Blah blah: Interactive contextualised vocabulary review

Douglas Hamano-Bunce

Quick guide

  • Key words: vocabulary, review, interaction
  • Learner English level: All
  • Learner maturity level: All
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 20-25 minutes
  • Materials: Cards and worksheets


This is a highly interactive variation of Back to the Board. There are several aims. First, it reviews previously encountered vocabulary, allowing for checking of meaning and pronunciation and encouraging retention in the working memory. Secondly, it provides opportunity for large amounts of spoken interaction, collaborative dialogue, and negotiation of meaning and form, which are considered important to the language learning process. It also encourages the development of strategic competence for dealing with communication breakdown (useful for many Japanese learners, who may be reluctant to negotiate meaning). Finally, being fun and interactive, the task is ideal as a warmer at the beginning of a class or as a change of pace partway through.


Step 1:Prepare one set of cards (12–20 cards) for each group of 3–5 students. Each card should contain a noun phrase, clause, or sentence from a previously encountered context, with the target vocabulary underlined (see Appendix A for examples used with an advanced class).


Step 1:Demonstrate the task with the whole class. Place each set of cards face down in a pile on the table. In turns, students draw and read a card to their group. When reading out the phrase on the card, they replace the underlined word(s) with “blah,” “blah, blah,” or “blah, blah, blah” according to the number of underlined words. Together, the group has to negotiate to supply the missing words. This naturally involves fixed and semi-fixed memorisable chunks, such as Sorry, what does it mean? and Sorry, can you say that again, please? It can also include phrases for defining and clarifying, such as It means…, It’s similar to…, It’s the opposite of…, andFor example,….


S1 – Gordon Brown keeps blah the fact that they are planning cuts.

S2 – Sorry?

S1 – Gordon Brown keeps blah the fact that they are planning cuts.

S3 – Hiding?

S1 – Nearly. Similar to hiding. Not hiding completely. Partly hiding.

S2 – Err…

S1 – It begins with a d.

S3 – Disguising.

S1 – Yes.

When finished, the card is left face up on the table for all to see. The students continue taking turns until all cards are finished. This stage can be turned into a game with the student with the most cards being the winner.

Step 3:Play karuta, or slap. Spread the cards face up on the table so that each is clearly seen. Define the words on the cards. The students listen. When they know which one is being defined, they slap the card and take it. This stage can be fast and furious. It is useful for the teacher to check the meaning and pronunciation of the target vocabulary.

Step 4:Hand out a worksheet containing the cards with the target vocabulary missing (Appendix B). Students complete the worksheet by copying the vocabulary from the cards. This provides opportunity for quiet consolidation and attention to spelling as well as being a written record for future reference. The students could then be asked to remember the vocabulary for a future test.


This procedure entails large amounts of meaningful spoken interaction, collaborative dialogue, and negotiation of meaning and form, all considered important to the language learning process. The students are using English meaningfully in order to successfully recall the vocabulary and complete the game (outcome).

An additional benefit is that the students are recycling vocabulary from a previous lesson. The targeted words are embedded in the phrases taken from the authentic discourse in which they were originally encountered. The vocabulary is, therefore, meaningful and contextualized, rather than a simple list of decontextualised items.

Finally, a focus on the fixed and semi-fixed memorisable chunks for defining and clarifying is not only useful for the task in hand, but also for use in the real world.


The appendices are available below: