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How to Teach Vocabulary to ESL Students: 5 Teaching Methods (and Activities) that Work Amazingly Well

Vocabulary is the heart of any language, so teaching it well is important.

So why not teach vocabulary the way you learned it as a child? That’s what I’ve started doing and it’s been working super well.

Native speakers learn new words in their youth in context and by immediately  using them in a practical way .

By teaching vocabulary words with visual stimuli, in the context of other words, in word clusters and spoken out loud, and by choosing practical words that students actually need to know, you’ll get new vocabulary words to stick in your students’ minds.

Let your ESL students blossom into confident English speakers using a volume of new words with these five effective vocabulary teaching methods, each with their own set of corresponding activities.

1. Present Words with Visual Stimuli

How to teach esl vocabulary with visual stimuli:, 2. attach context to vocabulary, how to teach esl vocabulary with context:, 3. build confidence with word clusters, how to teach esl vocabulary with word clusters:, 4. keep new words practical, how to teach esl vocabulary with practical exercises:, 5. let your students’ voices be heard, how to teach esl vocabulary out loud:.

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Visual learning has long been a staple of learning .

From the time we’re kids and throughout our entire academic careers, visual learning plays a big role. Presenting new words using visual stimuli is also a great way to step away from more humdrum methods (like those vocab lists) and spice up the classroom.

One way I recruit visuals to join this battle is by using flashcards. Of course, this is a classic teaching and learning method. However, there are plenty of ways to make them into a new, exciting and visual activity.

For example, you won’t simply have your students write the new words and their meanings on flashcards— boring!  Rather, you’ll let them build a visual experience that will support comprehension. We’ll show you how to take this even further in the teaching method outlined below.

I had to suggest a top method for how to teach vocabulary to ESL students, this would be it.

  • First, compile a healthy stack of magazines. The material should be appropriate to your students’ ages.
  • Grab stacks of flashcards, glue sticks and scissors. Hopefully you have some of this stuff lying around already. Make a few flashcards yourself. Pick a new vocabulary word and cut out pics from magazines that represent it. These homemade illustrated flashcards will serve as examples for your students.
  • It’s class time. Present a few new words to your class, discussing the definition and usage of each.
  • Show examples of your creative flashcards and let them loose in groups to develop their own using the words you presented at the beginning of the activity. The groups will support communication, a great ESL sub-skill.
  • Once your ESL students have developed their flashcard masterpieces, it’s time to present. Each student will explain their new word, definition and the photos they chose for that specific word. This creates a lasting visual memory, boosting comprehension when opportunities for practical use come knocking.

Attaching context to the vocabulary you present to your students will connect them with those new words in a more meaningful way. It’s how I remember students’ names, so I know the method works well.

Many English teachers place the most emphasis on this vocabulary teaching method due to its efficacy.

There are a few strategies based on teaching with context. For one, you can group words together using context. You’ll want to show how vocabulary words work together in sentences and paragraphs. You’ll want to present words to students with a complete story or a video clip that utilizes all of it.

By teaching vocabulary to ESL students this way, you’re much more likely to get students to remember key words.

  • Find a subject first. The chosen subject will put everything else in place. For this sample activity, we’ll use the weather as the subject. After all, the weather will sooner or later be a talking point for your students outside of the classroom. Find a weather broadcast from a news channel website or YouTube.
  • Pick five to seven new words you’ll focus on from the weather video. Transcribe how they were used in the video and write down their definitions for your lesson plan material .
  • Present the vocabulary in context to your class. Show them the video. Then present the new words, their definitions and transcriptions. Have a little discussion and answer questions as needed before moving on.
  • Show the weather broadcast video again, but this time have your students raise their hands every time they hear the new target words. You can do this two or three times.
  • Once you have etched the new words into your students’ minds with context, it’s time for contextual action. Break up your eager students into small groups of three or four, then unleash them to develop their own weather scripts using their freshly presented vocabulary. They can work together in their peer groups and simply modify the transcriptions from the video, or they could even create totally new and compelling scripts of their own.
  • Have the groups present their scripts in front of the class in order to build confidence and have them learn that vocabulary once and for all.

Another exceptional and effective way to keep building vocabulary comprehension is to deploy word clusters in the classroom. I’ve seen from personal experience that students tend to enjoy relating words to other words and this approach often leads to new areas that I hadn’t even planned on.

They also allow you to check in on your students’ comprehension levels quite easily. They could be a bit boring if you simply give your class a worksheet of word clusters to decipher—but you don’t want to be the boring English teacher , now do you?

Word clusters basically map out relationships between words (see here) . Students will need to identify which words are closely related and draw it all out.

You may also want to consider using Visual Thesaurus for examples for this activity as well as further activities and learning possibilities. Visual Thesaurus is exactly what it sounds like, a thesaurus that uses word maps to display the relationships between words. Because of its interactive, engaging nature, students may end up using it not just to find the “right” word, but to add new words to their vocabulary without even realizing it!

  • There’s nothing wrong with a little competition, so pair up your students  for this vocabulary building activity. Each pair will be competing for points and cluster champ bragging rights.
  • Browse your previous vocabulary lesson plans in order to find the target words you’ll use for this activity. You’ll want to have lots of descriptive words that are synonyms and antonyms to one another, if possible. Let’s say you decide to utilize the five to seven words you presented in context during the weather-related vocabulary building activity. These words will be the centerpieces for your students’ word clusters.
  • In order to warm your class up a bit, recap the words you’ll be building clusters for. This could be a simple classroom discussion after you present the words again, or you can let the class watch the weather broadcast again and point out the new words.
  • Once the warm-up is complete, let the cluster creation begin. Each student pair will have a blank sheet of paper or you can provide them with a blank template . You’ll say and write the first cluster word, and they’ll write the word in the center of their blank paper.
  • Start the timer. Your students must attempt to get as many words linked via lines to the core word as possible before time runs out. Five minutes is generally a good amount of time per word.
  • Once time is up, your pairs will present the words they have clustered. They get a point for each word, and another point if the word is spelled correctly.
  • You’ll repeat and answer questions as they arise during the activity. Ensure that you’re encouraging communication and collaboration between your students. The classroom should be nowhere near quiet during this activity.

Keeping new words practical will let students know exactly how to use them when they need them the most.

