All people learn differently, and while it isnít always feasible or even beneficial to cater to everyoneís different specific learning strengths in a classroom setting, this activity might help those who are good at writing learn vocabulary in way that is productive, creative, and fosters long-term lexical retention.
While Iíve read lots of literature that discourages vocabulary learning through repeated writing exercises, many people (myself included!) find that writing out vocabulary words actually works very well for them. However, for all languages (especially for those that are particularly different from the studentsí L1s), translations are rarely a simple one-to-one mapping from one word to another, and students not only need to learn a wordís meaning, but they also need to learn how to use that word accurately and in the appropriate context. That said, passively writing the word with its translated dictionary definition over and over again is mundane, and it doesnít encourage student creativity or autonomy, and might even cause the student to limit some words to a single dictionary definition.
However, you can integrate vocabulary learning with writing in a way that promotes long-term retention and lets students practice their writing in a fun way with this simple and very adaptable activity below:
1) Create a list of words that you would like your students to learn. They donít have to be semantically related if you want a bit of a creative challenge, but for beginners, learning words that are connected by theme or topic might be a bit easier.
2) Have your students write you a coherent story using all the words from the list. The story can be as short as a paragraph, or you can make this activity an entire creative writing assignment and have your students write you a page or two of text, using all the words as frequently and accurately as they can.
Creating a story makes the words within it more meaningful, and using them in the right context can help the students learn how to use the vocabulary correctly, which is sometimes harder than one would expect, especially if English is very different from the studentsí L1s. This activity can be done at home, but for lower level English learners, it might be better to do this activity in class while you, the teacher, carefully monitor them and answer questions. Itís important that the students create well-formed sentences with their new vocabulary, so be there to offer them suggestions and gentle corrections if you notice them using a vocabulary word incorrectly.
If time allows, have your students read or present their stories to the class. Saying the vocabulary terms out loud within the context of a well-formed sentence and an entire story will not only help them remember the words via the story, but it will also help them remember the right way to use them. Additionally, the other students will get to hear how their peers used the vocabulary, which will further promote retention and accuracy. It can also be fun if you let the students be creative with their stories! If you donít have the class time for an entire story, or if you students arenít quite at the level where full-on composition is a feasible request, you can always just have them just make original sentences with the words.
This assignment can easily be altered for different class types and learning purposes. You can replace the list of words with a list of idioms and expressions, a list of grammar points, or practically anything else you want your students to know and practice. You can even make the assignment more focused on the actual content of the story and use the vocabulary as a framework or basis for the plot. This activity isnít an entirely original one, and it may not work for every class, but it could be an interesting, fun way to combine vocabulary learning and writing practice for the right students!