ESL Vocabulary Activities:

Text Data Sets

esl activity text data set

Duration: 5-10 minutes

Type: Individuals/Partners

This activity was inspired by Larry Ferlazzo. You can read more about using Text Data Sets in Larry's book The ESL/ELL Teacher's Survival Guide

What you will need:

  • Word Bank of Words to Sort
  • Categories to Sort Words Into
  • Lined Paper/Small White Boards


Students organize vocabulary words into categories. 

How to Play:

  1. Provide students with a word bank of words to sort.
  2. Provide students with categories into which to sort the words. The categories can be chosen based on what you want to achieve.
    1. If you want students to show understanding of concepts, you may want to choose categories that have a right or wrong answer. For instance, you might provide the categories: solid, liquid, gas. You would be able to easily see whether students understand these concepts and the associated vocabulary words.
    2. If you want to create discussion, you can choose categories that require students to give an opinion. For instance, you might provide the categories: I like this. I don't like this. I'm indifferent. These kinds of categories spark discussion and make for a wonderful partner activity.
  3. Students can complete the text data set on a sheet of lined paper or on small white boards. Tip: If you don't have small white boards, you can make them out of DVD cases by replacing the paper with the movie title with a piece of white paper. 
  4. They then can share with partners or with the class.


  • Everyone is involved.
  • Students moderate the activity themselves. The teacher is freed up to go around and work with individual students.
  • You can create some great discussion with creative categories.
  • Students show understanding of vocabulary words that they are learning.

Have you tried this activity? How did it go? Leave your comments below!

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