In fact, building ESL skills through practical use is essential to language growth. Plus, it adds excitement to any activity. You can mold your students’ communication skills faster while building quicker response times in a practical setting.

This could prove valuable to ESL students abroad or during English testing. Improvisational activities in the classroom are effective for presenting and learning vocabulary in a practical way.

This is my secret weapon when it comes to how to teach vocabulary to ESL students.

  • First, you’ll need to identify five to seven new words to present to your class. Sticking with the practical use theme, it’s a best practice to use vocabulary associated with the time of year or an event currently happening, for example.
  • If a big sporting event is taking place or is about to take place soon, you can utilize it for your practical vocabulary building activity. The Olympics is a fantastic example. You can build plenty of vocabulary using the Olympics as your subject.
  • Choose five to seven words associated with the Olympics. This can be a specific event or a concept like teamwork that’s involved in the happenings of the world-renowned athletic event. Let’s say you want to focus on track and field. You could introduce words related such as marathon, sprinting, high jump, time, teammate and competition, among others.
  • After presenting the new Olympic track and field vocabulary, pair up your students. You’ll give them roles. Student A will be a sprinter and student B will be a marathon runner. You can give them opening lines or a scenario to get them started, but then let them converse naturally after.
  • The use of the new vocabulary in such a practical manner will drive them to think fast by answering questions or coming up with questions to ask. For example, Student A the sprinter placed first in his run, and Student B the marathoner is congratulating his teammate. This will allow your students to develop their vocabulary, confidence and thought processes. And it’s fun to get some improv acting going in any classroom, for you and your students.

Your students want to build vocabulary and they want to be heard.

So, let them do both  with an out-loud activity that will boost their confidence, communication and comprehension. Having your students practice their new vocabulary out loud will also help develop proper pronunciation of their new words. Hearing them use the new words you presented will allow you to make on-the-spot pronunciation fixes while still building momentum within an activity.

You can combine this vocabulary teaching method with the Total Physical Response (TPR) method as well. You’ll be instructing students around the classroom, making the two-method combination an exceptional way to build ESL skills, English response time and language use confidence.

  • First, present the new words to your students in a fun way to set the mood for the rest of the lesson. For example, let’s say your subject is clothing. You can run around the classroom and define the clothing that you or your students are wearing in a loud, goofy way.
  • Once you have shown and presented the new words such as pants, shirt, shoes, etc., you can expand those new words on the spot. Choose the first student and instruct them to move toward another student. Then ask them to describe what that student is wearing. The correct answers would be pants, shirt and so on.
  • Next, you’ll ask the student what type of pants they’re wearing (for example, they might be jeans, slacks, sweatpants, corduroy). Then you’ll ask the color and so on. They’ll answer everything out loud and with a strong, confident voice, even if they’re wrong.
  • Correct pronunciation and any questionable answers on the spot, allowing your students to make real-time corrections.
  • The student who was just described will be the next student to describe a classmate, and so on. They’ll bop around the room with excitement, not even realizing how much they’re learning and comprehending as they go.

Now you’ve got an excellent assortment of ESL vocabulary teaching methods that can boost a variety of language skills.

So, don’t settle for just any old method. Focusing on vocabulary teaching methods that incorporate confidence-boosting activities that touch on other ESL skills is always a best practice.

Learning vocabulary is an ESL cornerstone and sets the tone for future growth.

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vocabulary teach this

  • Professional development
  • Knowing the subject

Presenting vocabulary

This article looks at what needs to be taught when teaching vocabulary and ways to present and teach vocabulary.

vocabulary teach this

  • Introduction

What a student may need to know about an item

  • Ways to present vocabulary

Alternative ways of teaching vocabulary

Other things to consider

Introduction With hundreds of thousands of words in the English language, teaching vocabulary can seem like a very daunting prospect. Remember though that the average native speaker uses around only five thousand words in everyday speech. Moreover, your students won't need to produce every word they learn, some they will just need to recognize. Selecting what to teach, based on frequency and usefulness to the needs of your particular students is therefore essential. Once you have chosen what to teach, the next important steps are to consider what students need to know about the items, and how you can teach them.

  • What it means It is vital to get across the meaning of the item clearly and to ensure that your students have understood correctly with checking questions.
  • The form Students need to know if it is a verb / a noun / an adjective etc to be able to use it effectively.
  • How it is pronounced This can be particularly problematic for learners of English because there is often no clear relation between how a word is written and how it is pronounced. It is very important to use the phonemic script in such cases so the sts have a clear written record of the pronunciation. Don't forget also to drill words that you think will cause pronunciation problems for your students and highlight the word stresses.
  • How it is spelt This is always difficult in English for the reason mentioned above. Remember to clarify the pronunciation before showing the written form.
  • If it follows any unpredictable grammatical patterns For example, man-men / information (uncountable) and if the word is followed by a particular preposition (e.g. depend on)
  • The connotations that the item may have Bachelor is a neutral/positive word whereas spinster conjures a more negative image.
  • The situations when the word is or is not used Is it formal/neutral/informal? For example, spectacles/glasses/specs. Is it used mainly in speech or in writing? To sum up is usually written whereas mind you is spoken. Is it outdated? Wireless instead of radio.
  • How the word is related to others For example, synonyms, antonyms, lexical sets.
  • Collocation or the way that words occur together You describe things 'in great detail' not 'in big detail' and to ask a question you 'raise your hand' you don't 'lift your hand'. It is important to highlight this to students to prevent mistakes in usage later.
  • What the affixes (the prefixes and suffixes) may indicate about the meaning For example, substandard sub meaning under. This is particularly useful at a higher level.

Which of these areas you choose to highlight will depend on the item you are teaching and the level of your students. Now it's time to think about how we can get the meaning across.

Ways to present vocabulary There are lots of ways of getting across the meaning of a lexical item.

  • Illustration This is very useful for more concrete words (dog, rain, tall) and for visual learners. It has its limits though, not all items can be drawn.
  • Mime This lends itself particularly well to action verbs and it can be fun and memorable.
  • Synonyms/Antonyms/Gradable items Using the words a student already knows can be effective for getting meaning across.
  • Definition Make sure that it is clear (maybe check in a learner dictionary before the lesson if you are not confident). Remember to ask questions to check they have understood properly.
  • Translation If you know the students' L1, then it is fast and efficient. Remember that not every word has a direct translation.
  • Context Think of a clear context when the word is used and either describe it to the students or give them example sentences to clarify meaning further.

