5 low & no-prep vocabulary revision ideas

Here are some ideas about revising vocabulary that require little to no preparation. You can use them with any type of lexical items, level of advancement and class size.

One of my resolutions for this year is to work harder on revising vocabulary with my students. At the same time, I would like to spend as little time as possible preparing these revisions. That is why I decided to compile a list of activities that are guaranteed to help my learners and save me some time. Activities described below aim at recycling and personalising vocabulary.

#1 Recognition / Production

This task requires the teacher to first come up with a story or an anecdote that will contain any given number of the words or expressions they wish to revise.

The teacher tells/reads the story out loud. Students listen and are supposed to write down a tick whenever they hear a word/expression from the previous lesson.

Next, see how many ticks the students have put down and inform them about the correct number (5 to 7 works best).

Students get into small groups and compile the list of words from the story. Then, write the words on the board or some other place that will be visible for the students during the lesson. Discuss how the words were used in the story (context).

Finally, tell your students that they will be given extra points if they manage to use the words from the story correctly during the lesson during speaking or writing activities (that is why it is useful to keep the words on display throughout the class).

What I like about this activity is that it gives time for both passive recognition and active usage. Some students jump at each opportunity to use the vocabulary during the lesson but don’t always do it correctly (which creates a nice opportunity for you to discuss how the word should be used again) others wait for their moment to dazzle you with great timing and great language. One way or another, vocabulary you wanted to review stays relevant to the next lesson without making students feel like they are doing the same all over again.

#2 Recall – Categorise – Match

Students work in pairs or small groups.

On a piece of paper they write as many words from the previous class as they can remember. Give them a time limit. (Recall)

Next, students need to arrange their vocabulary list into categories. Leave it up to them to invent these categories but warn them they need to be able to logically justify their choice. (Categorise)

Pairs /  small groups get together to form bigger groups. Students compare their lists and categories. Their task might be to

a) see how many words repeat between the lists

b) see how many categories repeat between the lists

c) look for synonyms/antonyms for the words from their list

d) choose one word they would like to borrow from another group and add to their list

Every task above might be turned into some form of competition if you want to turn it into a game.

My favourite thing about this activity is that it allows talking about the vocabulary instead of merely recalling it. Creating categories might help students memorise the words better. Doing it on their own adds a personal twist and encouraged them to think about the collection of words from a different angle.

#3 Invent a title

Students work in pairs or on their own.

They choose/are assigned words/expressions you wish to revise.

Their task is to use the vocabulary to create a title for a book/film/TV series/song they would want to read/watch etc.

Other alternatives include inventing names for different products, university courses, streets etc.

Once they are ready, ask them to explain their choice of words and the idea behind the title.

You might vote to choose the best title.

My favourite thing about this activity is that it allows creativity and personalisation.

#4 Invent an acrostic

Students work in pairs or individually.

They choose/are assigned a word from the revision set.

Their task is to use each letter of the word given as first letters of new words, preferably somehow connected to the original word: words from the same lesson, connected with a similar topic, synonyms, antonyms etc.

Students share their acrostics with the whole class.

Alternatively, instead of single words, they create whole sentences, still pertaining to the original word.

My favourite thing about this activity is that it allows creativity and activates students’ vocabulary. Also, there are no wrong answers here!

#5 Invent a chain of associations

I have written about this activity here and the credit goes to Magda Kania for introducing me to this idea.

Students work individually or in pairs.

The teachers/ a student chooses two random words or expressions from the revision set.

Put the words on two opposite sides the board and draw any given number of squares between them.

Students need to invent a story that takes them from word A to word B in as many steps as there are squares between the words.

To make it more competitive, you can add a time limit, award points for any word from the previous class that students use in this task etc.

Students share their stories with each other afterwards.

I like this activity because it encourages creativity but works fine for students who prefer safer scenarios as well.


What are your favourite low to no-prep revision activities?


  1. I love the idea of the story telling in #1. One of my weaknesses perhaps is that my classes are almost all stand-alone lessons, with very little review of past vocabulary. This is a great way to start the class with an anecdote and be sure they are listening for the idioms we learned the previous class. Thank you

    • Hi Sharon, I know what you mean as it’s been exactly my issue for a very long time! I first tackled it during my classes with adults where I give a heading to each section of the lesson. I started with the REVISION heading to remind myself to prepare one 😉 It worked and my students have told me on numerous occasions they felt great about it. Try this tiny trick and see how it goes.

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