My 3 favourite vocabulary revision activities for teenagers

Here are my 3 favourite vocabulary revision activities for teens. They work best with groups of at least 4 students. Each activity requires some preparation from the teacher but they all aim at maximising the students’ participation, collaboration, and decision making.


This year I am working with quite advanced groups of younger students and our course puts quite a lot of emphasis on vocabulary. Each unit introduces my students to at least 6 new phrasal verbs, collocations, fixed expressions or idiomatic expressions. As a result, vocabulary revision parts of my classes have become somewhat more elaborate and they sometimes take centre stage during my lessons.

Below are 3 ideas that, so far, have been my favourite.

Idea #1:  Photo association game

Preparation time: 10 mins

Activity time: 10 mins

Vocabulary items: single words, collocations, expressions, phrasal verbs

Step 1

Choose vocabulary items you wish to revise.

Step 2

For each item you chose, find a photo that somehow represents the word/expression. The more obscure the image, the more difficult it is going to be for your students to guess so don’t make it too abstract. Try to choose images that connect with how the vocabulary items were presented.used during your class.

Step 3

Print the photos or prepare a ppt presentation (my favourite mode for this activity)

Step 4

Students work on their own. Specify which vocabulary area you are focusing on in this exercise. Ask your students to write down numbers on a piece of paper, e.g. 1-5 if you want to revise 5 vocabulary items.

Step 5

Show one photo at a time, give your students 15 secs to think what it represents. They should write down their idea even if it is just a single word they remember being a part of a longer collocation or expression.

Step 6

Students compare their answer with a partner and try to piece together the correct one.

Step 7

Ask students to share their answers and reveal the correct one. Ask students who have guessed correctly how they have come up with it (which part of the photo was the best hint). Discuss your choice of images, ask students where they would choose something else etc.

Step 8

Repeat with all the photos.


If you choose to prepare a ppt presentation, you might add new slides as your students learn new vocabulary and change the order of photos so that your ppt may be reused later during the course. As a result, you may end up with a huge photo bank that represents something meaningful to your learners especially if during the lesson you ask your students to do a quick Google image search to show you (and explain!) what images they associate with certain vocabulary items

Why I like it

Even though this activity might seem a bit odd for some students at first, they quickly get into it and activate their abstract thinking. Students need to work together to come up with correct answers or negotiate whose version of a collocation or expression is correct. Looking for suitable images is always a lot of fun and showcases students’ creativity.

Idea #2: Half Crossword

Preparation time: 15 mins

Activity time: 20-25 mins

Vocabulary items: single words

Step 1

Use this online crossword maker to create a template for your crossword.

Choose words you would like to revise (works best if you choose an odd number e.g. 11. This way you will end up with 5 clues down and 6 clues across. To make the activity fair, manually fill in the extra ACROSS clue so that there is an equal number of blank clues in the crossword in both directions)

Print 1 copy of the crossword answer key and 2 blank copies of the crossword.

On one copy, fill in the DOWN clues below the crossword. On the other, fill in the ACROSS clues.

Step 2

Students work in groups. One group get the DOWN copy, the other the ACROSS copy. They fill in their half of the crossword.

Step 3

If possible, have the groups work in separate rooms/corners of the classroom so that they don’t overhear each other.

Give the students some time to come up with the definitions for the words in their crossword and write them down (they will probably try to persuade you they can memorise them!)

Step 4

Once all the definitions are done, groups sit together facing each other. The objective here is to fill in the missing part of each crossword by asking the opposite team for definitions of missing clues.

Step 5

Students take turns asking for definitions (What’s 1 down? What’s 4 across? etc.). Your task is to monitor whether the definition the group provides is clear enough and prompt the students to add details to clarify it if it sounds too vague. If the definition was clear enough but the other group didn’t manage to guess the correct word, they don’t get a point. The group with more points at the end wins.

Why I like it

I have been familiar with the concept of half crosswords since I first worked with young learners but have never seen it in coursebooks for older learners (deemed too childish?). I like this activity a lot since it requires a considerable effort: coming up with definitions, possibly refining them during the game, and trying to recall other words to complete the crossword all pose a significant challenge even though the game looks very innocuous. On top of that, teens love to let loose and enjoy some retro fun which takes them back to when they were kids.

Idea #3: Show / Define / Draw

This game is an oldie but a goodie and one I have been meaning to incorporate into my lessons for quite a long time. It is my new favourite when it comes to revising phrasal verbs.

Preparation time: 5 mins

Activity time: 10-15 mins

Vocabulary items: single words, collocations, expressions, phrasal verbs

Step 1

Prepare as many pieces of paper as you have students. On each piece of paper write either SHOW or DEFINE or DRAW. Put the scraps into a container. These are the instructions for your students.

Step 2

In a separate container place pieces of paper containing vocabulary items you would your students to revise.

Step 3

Divide your students into teams.

Step 4

Each student draws 2 pieces of paper: instructions and vocabulary. Their task is to present their vocabulary item to their team in the assigned form: SHOW it (miming), DEFINE it (describe what it means and when we use it) or DRAW it ( mini whiteboards or extra pieces of paper might be useful here). The team scores a point if they manage to guess the word/expression is presented. Add a time limit to make it more competitive. Ask them to write down these vocabulary items they didn’t manage to guess correctly.

Step 5

Once all team members have finished they return their pieces of paper to assigned containers and you might play a new round.

Step 6

After finishing the game,  see what turned out to be the most problematic and clarify whatever doubts your students might still have about the meaning/use etc.

Why I like it

The game is extremely easy to set up and offers enough varieties to make it a dynamic and engaging activity. Its premise might seem easy but if you have ever tried to draw the word “intravenous”, you will know there is a certain challenge involved! One more extra layer in the game is cooperation and teamwork. Done in English, it adds more value to the game than the revised vocabulary itself.

Take a look at more revision ideas here and here.

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