Putting variety into vocabulary lessons

Studying vocabulary in the traditional way - copying words and definitions verbatim from the board - gets monotonous for the teacher and for the students. But how can you get students to learn a large set of new words without having them copy in some way? Using unfamiliar vocabulary from the students' book, "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas," we tried an approach that gave the students the option of thinking visually or linguistically. Some students, after all, are great with words, while others prefer pictures. I often find, too, that  when students see an image of something, the meaning of the word tends to stick with them better than reading a definition. 

So, what did we do? With every new word, I wrote it on the board and drew a box underneath it. I asked students to come to the board and define the word in their own way, using the context provided by the book. They could write a synonym, write a definition or draw a picture to help explain the word to their classmates. The results were interesting. For example, two of the words were "candle" and "tiny." First, one student drew a candle. Then, because the box for "tiny" was next to "candle," the following student drew a tiny candle in the box for "tiny." Students also drew pictures for "wire fence," "truck" and "load." With other words, such as "box up" for example, students wrote definitions. 

Giving them the freedom to think visually or linguistically resulted in a creative and meaningful way to study vocabulary and make the lesson more dynamic. Although this method can't always be used, it's something I'd recommend using more often when the material allows for it it.