Do the coursebooks you use have vocabulary lists for each unit at the back, with a space to put the word in L1? The Bugs series by Macmillan does, and though I’ve never used it before, I decided to get into the habit of it this year. But, asking students to translate a list of words into L1 didn’t seem like the most enthralling activity, so I made it into a game.
I divided the class into pairs and wrote some of the words on the board (but not all) grouping them into what I thought were easy, medium and difficult. Then I invited a student from the first team to come up and write a word in Spanish and they were awarded points according to which column it came from: 1 point for easy, 2 points for medium and 3 points for hard. The class enjoyed the activity and they tried to work out the meaning of the harder words by looking back at it in the unit or with the sample sentences I told them. Everyone could get involved, as weaker students also knew some of the vocabulary.
As a quick activity afterwards, I asked students to translate the words they didn’t know on the list – which again gave them the option of doing more or less depending on their level. They were much happier to sit and do some mindless copying as they had been involved in the translation stage and had had a good time with it.