Lists, Drawings and Prompts to Learn Vocabulary

Writing is one of the last skills we master in a language. We first listen and then speak. The next step is to learn reading (what our spoken language looks like) and then finally, how to write that language ourselves. When you are learning a new language, the literacy skills you have in your own language are transferrable. This is great news, as it means that you can use those skills to build your target language vocabulary fast.

At the most basic level, copying is the first writing skill we learn. Check out these fun activities you can do to get writing in your new language:

Eat/drink

Emotions/actions

Fruits/vegetables/meats/drinks/starches

Science/nature

What I like/What I don’t like

Causes/effects Sea/land/air/space

Beach/mountains

Problems/solutions Truths/lies

Opinions/facts supporting those opinions

Future/past

Love/hate/like/indifference

Past/present/future Pros/cons

Foods I would like to try/Foods I would not like to try

What happened/what I think should have happened

Hotel/train station/airport/restaurant Sweet/sour/salty/spicy/bland

Questions/answers

People/places/ideas/things/actions

Breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack/dessert

Types of architecture

Types of buildings

Types of geography

Types of governments

My Thoughts: Draw a head. Write words and phrases that you encountered in the text or that the text provoked for you. Write a paragraph underneath the head describing your opinions and thoughts on the text.

Storyboard: Storyboards can be extremely useful for planning videos, films, stories and presentations and are often used by professionals to do so. They often involve creating a sketch or picture, and then writing a subtitle underneath. They are also extremely helpful for understanding things that we read. Select a number of scenes from a story (perhaps the most critical ones), draw the scene and write a caption for each. For more deep work in vocabulary acquisition, you can always label the vocabulary that appears in your scenes.

Draw the Scene: This is similar to Storyboard. However, instead of selecting a number of scenes to illustrate, you will select one that resonates with you. After you have drawn the scene, label all of the vocabulary that you can. Use the illustration as a prompt to help you describe it to the best of your ability.

Play: Rewrite something that you read in nothing but dialogue. This takes narrative prose, or a report, and forces you to create a conversation out of it.

Timeline: This is an excellent activity for extracting language from a text. It can be used to extract the events from a story, sequence them and describe them in the target language. When learning about the history of a country, a war, a movement, or a historical figure, the same can be done. This is an extremely effective way to learn to narrate in the past—an advanced level task—in the target language.

Compare and Contrast: Analyzing similarities and differences is extremely important when learning the target language and culture. As you read about your target culture, fill out a Venn Diagram. Basically, differences are noted in a column or circle for each culture, and a common column or circle is used for the similarities.

A salad: Draw a salad. Using a themed vocabulary list, label all of the fruits and vegetables you included. Next, use the visual to write about your salad in as much detail as possible.

My Body/My Face: Sketch out a person. Label everything that you can. Use the illustration as a prompt to write about yourself.

A Person Made of Food: This is a fun one that requires some thought and engagement in vocabulary. Basically, you create a person made of drawings (or clip art) of foods. You then create a key using the names of the body and face parts and the food vocabulary you used to represent the face and body. You then use your creation as a prompt to write as detailed a description as possible. This also gives you an opportunity to learn about different types of foods from the target culture.

Portrait: Draw a picture of yourself, or another person. Label everything you can. Next, write as much as you can about the person.

Where I Live: This is quite self-explanatory. Sketch out where you live. Label everything you can. Write about where you live.

Variation: Do the same, but for your dream house or where someone else lives.

Likes and Dislikes: I love this for basic lists of vocabulary. You can categorize activities, classes, places in the world, foods, drinks, artists, music genres, books—anything you can imagine.

Schedules: Write out your daily schedule, a school schedule, a train schedule, or a movie schedule.

Dates: Write out important dates. These can be holidays, important dates in your life, important dates in the culture of the target language, or birthdays of family and friends.

An Alien (or Monster): Design your alien or monster. Describe this creation in as much detail as possible.

My Garden: Take a photo, or sketch your yard or garden. Label all of the items that you included. Write about what you see, talk about what you do there, and anything you would like to do there in the future.

My Family: I particularly like this one as one can keep this short and simple by only including immediate family, or it can be turned into an informative, extended project. Using photos or drawings, create a family tree. Write about each person, as well as their relationship to you. Including extended family can serve as cause to learn advanced vocabulary to talk about family, as well as a context to work in the past tense.

Nature: Draw or get photos of beautiful scenes of nature. These can become great stimuli for learning and using descriptive words and vocabulary for talking about nature and geography. It can become a cultural experience when the photos come from the target culture.

My School: This topic has so many possibilities. You can talk about any school that you have attended. The classes you took, liked and disliked make for rich stimuli for writing and vocabulary development. The people you interact with, or have interacted with in the past, can be writing topics.

This list is in no way exhaustive. The purpose is to get you thinking about how you can get working with the written word in your target language easily and in an enjoyable way.

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