Again which you choose will depend on the item you are presenting. Some are more suitable for particular words. Often a combination of techniques can be both helpful and memorable

  • Give your students a few items of vocabulary and tell them to find the meaning, pronunciation and write an example sentence with the word in. They can then teach each other in groups.
  • Prepare worksheets and ask your students to match words to definitions.
  • Ask students to classify a group of words into different categories. For example, a list of transport words into air/sea/land.
  • Ask students to find new vocabulary from reading homework and teach the other students in the class.
  • Review the vocabulary you teach through a game or activity and encourage your students to do the same at home
  • Encourage autonomy in your learners. Tell them to read, watch films, listen to songs etc and note the useful words
  • Have a section of your board for vocabulary items that come up as you are teaching. Use different colours for the word / the phonemics / the prepositions / the part of speech
  • It is a good idea to teach/learn words with associated meanings together
  • Encourage your students to purchase a good dictionary and use class time to highlight the benefits of one
  • Teach your students the grammatical names for the parts of speech and the phonemic script
  • Always keep a good dictionary by your side in case a student asks about a word you don't know
  • If you don't and have never heard of the word, tell the student you will check and get back to them. Do get back to them
  • Give extra examples sentences to the students if they are unsure and encourage them to write the word in an example sentence (maybe for homework)


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Very useful!

Teaching Vocabulary

Very informative

It is very informative

Presenting vocabulary.

Very informative and i benefited from it

Dear Richard Frost, my name is Shaxzodaxon, from Tashkent city of independent Uzbekistan. I am language student at the Kimyo international university of Tashkent. I found the above article very useful and interesting. These methods can help to improve students' knowledge.Before reading it I knew some of them. Your article presents and teaches vocabulary in an unusual format for many teachers. Moreover format to teach,help for majority learners. I will definitely use your method. Thanks for your reply.

Quite Useful

To memorize vocabulary i ask, thank you celiapi.

What a fantastic idea! I will make use of it as I am sure my learners will love it.

very informative

A very informative and practical article

Useful and effectively topic

 I liked your article very much.These methods can help to improve students' knowledge.Before reading it I knew some of them.But now I learnt  much more with your help.Thank you.

Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight

vocabulary teach this

21 Ideas for Teaching Vocabulary

I’m sharing 21 ideas for teaching vocabulary. You may not be able to use all of them, but I hope you can find some ideas that will work well for you!

I’ve shared books about vocabulary instruction , as well as the theory and techniques . This post is a lot more practical. We’re all about ideas today!

I’m sharing the bare bones of the ideas here.

I’m adding lengthier explanations for some of them with more tips and fleshed-out instructions on my website devoted just to vocabulary instruction, VocabularyLuau .

You’ll see that option at the end of the idea if it’s available. 

IDEA #1: Semantic Maps

In this activity, the teacher chooses a word and displays it for the class on a whiteboard, etc.

Students read the word and then think of words that come to mind when they see that word (this is awesome because it activates prior learning).

A list is created of all of the words that come to mind, and then those words are categorized.

This can be done as a whole class or in small groups.

Students then create a “map” using a graphic organizer and discuss it. Additional or substitute categories can be suggested.

As students read through the text, they can add related words to the map.

Want more details on this strategy? Get the step-by-step on VocabularyLuau .

IDEA #2: Eye Spy

Give students a list of words to search for in a text or have them find unfamiliar words.

You can award points to the words based on different criteria (longest new word, word with most consonants, etc.).

Invest in a set of inexpensive dollar store magnifying glasses to make this more game-like.

This is a great pre-reading activity.

Want more details on this strategy? Get the step-by-step on  VocabularyLuau.

IDEA #3: Making Choices

Students show their understanding of vocabulary by saying the word when it applies, or remaining silent when it doesn’t.

For example: “Say radiant if any of these things would make someone look radiant.” -Winning a million dollars. -Earning a gold medal. -Walking to the post office. -Cleaning your room. -Having a picture you painted hung in the school library. 

(This idea is from the book Bringing Words to Life , recommended in the books section.)

This is one of the key strategies teachers need in introducing new vocabulary. Because of that, I’ve written extensively and given a dozen examples from different texts for Kinder through 12th grade on VocabularyLuau .

IDEA #4: Sorting Hat

Use a Harry Potter theme to have students sort words into categories. They can pull them out of a hat.

If you give them the categories, it’s called a “closed sort.” If they come up with their own categories, it’s called “open sort.”

This one is so, so fun. I explain lots more about how to do it on VocabularyLuau .

IDEA #5: Word Pairs

Give students words in pairs and have them evaluate if the words are the same, opposite, go together, or are unrelated.

This strategy is terrific for building critical thinking skills along with the vocabulary.

Get even more details and variations at VocabularyLuau .

(adapted from Word Power: What Every Educator Needs to Know about Teaching Vocabulary )

IDEA #6: Linear Array

In this strategy, students use a graphic organizer that is a rectangle, three ovals, and then another rectangle, all in a line.

The word in question goes in the rectangle on the far left.

The rectangle on the far right is filled in with a word that is the opposite.

The center three ovals are filled in with words that go from the far left to the far right, gradually become less similar until they reach the opposite.

For example, microscopic, tiny, small, bigger, large.

You can see examples of the graphic organizer, more details, and lots of variations on VocabularyLuau .

(adapted from Words, Words, Words: Teaching Vocabulary in Grades 4 – 12 )

IDEA #7: Games

Many “real” games work well for vocab play and practice. Games such as Balderdash , Taboo , Scrabble , Blurt , Bananagrams ,  word bingo, and others are fun.

There are online games as well, such as Scholastic’s Synonym Toast .

[Note: I am a notoriously horrible Scrabble player, and every time I play I think, “English teachers should be better at this.” It’s not my favorite.]

IDEA #8: Scavenger Hunt

Have a word scavenger hunt in books, magazines, articles on the net, or in the school or home.

Don’t just go for numbers; go for unusual words, academic vocabulary, weird spellings, homophones, etc.

IDEA #9: Word Wheel

Copy and paste this image onto a sheet of cardstock and make a vocab spinner game. EisforExplore shares the whole idea here.

