Word association activities

2 Feb

Activity 1:Associate this!

  • Ask the class to look at a selection of words from a word list. Ask them to look at the first word on the list and then to find another word on the list which they can associate with it. Ask one student to say her / his associated word and to explain the association.
  • Now ask the class to focus on the word that has just been mentioned (by the student). Ask them to find another word from the list that they can associate with the new word. Ask a volunteer to give the new word and explain the association. Once the students have grasped the activity, they can carry on in small groups.

Activity 2: Picture associations 

  • Collect a set of large, varied images (for example, torn out of a magazine or downloaded and printed): 7 or 8 of about A4 size should be enough. If you have posters on the walls of your classroom, you may be able to use these instead.
  • Write a list of words that you want to recycle on one side of the blackboard. You could include up to about 20 words. Attach the pictures to the other side of the board (or make them visible to the class).
  • Ask the class if anyone can find a connection between any of the words and any of the pictures. Encourage them to use their imagination. Elicit two or three responses, asking the students to explain the connections. If students are slow to offer a response, you may give an example yourself.
  • Divide the class into groups (of 4 – 5) and tell them they must find a connection between all of the words and at least one of the pictures. When you / they have had enough, do feedback on the exercise with the whole class.


  1. Tell the students in groups to choose just one picture, and then to look for connections between that picture and at least six of the words on the list.
  2. Tell the students to choose one picture (but not to tell anyone else which picture they have chosen). They must then choose three words that they can associate with the picture. They tell their words to a partner, who must guess which picture was being thought about.
  3. Tell the students in groups to prepare (orally) a narrative which includes seven or eight of the words on the list. They will find this easier if they relate their narrative to one of the pictures. Once the groups have prepared their narratives, they can pass it on to other groups (à la Chinese whispers).

Activity 3: Words in sentences

  • Write a list of words that you want to recycle on the blackboard. You should include over 25 words. Divide the class into groups and explain the rules of the ‘game’. With lower levels, the rules can be explained in the students’ mother tongue.


The object of the game is to make sentences that contain words from the list on the board. If you use just one of these words in a sentence, you get 1 point. If you use two of the words, you get 2 points. If you can make a correct sentence with three of these words, you get 3 points. The more risks you take, the more points you can score. But if your sentence is incorrect, you’ll get no points and you’ll miss your turn.

  • Give the groups four or five minutes to begin working. Then ask one group to send one of their members to the board. This person will write a sentence that their group has prepared.
  • Tell the group if the sentence is correct (and give points) or incorrect (but do not explain why it is incorrect!). Give everyone a little more time before asking someone from the next group to come to the board to write a new sentence or to correct a sentence that is already there.
  • When a word has been used correctly in a sentence, cross it off the list. It cannot be used again.
  • Continue in this way until you or the students have had enough. With the whole class, look through any uncorrected sentences on the board and look at any words from the list on the board that students seem to have been avoiding.

Activities such as these, when a class is familiar with the procedure, can be a useful way of starting or finishing a class. They also work well towards the end of a term. They require quite a lot of talking, and hopefully some of it will be in English!


4 Responses to “Word association activities”

  1. philipjkerr October 18, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    There’s now a video of me talking about some of these activities:

  2. philipjkerr December 17, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    I recently came across another variation on word association activities in ‘CLIL Activities’ by Liz Dale and Rosie Tanner (CUP, 2012). Very simple, and very effective with some groups of students. Students work with a set of words which they must allocate (1) to one of four colours, or (2) one of four shapes (e.g. square, circle, triangle, heart).

  3. Mark Lloyd February 5, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    Good to see you again this evening Philip. Enjoyed your talk too, every bit as much as the version you gave in Parnu. On a related note,I thought you might find this short animation interesting, re priming mechanisms, memory etc etc.: http://devour.com/video/this-is-how-your-brain-works/

    • philipjkerr February 9, 2013 at 11:00 am #

      Thanks for the link, Mark. I assume you’ve read the Kahneman book. Good to see you again, too.

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