This is one of my favorite activities to do when I need to pre- teach a number of apparently unrelated words for a reading. I usually agree that it’s best to elicit, and not just present students with a list of unknown words, but this activity can be good for variety as well as for demonstrating to students that their classmates can be a good resource for sharing information.
Write the 10-12 words on the whiteboard. Tell students no dictionaries can be used yet and that they will have a chance to speak to classmates about these words, but for now they need to write them down and mark them: with a check/tick if they know the word already, with a question mark if they’ve heard it but aren’t sure, or with nothing if they have no idea.
Then they have two minutes (you pick the time but don’t give them too long) to check with their neighbor. If one of them knows a word the other doesn’t, he should try to explain or give an example of the word in English. After two minutes, one of the partners gets up and moves over to the next pair. Repeat for three or four pairs.
Now comes the team competition. Divide the class in half. You read out the definitions and as soon as someone knows which word you are explaining, they call out the word and that team gets a point. They can call out the answer at any point, but make sure to finish explaining so if anyone hasn’t found the meaning, they do now.
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You can also have a standing up competition after this (and if they know the words well by now, erase them off the board; if they are still having a little difficulty, leave them there). Prepare slips of paper with one word (or definition if you don’t think you’ll remember exactly or quickly enough) each. Students stand up and make two lines, all facing you. For the first item the first two students in line — one from each team — are the only ones competing and the others must remain silent. You read out the definition and whoever says the correct word first gets the paper/one point. Regardless of who wins, both students go to the ends of their respective lines and the next two step up. At the end the team with the most papers/points wins.
Finally, to really exploit this for all its worth…give students a tapescript or text with those words you’ve learned blacked out. They have to fit them in and then listen to check if applicable.