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Exam vocabulary: how I help my students learn it on their own

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

I've recently written a post about my students learning and revising grammar. Today I'd like to show you how they tackle the task of studying and revising all of the vocabulary they need for their end of school exam.

This school year, my kiddos have to revise and/or learn the vocabulary from 13 different topics. This is one of the state requirements in Poland and the exam which they take near the end of grade 8 (the last grade of primary school) is based on the vocabulary from those 13 sets.

We've covered the majority of exam vocab throughout their primary education, but there's still loads left to learn and even more to revise. So I came up with a couple of quite simple materials to help my students organise their learning.

The first idea I had was simple word cards with the English word on one side and the Polish meaning on the other side. The kids got really into it. I guess it was the simplicity that spoke to them. They use the word cards in various ways: some of them simply work with the cards dividing them into the words they know, and the ones they need to learn; some kids use my word cards to make their own (I have blank flashcards available in the classroom); some kids turn the words they don't know into Quizlet sets; some students work in pairs testing each other.

To make the word cards I used 4 different lists of vocabulary on each topic and I also added the words which I didn't find on the lists but I knew I covered with the kids in previous years. I ended up creating sets of anything between 150 to 250 words.

On the inside of the boxes I've put QR codes for Quizlet sets. Now, the sets on Quizlet are not the same as the cards in boxes. I've used McMillan's sets they've created for their Repetytorium. I did it because ... well ... McMillan were nice enough to create those sets and share them on Quizlet for free. THANK YOU! But also to show my kids that the list of words I created for them is not everything and they might find more words on the topic somewhere else.

The next thing is the "Test yourself" box. I don't test my kids on the vocab. We had a lesson at the beginning of the school year where I told them they need to learn this vocabulary before the exam and it's up to them when they want to learn what and how. I made it very clear that they're doing it for themselves and not for me. The only rule we have is that they have to get 80% on a test they'll make for themselves before they can move on to the next set. So once they think they're ready they take this box:

Half the words are in English, half in Polish. I print them on coloured sheets of paper. They pick 20 of each colour and create their own mini vocab test. They then check in using the word cards or ask me to do it for them (usually it's the second option because it's quicker for them 😅). They write the mini test on their own during their free work time. I don't oversee it. I only ask them to give me their final score. I don't put their scores into their grades book. The percentage score is only for them to know whether they should study more or whether they should move on to the next set.

Another material I have in the classroom is Trimino game created by TIE - Teaching Is Easy. You can find the game here. Me being me, I decided to give myself more work and stick each set onto foam before cutting to make it look more attractive and nicer to the touch. Then I found the perfect box online and ended up with these beauties:

Some of mu students use Trimino as the basis of their vocab learning. Once they're done with a set (they've "passed" it) and they don't work with it for a couple of weeks, Trimino is also a great revision activity, something to keep the vocab active in their brains 😊 The sets I have from TIE are, again, not the same as my vocab cards so the kids get another source of new vocabulary items.

Another great revision activity for when they've already worked with a set for a while is a material I got from Creative Teacher shop. It's called Spinning Words and you can get it here. The activity is based on the idea of a word search and: 1) again presents my kids with a new set of vocabulary on the topic they've learnt/are learning; 2) is quick, fun, and simple. After working with one of the Spinning Words cards, kids can again make a Quizlet set from the new words or their own word cards.

Last but not least (and most likely not last either, cause knowing me, I'll come up with another idea soon 😝) I'm in the process of creating sticks with vocab from each set. I found the perfect storage bags for them in Flying Tiger. The ones in the link are very Christmasy but I found some that have a very simple heart print on them so they're not Christmasy at all.

Each stick has a word in Polish on one side and in English on the other. The idea here is to mix the vocab sets. Students take the bags of sticks from the sets which they've already studied. They take as many sticks from each set as they want to. They don't pick them, they just reach into the bag and take out a bunch. Then they mix the sticks from different sets together and play a game:

  1. They each get the same amount of sticks which they have to get rid of.

  2. To get rid of them, they have to know the words.

  3. When it's their turn, they either throw a 18-sided dice or use a wheel of fortune with numbers on it, like this one from IKEA. The number they get represents the number of sticks they can try and get rid of in their turn.

  4. They have a minute to do so.

  5. To get rid of a stick they have to say what the word is either in English or in Polish depending on what side of the stick they're holding.

  6. If they're correct, they put the stick in a pile in the middle; if they're wrong, they keep the stick.

  7. The first person to get rid of all their stick wins the round/game.

This way when they don't know a word, they have to try and remember it for their next turn when they pick the same stick to try and get rid of. It's good if the kids don't see what sticks they're picking up in their round. This way they actually have to try and remember the word because they don't know when they're going to pick it up next. You could also have a "banker" playing the game: this person would be actually responsible for picking the sticks a player needs to "pass" in their round. The banker would also decide whether the word was correct or not (for example, when the player uses a synonym or describes the word in more words).

Playing this game the kids get a different set of words each time, so they end up revising different vocab each time they play! 🤩

You need to mark the sticks as well, so that it's easy to divide them at the end of the game and put back in the right bags. I'm going to put numbers on my sticks. All sticks from the "Human" topic will have the number 1 on them, all the sticks with "Where we live" will have the number 2 on them and so on.

So there you go. Everything that I have at this point to help my kids learn vocabulary on their own. We use what they learn in lessons, in reading and listening activities, in their writing and speaking tasks 😊

I'm happy to share all of my materials with you, so keep an eye out for them in the Downloads section. I'm going to upload them as they get made because I don't have everything ready yet. Please forgive all the typos 🙏🏼 My kids will definitely find them and I'll update the material. If you find any, do let me know as well!

Head to the downloads section for the first sets now! It's all in the "Egzamin Ósmoklasisty vocab" folder.

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