of what to do when they are repeated. This leaves the teacher important time to listen to the students without worrying about how to manage the activity.

Thread 1: The verb dome

This is a favourite activity of my learners that originally started out as a warmer. One of my students gave it its name and it just stuck. This is not linked to any themes or part of the course but it enables students to see how much they know in a fun way.


You only need the board and a pen.


  • First split the students into two groups. Have one student give you a letter from the alphabet (except Z or X).
  • Then have each group call out a verb, in its infinitive form, that begins with the letter chosen. Each group calls out a new verb and you write it on the board. The group who can't think of any more loses.

With this activity you will find you write a lot of language on the board. It is highly motivating when learners see how much they know. For this activity language emerges from the knowledge of the students and teaching is kept to a minimum. I find that if someone shouts out a word the others don't know, instead of having to teach the word, the students usually tell each other what the word means as the games goes on. It helps them recall words they may have only seen once or twice and aids memory.

Follow up

After a few classes you can choose another letter and do this again or change it to collocations or phrasal verbs instead of verbs. In this version, the students call out the verb and must complete it with another word that collocates naturally with the other. For phrasal verbs, have the learners call out the phrasal verb with a following noun or phrase that helps them show they understand its meaning.

Thread 2: Pre-teaching slips

This activity is useful when I come across a new unit of language in the coursebook or start a new theme or topic with the class.


First preview the new language that you think will be useful or which your learners may need to complete the task. You'll then need to prepare slips of paper with the English words or phrases on one side and their translation or definition on the other. I recommend that each side be written in different colours so you don't get mixed up as to which side is which, and also this should stimulate visual learners.


  • With the learners seated show one word/phrase to the first student and have them pronounce it correctly. When they have done this give them the slip of paper. Do the same with the next student with a new word/phrase and so on until all of the slips of paper have been given out. Then have the students stand up and 'teach' their word/phrase to the others. They must make sure each person pronounces it correctly before moving to the next person.
  • When all of the learners have seen all of the word/phrases, collect the slips of paper and ask the students to sit down.
  • Now mix up the slips and approach each student individually. Show them the first one and have them give the definition or the translation. If they get it right, show it to everyone then put it away for the next phase.
  • Go to the next learner and do the same. If a learner gets it wrong, move round to the next student until you receive the correct answer. Again put the slip away.
  • When this has been successfully completed, do it again, this time with the translation or definition side being shown so the learners have to say the word/phrase. Pronunciation is an important requirement at this stage.
  • When all of the slips have been said correctly put them away.
  • Now have the students write down all the words/phrases in their notebooks.

Even if you do about 30 words or phrases, it is amazing how many of them students can remember in the next class, and by writing them down they have something to look back at should they forget.

Since this is a pre-teaching task students will see this vocabulary again and again throughout the next few weeks of your teaching. This will give them a chance to notice their use in context and more importantly have opportunities to use them.

This activity is an adaptation of an activity I once saw at a Braz-Tesol workshop. It helps students to see, hear and feel the vocabulary and allows intonation and connected speech to be emphasised. 

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