Word Association Explanation Chains

Fleur Ogura, Meijo University 

Quick Guide 

  • Keywords: Warm-up, speaking fluency 
  • Learner English level: Low-intermediate and above 
  • Learner maturity: Junior high-school and above 
  • Preparation time: 2 minutes 
  • Activity time: 10 minutes 
  • Materials: Blackboard/whiteboard, writing utensils, stopwatch/clock 


This is a warm-up activity that can be used in speaking classes to flip the mental switch in students’ brains from their L1 to their L2. While word association games that use only single words can be fun and accessible for lower levels, this activity incorporates statements to increase difficulty and student satisfaction for higher level or older students. It requires little time, no materials beyond those that are already present in most classrooms, and is best used as a quick warm-up before the main tasks of the lesson.  



Step 1: Think of a starting word for the association chain. It could be related to the upcoming lesson or a topical word.  



Step 1: Divide the class into groups of three to five students. 

Step 2: Tell students that they are going to play a word association game, and that they will take turns to say an associated word and give a short sentence to explain it.  

Step 3: Model an example. Write the starting word banana on the board. Explain to the students that the first person could say, “Monkey, because monkeys eat bananas, monkey.” Emphasise that they should say the word, a statement, and then the word again. Then tell the students that the second person could say, “Zoo, because monkeys live in zoos, zoo.” Emphasise that they should make associations to the previous word only (not to the starting word every time).

Step 4: Elicit another associated word and explanation from the class, and continue (helping with more examples, if necessary) until the students understand the procedure. 

Step 5: Tell the students that each group will now create their own unique chain.

Step 6: Write the starting word you thought of in the preparation stage on the board. Set the stopwatch for 10 minutes or check the time on the clock. 

Step 7: Tell the students to begin their own word and explanation association chains in their groups. 

Step 8: Allow the students to continue taking turns saying associated words and explanations in their groups until the time is up. Monitor and remind students to give explanations, as necessary.

Step 9: When the time is up, ask each group to tell you what their final word was, and write them on the board. As each group was individually making associations each group’s final word is usually very different. It is amusing for students to see what different words result from the same starting word. 



Teachers could ask students to guess the chain that led to other groups’ final words. 



It can be difficult for students to suddenly switch from their L1 in speaking classes. This warm-up activity allows students to get used to speaking in their L2 before the main tasks of the lesson. It is fast, requires no preparation, and is a good tool for teachers to keep in their tool-box to be used anytime.