Vocabulary Boxes in the EFL Classroom

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Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the most effective.

If you’re a parent or a caregiver, you probably know this is especially true when it comes to children. Sometimes we spend so much time and money looking for the perfect toy or activity when there is a perfectly good free option right in front of our eyes.

Take, for example, a box. A simple box can be so many different things: a house, a canvas, a car – you name it, a box can be it. Big or small, brown or colourful – it really doesn’t matter because it can accomplish the same purpose regardless of what it looks like. And you can probably find a box lying around in your house without spending a penny.

The same can be said for the EFL classroom. We don’t always need to think of extravagant activities or games to teach language. Sometimes the simple things can be just as effective.

Which brings us back to the humble box.

Boxes can be just as useful in the EFL classroom. A box can be used for storage, as part of a game, or as a prop. There is no need to spend your money on plastic containers or Tupperware – there are probably a few paper boxes lying around the staff room that you can use for whichever purpose you need it.

And one of the most popular uses for boxes in the classroom is as vocabulary boxes.

Why are vocabulary boxes a good idea?

Words are the foundations of a language. As long as we have the vocabulary, we are able to communicate – even without grammar – but without vocabulary, we will have nothing to say. This is why learning vocabulary is important when learning a language, and consequently when we are teaching a language.

There are a number of effective strategies we can use when it comes to teaching and learning vocabulary.

Firstly, learners must see the vocabulary item in use in a natural context. They must understand the form of the word (how it is spelled), the meaning of the word, and its pronunciation. Then, they should write the word down. This can be in a vocabulary list or in a drawing – any way that suits the learner. Learners should further make associations with the word to help them remember it, use it numerous times in various contexts, and be tested on it.

Read more:  Tips for Teaching Vocabulary

You might be aware that a speaker has two types of vocabulary knowledge: their passive vocabulary and their active vocabulary. Passive vocabulary is the vocabulary that you know and understand when you see or hear it but you don’t use it in your own language production. In contrast, your active vocabulary is the vocabulary that you understand and use. The aim of language learning is to move vocabulary items from our passive vocabulary to our active vocabulary.

In essence, vocabulary items need to be learned and used regularly in order to become part of a learner’s language. And this is where a vocabulary box comes in handy.

Vocabulary Boxes in the EFL Classroom

What is a vocabulary box?

A vocabulary box is a box with pieces of paper in it. The box can be a shoebox or any box. It can be plain, covered in newspaper, or wrapped in pretty paper. The pieces of paper can be paper or card, but shouldn’t be too big. The pieces of paper must be two-sided.

During or after a vocabulary lesson (or any lesson which involved new vocabulary) the teacher can write one vocabulary item on each piece of paper. On the one side the word is written and on the other the definition, an example sentence with the target language missing, or even a drawing.

This can be singular vocabulary words, like dinosaur or gigantic, phrases and expressions, like bookworm and beat around the bush, or even sayings, like actions, speak louder than words.

The cards can then be used as a means of revision. The cards are taken out of the box and given to students in pairs or groups. They can then do a range of activities with the cards which will help them revise the particular language on the cards.

Vocabulary cards can be added to the box whenever necessary – at the end of a lesson, at the end of each unit in a coursebook, at the end of the week, or at the end of the term. The cards can also be written by the students instead of the teacher if the students are capable. This will add an extra level to their revision as they are essentially studying when they are writing the cards, and this activity can be utilised as a regular revision strategy.

Read more: 3 Activities for Vocabulary Retention

Activities for  vocabulary boxes

  • Testing: Hand out the cards to students who are grouped in pairs. Students use the cards to test each other. Either one reads the vocabulary word and the other must provide the definition or one must read the definition and the other must give the word.
  • Categorisation: Students can categorise the cards into parts of speech or lexical sets. This can be done in teams or as a whole class activity.
  • Revision games: Having a vocabulary box means that you have quick access to appropriate words for word games. Whether it’s Taboo, Twenty Questions, Hangman or Pictionary, you no longer need to try to remember all the words you’ve done with a class – just pick from the box! Plus it allows the students to take charge of the games themselves.

Read more: Our Favourite Vocabulary Games

Vocabulary boxes work really well if they are used regularly. Your students will become familiar with the activities and you won’t need to spend time explaining them every time. Revision should be a regular activity in the classroom to support the learning process. Having vocabulary boxes makes doing revision quick and easy with no preparation required. If you ever have a few extra minutes at the end of a lesson, vocabulary boxes will have everything you need to fill up the time.

And all you need is a box!

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