Recycling: the best habit on Earth

Without a doubt, learning new lexis is often what many students consider vital in their classes. However, most of them are not sure how to do it effectively. And let’s be honest, few will devote enough out-of-class time to memorise the new vocabulary.

So if we want our students to expand their vocabulary range, we need to find time in class which we will devote to recycling new words.

Don’t we have enough work on our hands, though? Why bother recycling at all?
  1. according to research sts need to see a lexical item between 7 and 9 times in order to memorise it 
  2. your sts will learn a lot of new lexis and very often that’s their priority 
  3. it neither takes much prep nor effort (get the sts to record the vocab!)
  4. you’ll have an endless list of both productive and fun warmers and fillers which need no prep nor   planning!

 So without further ado, here are some practical activities to do with your students. As a disclaimer, I don’t pretend to have invented them. They’ve been around in one form or another for ages, and I’ve picked them up along the way. I’ve also done these activities in a workshop format, so those who worked with me in San Sebastian, Budapest or San Jose might recognise the activities straight away.
If you know any other activities, please let me know. We could add them to the list 🙂


Recycling Vocabulary – Activities

  1. Vocab column on the board: 
  • note lexis that comes up during the class
  • use it at least once to recycle, e.g. give a definition, students run up to the board and point to the correct word (good for shaking the class up if they’re falling asleep)
2. Ranking activities:
  • putting words on a cline, e.g. the strongest to the weakest
  • I like most/least, e.g. for weekend activities
  • in general, pick any order depending on the group of words (i.e. the most to the least serious crime)
3. Taboo: 
  • teacher explains the word, others guess (in pairs, groups, etc)
  • IDEA: get students to explain the words (takes the focus off you; puts the responsibility for learning in their hands)
  • IDEA 2: if you have a very large class, you can have more than one taboo going at the same time to keep everyone busy
4. Gapped sentences: 
  • sts prepare at home or if time in class (more demanding and therefore increases retention, BUT more time consuming)
  • prepared by the teacher
  • IDEA: use questions instead of affirmatives and get sts to do a mingle (more communicative)
  • IDEA 2: do orally as a dictation (more demanding + a listening practice)
5. Coffepot:
  • substitute a word with coffeepot, e.g. I coffeepot in the morning before breakfast.
  • IDEA: do as a dictation
  • IDEA 2: get sts to do it in pairs (increases Student Talking Time)
6. Noughts and crosses: 
  • draw noughts and crosses board on the whiteboard, putting a word in each field
  • sts copy it to their notebooks 
  • in pairs, they have to make a correct sentence with the word to be able to win the field
  • when they’ve finished divide the class in half and play as a whole class activity
  • IDEA: once the sts are familiar with the activity, get them to create their own noughts and crosses with the words they find difficult (makes it more personalised and meaningful)
7. Storytelling: 
  • each st has a set of words on cards (or the whole group has words face up on the desk)
  • continue a story adding a sentence with one of the words
  • IDEA: set a points system, e.g. one point for every correctly used word (makes it more competitive)
8. Collocations/word sets:
  • list all words collocating with _______
  • IDEA: do it as a team race or set a time limit to increase competitiveness
9. Blockbusters:
  • sts move across the board by making correct sentences with the words given
10. Crosswords, word searches:
11. Questions:
  • sts prepare questions for their classmates using the words you are revising, e.g. Have you ever…? Do you….? When was the last time you…? etc.
  • IDEA: sts write questions on slips of paper; mix them up and redistribute randomly
  • IDEA 2: class mingle when sts swap the questions after asking them and move on
12. Recycling worksheets: 
  • prepare a grid, e.g. 5 x 5, where you will put in the words from the class
  • distribute to groups and play various games, such as: 3 in a row, definitions snap, story telling/writing, get rid of your cards(explanations/use in a sentence), use as many as possible in one sentence,  sentences about yourself (true and false, guess which one is false)…
  • IDEA: cut the grid up to make recycling cards
  • IDEA 2: get sts to prepare the grid themselves (more relevant and personalised)
13. Snap: 
  • spread word cards in front of a group of sts
  • one st provides a definition, the others try to grab the right word as soon as possible
14. Spelling race:
  • sts stand in rows at the far end of the classroom facing the board
  • say a word, the first student in the line runs up to the board and tries to spell it correctly
  • IDEA: use a definition instead of the word, or gapped sentence, or the coffeepot
  • IDEA 2: put a student in charge


  • learn almost 2500 words in a year in a fun way, spending less than 60mins a week on it. Impossible? Read my post about Memrise here.
And after all the fun in the classroom, if you’re still feeling like learning more, read up on lexis:
  • Lewis, M. 1993. The Lexical Approach
  •  Lewis, M. 1997. Implementing The Lexical Approach. 
  • Thornbury, S. 2002. How to Teach Vocabulary.
  • Harmer, J. 2006. The practice of English Language Teaching (chapter 12, 14)

12 thoughts on “Recycling: the best habit on Earth

  1. Great post! Some original new ideas combined with old ideas polished up and used in new ways.
    I will share your post with my teachers on an INSET course on vocabulary teaching and learning I am giving this year.

  2. Wow! This is a very useful page and I really enjoyed reading article and all users’ comments. Recycling is one of the best ways for people to have a positive impact on the world. It has many benefits and make the world a much cleaner and greener place to live in. I think it should be a responsibility that everyone should take upon themselves.

  3. Loved it! I´ll definitely start trying some of them this week!

    One thing I sometimes do with my students is to play hangman. I start by reading the definition of the word so as to give them a clue for the word they need to form. What I like about this game is that it also gives them the opportunity to revise their spelling.

    Another game I´d love to try is bingo. I´d write some words I want to recycle instead of numbers and “sing” the definitions.

  4. Hi Leo,
    Sorry for not replying earlier. I'm glad you found the post useful and I feel quite flattered you decided to choose this post for the INSET course you're giving. How did it go by the way? Where do you teach?

  5. Hi Azizul,
    Thanks for your comment and sorry for not getting back to you earlier.
    We were talking here about recycling, i.e. revising, vocabulary in class, but I do agree with you that recycling rubbish is a very important issue.

  6. Hi Petsie,
    Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you found the ideas helpful.
    I like playing hangman as well. It's usually quite fun. I've done bingo as well but never tried singing the definitions. Do you get the students to do it?

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