Activate your English vocabulary!

Whether you live in Prague, London, or Sydney, here are a few ideas on how you can activate, expand and revise your English vocabulary with just a pen and a piece of paper. Don’t have time? The activities below take just ten minutes, and are perfect to get your lateral thinking going while you’re in the train or waiting at the dentist’s!

Exercise 1: write down one word on a piece of paper. Then give yourself 2-3 minutes to see how many other words you can create using the letters of the original word.

For example, from the word ‘advertisement’ you can find:

men, rise, train, tram, van, raise, term, time, mime, set, vet, nest, mean, meet, darts, sad…and a host of others!

To start with, I’ll give you a few examples. What words can you find ‘within’ these words:

  • appearance
  • potential
  • chocolate

I just chose those words randomly. Try them now and then check my possible answers typed below.

Extension exercise: once you have your wordlist, what collocations can you think of (ie words that go with each word)? From ‘advertisement’ above, for example, which verbs collocate or go together with train?

Well, we can say: get on a train; get off a train; catch a train; take a train; change train; travel on a train; miss a train; get a train. A train can also be on time or delayed. You can also go overboard here and write other combinations:

eg steam train; diesel train; freight train; commuter train.

Train has other meanings too eg to train a team.

Exercise 2: categorising vocabulary

Step 1: write down about 20 new words you have learnt recently in class. If you find it hard to get to 20, write down the first 20 words that you can think of.

Step 2: now look at the words and see if you can try to create categories for them.

Here’s an example:

colleague, wage, ticket, appearance, charismatic, conference, bookshelf, couch, determined, desk, folder

When I say create categories, I really want to encourage you to be creative! So, here’s one possibility of many:

  1. Adjectives to describe a successful politician: charismatic, determined
  2. Something you sit on: couch
  3. Someone you shouldn’t sit on: colleague
  4. Things you shouldn’t throw out: wage, desk, folder, bookshelf
  5. Something you buy before you catch a train: a ticket

Try to limit your list to 4 or 5 categories. You can expand this activity further by doing this extension exercise:

Give yourself 2 minutes and see what other words you can add to your categories. So for example, ‘things you sit on’ can also include a chair, a sofa, an armchair.


The point here is that by doing these exercises you are activating and revising your knowledge of English vocabulary, and you may find that you discover new words too in the process. In addition, even if you do this for ten minutes each morning, this is ten extra minutes you are spending thinking in English.

Finally, while you are doing activities on your own, you are also experiencing first-hand the value in taking responsibility for your own learning.

David Sweetnam


Possible answers to the first exercise include:

  • appearance: pear, ear, rap, peer, appear, earn, pan, ran, can, an, peep, era, nap, cap
  • potential: pot, lot, ten, lent, tent, ate, net, pet, neat, teat, leap, lip, tip
  • chocolate: ate, late, hot, cot, the, eat, cheat, coat, heal, loot, heat

What do you think?