Explore Spinner

IDEA #10: Vocabulary Photo Album

Using a simple, inexpensive photo album, students create a visual glossary of key words.

I’ve got pictures of examples, details, and more ideas at VocabularyLuau , if you’d like to read more.

IDEA #11: Tally

Use tally marks to track words you’re trying to practice.

Mark whenever the teacher says the word in context, and mark twice when a student does.

Alternatively, you can have the tally marks be even, but play the teacher versus the class.

There’s so much more to this strategy. Learn more about how tally marks can help you teach vocabulary at VocabularyLuau .

IDEA #12: Vocabulary Relay

Print out words on one set of cards (copy this set a few times) and definitions, context, or sentences in which they could be used (fill-in-the-blank) on another set (just one set).

Jumble up the words in a pile in the middle of the floor, and jumble up the definitions, context, and sentences to keep with you. Break students into teams of five-ish.

Call out the definition/context/sentence and give students some think time (8 – 10 seconds) to talk about what word it might be.

After the discussion time, call out “Word!” One member from each team runs to the center and tries to find the word in the pile.

I like having multiple sets of the words so more than one team can get it.

Check to make sure they’re correct, and then discuss it briefly before the next round.

Note: I got this idea from another teacher’s site, but I cannot for the life of me remember where. I have searched Google for it, and can’t find it. A small prize to the person who can figure out the originator of the idea!

I’ve written quite a bit about it here, but I’ve written more (and have lots of pictures of it in play) at VocabularyLuau .

IDEA #13: Vocabulary Category Relay 

This is a different relay activity than the one above, even though the names are so similar.

In this version, teams of students race to fill in words responsive to a category that start with the letters of the alphabet in order.

This can be done individually, in groups, or even as a whole class. It’s also a good one for both digital and in-person instruction.

When I wrote about it on VocabularyLuau , I shared these score sheets for digital use, as well as printable versions.

vocabulary teach this

IDEA #13: Comic Strip Word Activity 

I got the idea for using comic strips from This Reading Mama .

In some ways, it’s really a modified Frayer model. 

I loved it so much that I started making them like crazy. It turns out that they let me get a clear glimpse into how well the students had mastered the word. 

comic strip of frog with speech bubbles

I have an entire article about this, filled with loads of ideas and resources at VocabularyLuau .

You can check out that article here (or click the image below).

sample comic strip vocabulary scene with link to comic strip vocabulary on

IDEA #14: Paper Plate Vocab

I love this inexpensive matching game  from Finding Joy in Fifth Grade , and I think students could create it themselves.

Paper Plate Vocabulary

IDEA #15: Heads Up Vocabulary Game

Students hold a word on a card in front of their foreheads. The students don’t know what words they have.

Students ask each other a series of questions to determine the meaning of their word. Or, students can give students clues to the person with the word to help that person guess the word.

This is a review activity, and it’s not for initial instruction.

It’s such a favorite that I wrote a very comprehensive article about it on VocabularyLuau . There’s even a hack for printing on Post-it notes!

IDEA #16: Word Sneak

Word Sneak is a game invented by Jimmy Fallon that he plays with guests on the Tonight Show.

In the game, Jimmy and the guest each get a stack of cards with words on them that they have to work into the conversation naturally (without sounding forced or stilted).

It’s hysterical to watch and fun to play.

It’s also a great way to learn different ways to approach a word.

It’s so much fun that when I wrote the article about in on VocabularyLuau , I also included a Tonight Show backdrop you can use in class to give it an even more “real” feel.

IDEA #17: Frayer Model

The Frayer Model is an oldie-but-goodie vocab activity model in which student work in multiple ways in a specifically laid out graphic organizer to engage with words.

frayer model graphic organizer with various shapes

This is such a must-know that I wrote a (very lengthy and detailed) plan for how to use it at VocabularyLuau .

It includes downloads and printables and digital versions, as well as exactly how (and why) to use this strategy.

If you are not familiar with it, please do yourself a solid and read more .

IDEA #18: Tweet

Have students create a “tweet” that a word would send out or with the word in the tweet in context.

You can use a tool like PrankmeNot or Siminator  to make it look real.

This strategy is so fun and so useful!

I’ve written about five different ways to do this (with examples) on VocabularyLuau , and I even have this free template for you there:

vocabulary teach this

IDEA #19: Brain Power Words

This is a strong academic vocabulary activity that takes a little bit of time, but would really help get the words past the superficial level of understanding.

  • Ask small groups of students to preview sections of a text and identify difficult words.
  • For long chapters, assign different sections to different groups.
  • Students place a Post-it next to the words in the text they identify as potentially difficult.
  • Clues of substitution: A known word would make sense in the context and is probably a good definition.
  • Clues of definition: The word is defined in the text (many textbooks do this).
  • Clues of opposition: Words “not, unlike” etc. are excellent clues to what a word is not and thus help define the words.
  • After the Brain Power Words list is identified and definitions sought, the students check their work with the teacher.

This strategy is from Becky McTague and Margaret Richek (it’s in the book Reading Success for Struggling Adolescent Learners  by Susan Lenski and Jill Lewis).

IDEA #20: The Concept Cube

A concept cube is a  pattern that is printed on paper or cardstock, cut out, folded, and taped into a three-dimensional cube.

Students write, type, or draw on the pattern prior to assembling the cube, and then  they “play” with the cube to explore concepts.

Depending upon the way you choose to use it, they can be similar to a three-dimensional  Frayer model .

printed out concept cubes on colored paper

You can print out a blank cube and have students print the responses below, or complete it online and then print it out.

Before folding, students write clearly in each square following the directions below.

Each student is given one challenging vocabulary word from a recent reading and asked to:

  • Write the assigned vocabulary word in one square.
  • Write a synonym (word or phrase) in another square.
  • Write an antonym (word or phrase) in another square.
  • Write a category or categories it could belong to.
  • Write the essential characteristics of the concept of this word.
  • Give one example.

Cut, fold, and tape the cube.

Roll the cube and read what comes up on the “top”; the student must tell the relationship of that word or phrase to the original word.

After students know their own cube without any errors, they exchange with a peer.

You can get more ideas and details, as well as a free printable, at VocabularyLuau .

IDEA #21: Phone a Friend

Search TeacherspayTeachers or Teachers Notebook for vocabulary activities you can use or adapt.

