Repetition and word lists

Many coursebooks provide word lists of ‘new’ words that appear in the unit. Sometimes these are with a translation and they may also have an example or phonetic forms. The word list is an obvious resource for repetition. I don’t use the word ‘review’ here, because that implies that we are only using the word list after the unit has been taught when it can also be a way to preview language as well as during the class.

There is one important reason why we might consider a word list in addition to reviews offered in book or workbook and that is the fact that the word lists often draws on words throughout the unit rather than only words in the section explicitly marked ‘vocabulary’. Vocabulary sections often focus only on lexical sets which, while useful, may exclude large numbers of frequent words that students need to master beyond topic words. Just as one example of this, I recently discovered an article by Felicity O’Dell which makes a similar argument and mentions the word ‘way’ as not fitting into any lexical set, despite being the 4th most common noun in English.

So word lists are a helpful resource, but they can also have important limitations. They generally present single words in isolation; they are generally limited explanations to one simple meaning or translation, and they are static learning tool – there are no obvious guides to students how to make the most of them.

The Outcomes online vocabulary builder is a more sophisticated version of a wordlist, this in that it provides common examples and collocations, a tool to test yourself, and functionality to add examples. The PDF version also recycles words from the list looking at them through their word grammar (what prepositions follow; what other forms are there in the word family; what verb patterns do they have, etc.). However, there are still more things we can do to encourage repeated focus on word lists. In this post, we will look at ways of extending the examples and speaking. In the next post, we will look at using them for pronunciation and listening revision.

Collocations not just words

A very simple change we could make is to change our list of single words into a list of collocations. This helps students by

  • providing an extra word that can support the meaning of the ‘new’ word.
  • increasing recycling of words (inevitably some collocates will be repetitions of words in the same list or from previous units).

You could rewrite the list yourself and give it to students or dictate the list with students adding the collocates. Students may then update translations to match the collocations. You might set this for homework and discuss translation problems in class.

It is probably a good idea to do this before the start of the unit.

What you know unit warmer

With our new list of collocations ask students to mark the collocations in the following way:

  1. This collocation was new for me. I didn’t know the meaning.

2.  I recognized this collocation but have never used it.

3.  I have used this collocation before.

You can get students to compare these in pairs and you can notice the collocations that are newer for your students. Spend extra time on these in class. You might even get students to calculate their average score to see how difficult the unit will be.

What you’ve seen roundup

In the last part of the class ask students to take out their word list.

  1. Give students one minute to go through and tick all the words/collocations they encountered in the lesson.

2. In pairs, give students two minutes to compare their answers and decide what was the example of the words they used in the class (was it the same or different to the word list?)

3. Change pairs, give them three minutes to either add any new vocabulary that came up in the class to their word list or to find one more collocate for the words they ticked.

Extend the collocation homework and warmer

For all the collocations that students marked with a 2 in the ‘what you know unit warmer’, ask students to think of a collocation of the collocation. You may need to show students examples of an adjective, noun, verb or adverb the words commonly go with.

To begin the next class, ask students to look at their lists and in two minutes choose three of their extended collocations and then do one of the following:

  • give an example from their own lives
  • give an example about something they have seen in the news.

When you set this up, give examples from your own life as a model.

Give students five minutes to share their ideas in groups.

Review game and extend

Choose ten to fifteen of the collocations on the list. Write questions that test students knowledge of how the words work. You might focus these more on collocations students marked as ‘known’ in the ‘what you know unit warmer’. Questions can follow these patterns:

  • Why might you Collocation?
  • When might you Collocation?
  • Who might Collocation?
  • What would you say if Collocation?
  • What happens if you/someone Collocation?
  • What’s the opposite of Collocation?
  • Where might you Collocation?
  • What’s the difference between Collocation 1 and Collocation 2?

For other examples of these types of questions see our website or the book Teaching Lexically.

To learn more about Outcomes, visit

Author: Andrew Walkley

Andrew Walkley has 25 years’ experience as a teacher, trainer and materials writer. He is currently the co-director of Lexical Lab ( an educational services provider specialising in course design and consultancy, material writing and teacher training. With Lexical Lab, he runs a variety of training courses for people in English Language education as part of a Summer school. He is the co-author of several coursebook series – Outcomes, Innovations and Perspectives (National Geographic Learning) and the methodology book Teaching Lexically (Delta Publishing).

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