Multidimensional word building activities for the classroom

Akshay Kumar

Vocabulary building is an important element of learning a language. Teaching (and learning) vocabulary is often considered a boring task. But this is also an area of language learning where the teacher and students can actually ‘play’, get to ‘know each other’ and ‘enjoy’ even as they are building their vocabulary. 

In this article, I share with you a few activities I designed after a careful analysis of socio-cultural and cognitive aspects of learners in a typical Indian classroom. These activities are most suitable for the upper primary and middle school students and can easily be adapted according to the learners’ needs. The activities, apart from helping build learners’ vocabulary, will also aid in the development of other areas. 

  1. Affective factors – These activities are designed to help students bond with themselves, with each other, and with the teacher, creating a healthy and emotionally-rich environment that is conducive to learning.
  2. Multilingualism – The activities also provide enough room for multilingualism to play a role, making learning more interesting for the students. One of the activities below (activity 4 ) introduces the children to another language, folklore and culture, thus making the learning more fruitful.
  3. Connection with daily life- All the activities and sub-activities involve observation of one’s surroundings, making the learning more ‘real’. 
  4. Cognitive development – The activities will enable learners to notice, find, explore, use, learn and practice the words they are learning tapping upon several cognitive processes necessary for quality learning to happen such as activating schemas. Several other mental mechanisms such as recalling, processing, memorizing, etc., will also come into play. 

Activity 1

This activity requires the students to perform the following tasks with the teacher facilitating.

  1. In five minutes, recall as many words as possible and write them down on a piece of paper. This activity can be done in groups or individually. 
  2. Do you think some words fall into a particular category? Make at least three categories with similar words. E.g. – Ruler, Geometry box, Pen, Sheets, Markers will fall into the category – Stationary. Put dissimilar or unmatched words into a Miscellaneous category.
  3. One member from each group will read out the words along with their categories. Others must listen carefully and write down words they think may not belong to the said category and provide explanations as to why a particular word may not belong to the category it was put in.
  4. Each student will select any five words and make sentences using those words.
  5. E.  Students will choose a category of words and make stories.

 E.g. – Ram bought sketch pens last night. He wanted to draw his favourite cartoon using them. He marked the borders using the ruler and sketched his favourite cartoon using other tools from his geometry box. He showed it to his mother; she really liked his sketch. His mother promised to get him oil pastels from the nearby stationary shop next week so that he could draw many other things he wanted to.

 Aspects in focus

  • Eliciting words from the students’ active and passive vocabulary.
  • Meaning-making and categorization of words.
  • Peer learning, group work skills and interaction.
  • Ability to perceive links between isolated words through categorization.
  • Association and disassociation processes.
  • Writing as a subskill.

Activity 2

The teacher will read the following dialogue or assign it to students to role-play. The learners have to listen/watch and answer the questions given below.

  1. Gaurav and Priyank want to watch the latest film released in the theatres. Priyank’s mother does not agree to send him, as he still has to finish his homework. Gaurav calls Priyank’s mother trying to persuade her. 

GAURAV: Namaste aunty! Priyank and I want to go watch the recently released superhero film.

MOTHER: Gaurav, Priyank is yet to finish his homework. He cannot go with you.

GAURAV: My mom will drop and pick us up aunty! I can come to meet Priyank and we will finish our homework together. Can we go after that?

MOTHER:  Sure son! You can come over and finish your work with him and then go watch the film.

GAURAV: Sure aunty! We will go after finishing our work. Can you please inform Priyank that I will be there in an hour?

MOTHER: Sure son!

GAURAV: Thank you, aunty!

MOTHER: Your welcome son!

Based on the above conversation, answer the following questions:

  1. Who is yet to finish his homework? Gaurav, Priyank, or both?
  2. Where do the boys want to go?
  3. Does Priyank’s mother give them permission for it?
  4. What assurance does Gaurav provide in this conversation and to whom?

 Aspects in focus

  • Vocabulary development through conversational mode/dialogue.
  • Passive vocabulary becoming active.
  • Providing students with specific contexts to use the words.
  • Fostering their imagination.
  • Making sense of real-life experiences.
  • Introducing punctuation signs along with word usage and enhancement.
  • Reading and writing used as sub-skills.

Activity 3

  1. Read the following words.

Flour, Oranges, Cookies, Butter, Milk, Honey, Ice-cream, Strawberries Peaches, Sugar, Salt, Pepper, Juice, Chocolate, Eggs, Lemon, Bread, Caramel

Answer the following questions:

Do you like sweets or desserts?

When do we eat them generally?

Can you prepare something using any of [at least 5] the items from the list? If yes, write down the recipe.

Aspects in focus

  • Reading and writing used as sub-skills.
  • Fostering divergent thinking.
  • The skill of experimentation along with vocabulary development through context, meaning-making and usage.
  • Triggering active and passive vocabulary.

Activity 4

The teacher will divide the students into groups (ideally 3-4 students in one group) and get them listen to the song ‘Chaa Rahi Kaali Ghata’ made by the music production house- Coke Studio (available on the CokeStudio YouTube channel with English subtitles). He/she will ask them to focus on the narrative in the song. Learners will do the following activities after listening to the song.

  1. List at least two things the bird is saying to the person. Have you heard any other story where a bird or animal talks to a human?
  2. What do you mean by the title of the song? Construct a story around the title. The following aspects should be a part of the story –
  3. WHEN
  4. WHY
  5. HOW
  8. WHERE
  9.  The teacher will briefly talk about ‘Hindi language’ and ask learners to find out the English equivalent of the words given below in Hindi. As the words are from the song, students can listen to the song carefully as they follow the subtitles to elicit the meaning of the given words and find their English equivalents. The students can then make sentences out of the words.
A) कोयलC) बे-हिसाब
बयांD) दर्द
  • (Answers in English, Cuckoo, express, immeasurable, anguish)
  •  How will you introduce the song to someone? Can you come up with two ways?
  • There is a fruit mentioned in the song. What meaning do you think it carries in the song? Why only mango and not any other fruit?
  • Talk to an elderly person in your house and ask them to tell you about folk songs. Or ask them if they have heard folk stories around birds, fruits, etc.

Note- Teachers can explore many other songs in regional languages on CokeStudio’s YouTube channel. 

Aspects in focus

  • Developing vocabulary through listening.
  • Contextualization of words.
  • Developing divergent thinking through word usage.
  • Form and meaning of the words.
  • Using L1 through L2 interaction.
  • Developing literary sensibility and appreciation.
  • Eliciting words from their active/passive vocabulary.
  • Writing used as a sub-skill.
  • Since the songs follow the bilingual mode (the language it is being sung in and the subtitles in English) it’s really interesting since at times the language of the song can be the mother tongue for some students. Also, following the word meaning finding task from Hindi/Urdu/Assamese to English gives them enough space to value and think about other languages.
  • Supports the idea of multilingual learning, as students are exposed to another language along with English.
  • Enhances imagination and critical thinking along with inculcating the habit of questioning.
  • Writing sentences will ensure pragmatic use of the words learned.


These activities follow the structural approach of designing tasks as pre, post and during parts, carefully examining several aspects of learning a particular concept, in this case–vocabulary development. They also introduce learners to multilingual learning and folklore creating a quality language-learning environment.

The author is a final-year master’s student of English Language Teaching at The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. He wishes to empower individuals and the society through his work in the discipline. He can be reached at

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