The beauty of this is that you can search by grade level and subject, so you can focus on what you’re studying.

A caveat to this is that if you create something grade level or content specific, you can share it with other teachers, too.

The Importance of a Variety of Activities

You want to have a variety of activities so that vocabulary instruction doesn’t become routine or boring.

Keeping it fresh with lots of different ways of learning will help students (and the teacher) avoid getting burned out or tired of working with vocabulary.

There’s been so much interest in this that I created an entire website just for vocab ideas called VocabularyLuau .

These 21 activities for teaching vocabulary are just a start. I’d love to know your ideas!

The Vocabulary Series

This post is Part 3 of a four-part series on teaching vocabulary. If you would like to check out the rest of the series, visit the posts below

  • Teaching Vocabulary: The books
  • Theories & Techniques that work (and don’t)
  • 21 Activities for Teaching Vocabulary (this one)
  • Ideas for English Language Learners

There’s even a great book for teaching vocabulary!

These ideas work for all vocabulary words.

If your students need to learn vocabulary words and terms that are specific to your content (words like acute angle or latitude or simile or biome ), have I got a book for you!

You know how I know it’s great? I wrote it! I wrote it for teachers just like you from the method I created in my own class with my own students and tested over and over.

cover of concept capsules book by Lisa Van Gemert

You can learn more about it by clicking on the picture of it, or you can read more and see loads of examples here .

If you already know you want it, you can grab a paperback version on Amazon .

Or, if you want a digital copy, you can use the coupon code GIFTEDGURU for 20% off you can…

Do You Like Great Ideas?

If so, I share them in my email o’ goodness that goes out about once a month to thousands of people just like you.

You can sign up here (it’s free).

Note: This content uses referral links. Read my disclosure policy (it’s fascinating) for more info.

  • Read more about: Excellent Teaching

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14 Ways to Learn Vocabulary and Explore Language With The New York Times

Eight practical ideas for understanding new words in context — plus six ideas for thinking more deeply about the relationships between language and culture.

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By Katherine Schulten and Callie Holtermann

Our vocabulary offerings aim to convince students that learning a word’s definition opens the door to the real fun: spotting patterns in a word’s usage, interrogating its shades of meaning and incorporating it into one’s own vocabulary.

These 14 ideas will show you how to do it, with The New York Times as a resource both for understanding new words in context and for thinking about how language shapes — and is shaped by — our world.

We’re taking an energetic approach to vocabulary this school year, and kicking it off with a full week of posts. You can find them all here, in our updated vocabulary spotlight . Let us know what you think!

Eight Practical Ways to Learn Words in Context

If you want a better vocabulary, you’ve come to the right place. Below are eight easy ways to start learning new words in engaging contexts, understanding their nuances and trying them out for yourself.

1. Read just one Times article of your choice.

Before you read any further, take a moment to look at the photo above. What words come to mind to describe it? Make a list. For fun, you might even do the exercise alongside someone else, then compare lists to see how many words you have in common.

Why are we doing this? We want to show you that reading just one article of your choice in The New York Times can introduce you to all kinds of new words in an engaging context.

For instance, if you chose the piece about the abandoned houses of Instagram from which we took the image above, you could find words like creepy , decrepit, musty, agape, forlornly, rickety, faux, dilapidated, patina, limbo, succumb and askew . Were any of those words on your list? Are any of them new to you?

To find your own articles, think about what sections of the paper are most likely to publish stories you care about: Sports , Style , Food , Politics , Music ? Click around: Nearly any Times piece will introduce you to at least a few new words — or show you interesting ways to use words you may be familiar with but haven’t yet incorporated into your own vocabulary.

Once you find a word you’d like to explore, consider participating in our September 2021 challenge by learning more about it and telling us what you’ve discovered.

2. Focus on a single Word of the Day.

Visit The Learning Network’s free Word of the Day feature to find a new word each weekday, plus a definition from and an example sentence from The Times. Then, test your understanding by writing a sentence of your own.

If you have time to write several sentences, try out “because, but, so” — sentence stems from “ The Writing Revolution ,” by Judith Hochman and Natalie Wexler. These will help you examine a word from different angles. Here’s an example of these stems for the word elated :

The hot air balloon pilot was elated because …

The hot air balloon pilot was elated, but …

The hot air balloon pilot was elated, so …

To keep track of the new words you’re learning, you might use our vocabulary log . To go even further, create a “language field guide” like the ones these middle school students have made .

3. Take an interactive vocabulary quiz.

Here is how a recent quiz about young TikTok food stars begins. What word might you put in the blank? Visit the quiz to find four choices and see if you can pick the best one.

Eitan Bernath, a 19-year-old TikTok star with more than 1.6 million followers, began posting cooking content to the platform in 2019. Like many Generation Z TikTok chefs, he taught himself to cook by watching YouTube and the Food Network. He would share the things he made to Instagram, but never gained much ___.

We hope to create new quizzes all school year long. Let us know if there is a Times article you’d especially like to see us use!

4. Turn to TikTok to learn commonly confused words.

@iamthatenglishteacher #grammarlesson #Farther #Further #punctuation #Essay #Writing #teachingontiktok #Teachers #ESL #ACT #SAT #englishtutorial #English #Teaching ♬ original sound - MsJames

Differentiate between similar-sounding words with the help of Claudine James, an English teacher and member of our first Teaching Project cohort , and her popular TikTok account. This piece pairs five of her videos explaining commonly confused words, like farther and further or affect and effect , with usage examples from The New York Times.

5. Get familiar with “high utility” words in multiple contexts.

Whether preparing for a standardized test like the SAT or just reading for fun, you have no doubt come across words like assume, consist, potential, component and ultimate — words that appear in many contexts and with shifting meanings. Sometimes words in this category are called “ high utility ” or “tier two” words.

To practice these words, you can start with’s lists of vocabulary for standardized tests and essential vocabulary for middle school and high school students.

Then, turn to The Times to find those words in the wild. Type any word you’re learning into the Times search field to explore the nuances of its meaning in different contexts.

Take the word “ cordial .” As an adjective meaning “friendly but not overly close,” it is used in this article to describe a meeting between President Biden and congressional leaders. In its noun form, however, it means a sweet syrup used in cocktails: “An uncooked cordial requires a lot of time,” this recipe warns.

