An uplifting, versatile, low prep review task

Lots of teachers are looking for review activities this time of year. Here is one I recently thought of that doubles as a mood enhancer and can also be used throughout the year to prompt conversation or writing.

I rarely do explicit review of language as content, but I do look for interesting and efficient ways for students to re-encounter words or other instances of the language that they may not have encountered in a while, and to establish deeper connections with and among the words.

The idea below came to me while I was skimming The Working Memory Advantage by Tracy and Ross Alloway. The original task is actually a working memory exercise.* This is how it appears in a section about the relationship between mood and working memory:

from The Working Memory Advantage by Tracy and Ross Alloway, p. 62

Because I can’t switch off my language-teachy-learny brain, I naughtily skipped the activity and instead developed these thoughts:

What if the words in this exercise were all target language words that students had encountered this semester? Seeing the words and reflecting on their positivity could help “re-activate” those words in students’ minds while simultaneously providing a little mood-booster. (I might or might not bother with step 2, the recall phase; either way, I wouldn’t tell students in advance that they were going to have to do anything other than connect the words they viewed positively.)

This task alone could already be an improvement on the classic semester vocab checklist. But I would follow up the word-association task with one or more of the following:

  • Discussion of which words students had positive associations for, how these differed from student to student, and why
  • Collaborative creation of a character, scene, or narrative that includes the concepts students connected
  • A writing prompt such as “Ponder your positive words for seventeen seconds, then write the first TL sentence that comes to mind” or “Choose two positive words that are connected in your thoughts and explain why/how.” Discussion of students’ ideas can ensue.

Such interactions would extend and deepen students’ encounters with the words, with the relationships the words commonly have to other words, and with contexts in which the words are useful.



  • Instead of using individual words, use multi-word phrases or even short sentences, e.g., “a huge dog” or “The unicorn approached the rainbow.”
  • Instead of distributing copies, project an array of words and invite students one at a time to come up and link them. You can then have a little TL discussion about how the items might be linked, who else has positive associations with both words, etc.
  • Do an edition where all the items are characters from stories students have read or created, or are public or historical figures.
  • Vary the linking criterion from “positive” to “funny,” “awkward,” “terrifying,” or anything else. (Note that the effects on mood may change.)
  • To make it seriously low prep, assign the creation of the sheet to one or more students.
  • You could use a word-association task like this at intervals throughout the year, or every day of a school-wide review week, with different sets of words and a different follow-up task each time.
Have fun playing around with this, and let me know if you come up with especially useful variations or extensions!


*I won’t get into whether such exercises actually improve working memory, or, if they do, whether the benefits transfer to other areas of life. The experts are still hashing these things out.

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  1. I love this, Justin! I most often like to come back from Winter Holidays and spend the first day or two or week just re-encountering words. I done it several ways, but this offers a new and refreshing way! Thank you for this. So, I’ve got plans now for first week of January!

  2. Pingback: Brillante Viernes: December 15, 2017 – Maris Hawkins

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