Collaborative Vocabulary Activity: Learning and Practice

Vander Tavares, York University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: collaboration, vocabulary, group work, drawing
  • Learner English level: Low intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: Elementary to high school
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 25-30 minutes, depending on class size
  • Materials: Notebook, blank paper and writing utensils (see Appendix)

This collaborative activity is an exercise that can be implemented immediately after instruction or as a review activity prior to an upcoming exam in order to foster vocabulary learning and practice among students. In this activity, the teacher privately provides each student with a keyword from the reading so that other students cannot know other students’ assigned keywords. This activity works best in reading, writing, and grammar-focused classes, where acquiring new vocabulary is essential for students to be able to grasp a specific topic.


Step 1: Organize the tables or desks in the classroom into a connected shape (for example: a square, rectangle or triangle, 2 minutes).

Step 2: The teacher should identify the keywords from the previous reading in advance and write each word on a separate piece of paper to be handed out to individual students (see Appendix). Each piece of paper should be numbered. The number of keywords must match the number of the students in the class (5 minutes).

Step 3: Students should list the number of words involved in the activity (exact number of words to be decided by teacher) in their notebook (see Appendix, 3 minutes).


Step 1: On a blank sheet of paper, each student writes only the number of the word they received from the teacher in the upper right-hand corner of the sheet to use as a reference.

Step 2: Give students five minutes to draw a figure that represents the word they were assigned.

Step 3: The teacher will shout, “Rotate!” so that each student can pass their drawing to the student sitting to their right. Once a student receives a new drawing from a student sitting to their left, they write in their notebook the word they think the drawing represents by matching the number written on the sheet with the number on their list. 

Step 4: After one minute, the teacher repeats step 3 until all students have had a chance to see all drawings from their peers and attempted to fill in their numbered list with the words that they think each drawing represented.

Note: The fun component of this activity is in assigning a very short time for students to try to decipher each drawing (30 seconds).

Step 5: Once all students have their list tentatively completed, the teacher can ask each student to take turns in revealing their assigned word. In addition, that particular student will explain how their drawing represents that particular assigned word. 

Step 6: After all students have taken a turn in sharing, the teacher can spend extra time explaining each term and providing examples.


This collaborative activity requires students to be creative and depend on each other’s drawings to interpret keywords from a previous reading. If done in a fast-paced manner, students have to work quickly and rely on both their memory and interpretation skills to succeed in the task. In addition to reinforcing vocabulary, this activity also invites students to practice their oral skills at the explanation stage (step 5). The teacher can utilize this activity to make connections to a theme-specific reading and prepare students for an upcoming exam. This activity can be modified effortlessly to reflect any topic addressed in class which introduces new vocabulary.

Appendix: Collaborative Vocabulary Activity: Learning and Practice


Keywords to be cut up and assigned to each student from a “Crime”-themed reading:

  1. Shop-lifting
  2. Breaking in
  3. Investigation
  4. Burglary
  5. Interrogation
  6. Fraud
  7. Blackmail
  8. Detective
  9. Victim
  10. Espionage
  11. Sheriff
  12. Kidnapping