For teachers, we have even more advice. Check out this Reader Idea from Larry Ferlazzo on ways to work with “tier two” words in the English Language Learner classroom. Or, play the List/Group/Label game with your students before you read an article together. Here, for example, is how we once used the activity in a lesson plan on Edgar Allan Poe .

6. Direct your own 15-second vocabulary video.

Armed with our library of Words of the Day , you can explain what thousands of vocabulary words mean. But can you pick one to define in video format, in 15 seconds or less? This is the charge of our annual Vocabulary Video Contest . This year, the contest will run from Dec. 1, 2021 to Jan. 12, 2022 — but you can make your own vocabulary video anytime.

You may draw inspiration from this roundup of 60 winning videos .

7. Revel in the language of a favorite Times columnist or critic.

Reading the work of critics and Opinion columnists at The Times can give you a good example of how writers with distinctive voices use language to express their particular points of view.

For example, in his review of Leon Bridges’ recent album, The Times’s chief pop music critic, Jon Pareles , uses words like grooves, languid, coiling, ache, plinking, undulating and brooding to communicate how the album sounds to a reader who may not have listened to it.

Choose a favorite Times columnist from the Opinion section or critic from Arts , Books , Style or Food . Read three different pieces by one writer and make a list of the words that jump out at you. Are there certain words, types of words or phrases that this writer chooses often? Why do you think that is? How does the writer’s word choice help advance his or her argument? You might even try writing your own piece in the style of the writer you chose.

If you’re not sure where to start, look into columnists like Jamelle Bouie , Elizabeth Bruenig , Charles M. Blow , Michelle Goldberg , David Leonhardt , Gail Collins and Paul Krugman , and critics like Maya Phillips , Wesley Morris , Jon Caramanica , Pete Wells , Jennifer Szalai , Roberta Smith , Jason Farago , and A.O. Scott .

And don’t forget that we run both an annual Student Review Contest and an annual Student Editorial Contest , which invite you to experiment with finding your own distinctive voice and point of view.

8. Make vocabulary practice routine with our monthly challenges.

We received such an enthusiastic response to our Vocabulary Challenges last year that we created a yearlong schedule of monthly activities to help students get creative with vocabulary — and have the opportunity for their work to be published on The Learning Network.

These challenges use our Words of the Day as prompts for writing, art and even the invention of new words. New challenges open on the first of each month all year long, but you can use these activities in your classroom anytime. The January challenge is a special opportunity open only to English language learners.

Six Ways to Think More Deeply About Language

Learning words and exploring language isn’t something you do just to pass tests, of course. As the poet and playwright N. Scott Momaday writes in this essay , words are powerful and personal. Words are “what separates our species from all others.” They can “wound as well as elate, promote war as well as peace, express hate as well as love.” And it may be children who understand this best:

Words are sacred. I believe they are more sacred to children than they are to most of us. When I was first able to make my way in language, my Native American father, a member of the Kiowa tribe, told me stories from the Kiowa oral tradition. They transported me. They fascinated and thrilled me. They nourished my imagination. They nourished my soul. Indeed, nothing has meant more to me in fashioning my view of the world. I came to understand that story is the engine of language, and that words are the marrow of language.

Here are some ways to explore the power of words, and look at how and why language changes over time and in different cultural, personal and political contexts.

9. Track the culture through “Words of the Year.”

Quick Quiz: When did The Times publish an article with the headline “‘Selfie’ Trumps ‘Twerk’ as Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year”

a. 2020 b. 2017 c. 2013 d. 2002

To answer, you have to think about when it might have been necessary to explain to the world that “selfie” means “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” By 2017 the word was already ubiquitous , so that eliminates the first two choices; 2002 was too early for the broad use of either smartphones or social media, so that leaves choice c., 2013. Take a look at the article to see what other words were in the running that year. How many of them do we still use?

If you search The Times for the phrase “word of the year,” you can see we report annually on what is chosen — and on The Learning Network we often ask students to weigh in. Have a look at how teenagers answered the question, “What is your choice for Word of the Year?” in 2017 , 2018 and 2019 .

Then came 2020, a year that gave us scores of new words, phrases, expressions and metaphors. Here is how Tim Herrera begins an article headlined “ The 20 Phrases That Defined 2020 ”:

Happy Blursday ! Now quit doomscrolling , grab a quarantini and please keep social distancing . Imagine explaining that sentence to yourself in December 2019.

Before you read further, brainstorm a list of all the new words and phrases you can think of from the pandemic that have become part of our everyday language. Then read Mr. Herrera’s article , or two related pieces — one from May 2020 and one from December 2020 — to add to your list. What conclusions can you draw about how the pandemic has affected everyday language? Which of the words on your list do you think will stay in our vocabularies after this global crisis is finally over? Why? Finally, what word or phrase would you choose to define 2020? You can see a related lesson plan, and other students’ votes, here .

10. Watch language evolve via @NYT_first_said.

vocabulary teach this

On Aug. 12, 2021, the word “memeifying” appeared in The New York Times for the very first time. How do we know? Because the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said logs new words as they appear on The Times’s website.

To learn more, start with this Times Insider article about how the account was created. Then scroll through the account yourself. What words jump out at you? What can they tell you about the ways language is evolving? For example, you may notice words like neopronouns , detransitioning and misgenderings that expand the way we talk about gender. You may see tech-related words like cyberhack , cryptouniverse and bookstagrammers that show language hustling to catch up with technological advances.

Finally, try it yourself. What word does not currently exist in the English language, but should? What would it mean? Why do we need it? Save your invention to submit to our February 2022 Vocabulary Challenge . The winning word will be published as our Word of the Day on April Fools’ Day.

11. Celebrate teenagers as innovators.

Are you and your friends “lexical innovators?” According to a 2015 analysis of almost one billion tweets, those in the vanguard of word usage are “overwhelmingly young.”

That conclusion isn’t surprising to us. The Times has been reporting on the word-wizardry of teenagers since at least 1943 , when young people were introducing the world to “hep” and “jam session.” Over 75 years later, our reporters are still regularly documenting the origins and meanings of youth-driven expressions, only now it’s “ cheugy ,” “ OK boomer ,” and “ that’s so cringe .”

Take this 2015 language quiz, “ Are You on Fleek? ” to observe just how quickly slang comes — and sometimes goes. Then create your own version of the quiz by mining your daily spoken and written language and analyzing your social media feeds. How many of your questions can your friends get right? What about your parents or grandparents? Of the words or expressions that are viral right now, which do you predict will stand the test of time ? Why?

For teachers who want to help students look at how slang can both shape and reflect culture — and how new words move from the Urban Dictionary to the Oxford Dictionaries — check out our classic lesson plan, OMG!!! Exploring Slang . Though created on our old blog back in the days when “OMG” was a new phrase, the activities and questions are evergreen.

12. Explore the relationship between language and identity.

What does the way you express yourself say about who you are? How does it connect you to specific communities, cultures and histories? The Times can help you go deeper into how you think about the many intersections between language and identity. Here are just a few ways to start:

If you were raised in the United States, you might begin with a fun Times quiz, “ How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk .” How accurately does it capture your background?

Read “ What We Believe About Identity ,” by the novelist Julia Alvarez. As she writes about first coming to the United States from the Dominican Republic, “There was no vocabulary to light up the margins where my outlier selves were camped.” Who are your “outlier selves” and how does your language include them — or leave them out?

What is your gender identity? What are your pronouns? How do you, or others you know, express gender identity through language? “ A Guide to Neopronouns ,” published in 2021, is just one starting point for thinking through these questions. “ P.C. Language Saved My Life ,” from 2018, is another.

If you are a fan of hip-hop or comics (or both!), read a personal essay by a young man who discovered that “ Hip-Hop and Comics Speak the Same Language .” How have words — in the form of stories, comics, lyrics, poems or anything else — helped you “inhabit a new skin”?

What labels do others put on the communities you belong to? How do you feel about them? Read an essay by a 16-year-old winner of our 2021 Student Editorial Contest, “ For Most Latinos, Latinx Does Not Mark the Spot ,” to consider the nuances of naming.

How do young people “find a language suitable for our current state of disaster, which is almost biblical in its force and Shakespearean in its unfolding?” asks the Times critic Maya Phillips in her introduction to this multimedia feature about 10 teenage Black poets . Their work, and our related lesson plan , can help you think about the deep connection between personal voice and word choice.

Whether or not you are a native English speaker, reading “ We All Speak a Language That Will Go Extinct ” can show you that “no two people really speak the same” language. What misunderstandings around words — humorous or otherwise — have you experienced?

Language isn’t conveyed just in speech and writing. This article describes how today’s Deaf creatives are celebrating, sharing and protecting American Sign Language, and this piece — “ Black, Deaf and Extremely Online ” — explores how young Black signers are celebrating the language on social media. Our related lesson plan invites you to learn more.

The list above, of course, is incomplete. What else can you discover in The Times about language that is connected to a community or culture you are a part of?

13. Use data to uncover word patterns.

Another lens through which to look at language? The Times’s Upshot team used data analysis to create the interactive “ The Words Men and Women Use When They Write About Love ,” pictured above. It mines the language of four years of Modern Love essays . What questions does it raise for you?

You can see graphs the team has done on topics as varied as “ The Rise of ‘Middle Class’ as an Ordinary American Term ,” “ The Word Choices That Explain Why Jane Austen Endures , and the language The Times has used since 1860 to describe newcomers to America . You can also read data analysis of topics related to language and culture, including the words used in job listings and how we described our mental health on social media in 2020.

As you explore these analyses, you might borrow the protocol we use in our weekly What’s Going On in This Graph? feature . Ask yourself:

What do I notice?

What do I wonder?

What impact does this information have on me and my community?

When you’re done, ask yourself, Is there something interesting I’ve observed about language and language patterns that could be useful to explore using data analysis, perhaps via tools like Google Trends or the Google Books Ngram Viewer ? What and why? How could you present your findings visually?

14. Understand the relationship between language and culture — and have your say.

Language changes all the time, and, in turn, changes us. Word choice matters. It could be as relatively small as scientists calling for less sensational ways of describing human encounters with sharks . It could be as big as a deep rethinking of the language we use to talk about gender, sexuality or race. From the various examples we’ve given above, you can see that significant social, cultural and political changes in our society can’t help but affect the language we use. And thanks to the internet, those changes are happening faster than ever before.

If you are a regular reader of The Times, you can track these conversations in real time. For example, in 2020 the paper announced that, after conversations that began in earnest after the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests, The Times would begin capitalizing “Black” when describing people and cultures of African origin. Nearly 800 readers commented on the change, some supporting it, others rejecting it and many offering nuanced reasons for their opinions.

You can find pieces that touch on language and its relationship to culture in sections across the paper, including Politics, Sports, Style and Food. If you want just one recent example, however, we recommend the Aug., 2021 piece by the linguist John McWhorter exploring “ How ‘Woke’ Became an Insult .” After tracing how and why its meaning has morphed, he writes:

A mature societal take on language will understand that words are not simply what they mean in something called the dictionary and that words referring to issues societal or controversial — i.e., the interesting ones — will often need replacement about once a generation.

Finally, and most important, we invite you to become a part of the conversation, too. The Learning Network’s daily Student Opinion question often focuses on issues of language, culture and politics, and gives young people a dedicated place to have their say.

Here are just a few of the questions we’ve asked recently. Post your thoughts in the comments section for each — and read and respond to what other teenagers have contributed:

Should There Be More Gender Options on Identification Documents?

What Is the Best Way to Stop Abusive Language Online?

How Should Racial Slurs in Literature Be Handled in the Classroom?

How Important Is Knowing a Foreign Language?

Should White Writers Translate a Black Author’s Work?

Do Laws That Ban Offensive Words Make the World a Better Place?

Is It Offensive for Sports Teams and Their Fans to Use Native American Names, Imagery and Gestures?

What’s Your Favorite Word?

What Does Your Accent Say About Who You Are?

Callie Holtermann joined The Learning Network as a senior news assistant in 2020. More about Callie Holtermann

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Since teachers are tasked with teaching vocabulary in addition to the skills of listening, speaking, reading, writing, and grammar, vocabulary ends up getting a small amount of attention in the classroom. Regardless, we must remember that vocabulary is at the center of language teaching and learning. In fact, research linking reading comprehension to vocabulary knowledge has shown that a reader must know 98% of the words in a text to process and comprehend the text independently (Hu and Nation, 2000). Such findings reinforce the fundamental role that vocabulary teaching and learning play in the English classroom. Given what we know about vocabulary, how do we teach it in a way that supports language acquisition and all language skills?

In this month’s Teacher’s Corner, we will discuss the teaching and learning strategies that best support vocabulary learning and examine how we can adapt our existing lessons to incorporate vocabulary.  

Teach the Whole Word

For many years, vocabulary learning had a singular focus: a word’s definition. We now know that acquiring a new vocabulary word involves much more. Each word has many parts that help learners understand it. In addition, each word is part of a larger family of words that derive from a root word of a similar meaning.

Consider the word economic . There are a number of derivations of the word economic , including different forms, meanings, and uses. For example, economic is an adjective with multiple definitions and connotations in its use. For learners to know the word economic , they must recognize its part of speech, identify its various definitions, acknowledge appropriate synonyms and collocations, and understand that connotations across contexts may vary. This is all in addition to knowing how to pronounce and spell the word. Then, if we change economic to economics , we get a similar word but which is a different part of speech that carries its own definitions and connotations. For students and teachers, learning these many pieces of information in vocabulary requires explicit time and attention in the classroom, particularly taking time to look at the whole word in context.  

Focus on Context

Vocabulary words must be taught and learned in context. Learners need to see how the word is used. Is a word only used in speaking or writing, or both? How does it change within each of these contexts? Is a word used with a particular connotation in speaking but never in writing?


posters of charts

Students need to be exposed to new words repeatedly and in different contexts. Frequent encounters with new vocabulary words help learners acquire words in their various forms and contexts. Students need many opportunities to see the vocabulary words, practice using them, and retrieve the words regularly. Essentially, teachers should practice vocabulary every day with students in an effort to develop full acquisition (Folse, 2004).

Vocabulary learning and teaching is a language skill that needs explicit and repeated instruction. This month, begin thinking about how you currently teach vocabulary and what adaptations you would like to make to your lessons.  

Each Monday we post something new for you to explore or do. Here is the schedule for this month:

1st week: Join our private Facebook group here: . Please answer all three questions completely. You will not be accepted into the group unless you answer the questions.


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3rd week: Discuss vocabulary teaching with other group members, using the prompt that will be posted on Monday on the AE Teachers Corner Facebook page.

4th week: Browse the list of resources on this topic, which will be posted on the AE Teacher’s Corner Facebook page.  

Folse, K. S. (2004). Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Hu, M., & Nation, I.S.P. (2000). Vocabulary density and reading comprehension. Reading in a foreign language , 13(1), 403–430.

Written by contributing author Melissa Mendelsohn for American English

Photo/Image Credit (from top): Aaron Burden on Unsplash, Mudassar Iqbal from Pixabay, and Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

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7 Creative Strategies To Improve Vocabulary Teaching

A teacher and student work together in the classroom on vocabulary strategies.

Written by Melanie Arden

Reviewed by Meredith Melvin, B.Ed.

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  • Teaching Strategies

How is vocabulary knowledge developed?

Effective vocabulary learning techniques, using word-learning strategies, additional vocabulary activities.

Vocabulary skills are critical to each student's academic achievement. In and out of the classroom, student success depends on grasping reading comprehension and English language development. Effective vocabulary strategies help you educate children as they learn new words. 

Developmental delays, reading difficulties and infrequent exposure to new words can cause setbacks in student progress. However, most teachers agree that passive learning isn't the best way to help students grow their vocabulary skills.

What teaching strategies should you use instead to streamline vocabulary instruction?

A young girl focuses on a vocabulary strategies worksheet.

Vocabulary is understanding how to use words in relation to their meaning . Developing new vocabulary involves more than just looking up words in a dictionary and using those words in sentences.

Students' vocabulary grows throughout their lifetime through direct and indirect learning.  You can adopt direct teaching methods such as:

  • Introducing specific word instruction geared toward increased comprehension and vocabulary.
  • Leading wordplay activities that build upon previously learned words.
  • Encouraging students to read often to boost their word knowledge and language development.
  • Using the dictionary to teach word meanings and asking students to use those words in sentences during class participation.
  • Utilizing Cognate Awareness (ELL) to teach kids similar words in English and other language s, such as Spanish. Cognates are two words in different languages that have similarities including spelling, meaning, and pronunciation.
  • Making speaking skills a priority when learning vocabulary.
  • Reading stories to your students . It helps them to question and learn specific words. Books that contain pictures may help reinforce the 'bigger' words for your students. 

Deepening vocabulary skills takes a lifetime. It’s vital that students understand how to learn new words so that they don't feel singled out if they're struggling to enhance their vocabulary.

A teacher and student work together on vocabulary activities in the classroom.

When teachers use word learning techniques and teaching strategies like dictionary use, morphemic analysis , cognate awareness and contextual analysis , students catch on quickly and can recall new words, synonyms and antonyms. Each of these components builds on their prior knowledge of other words to create their own vocabulary library.

Effective teaching strategies include various methods you can use in the classroom today:

  • Expose students to the same word many times to support learning
  • Give students the definition of the word and ask them to write that word in a sentence
  • Use graphic organizers to define new words
  • Teaching kids to be independent and learn how to correct their own errors — it's ok to make mistakes!
  • Bring technology into the classroom and use digital tools suited to teaching vocabulary.
  • Let students practice often

Simple and effective vocabulary strategies help your students build an impressive vocabulary. But we have more tactics to share with you!

Be sure to have a look at the comprehensive list of targeted strategies to help you teach vocabulary to your students.

1. Take a student's perspective

You understand what it's like to grow your own vocabulary — you’ve been doing it for many years! With your higher education and experience in reading and writing, there is much wisdom you can pass onto your students.

Adjust lesson plans to accommodate any problems that students encounter as they learn new words. Show them how to take a word they've never heard of before, sound it out and show its use in a sentence or two. They'll pick up on its meaning through the sentences.

One way to level-up this language technique is to take a culturally-responsive approach . And you can do this by framing new words in examples that are familiar to your students whether it's geographically, culturally or socio-economically, for example.

2. Try using a word wall

A word wall encourages kids to focus on learning new words. Word walls are easy to create! Simply type or handwrite a list of words in large letters and hang them up on a bulletin board or a wall where students can see it every day. Be sure to add new words throughout the year so that your students deepen their knowledge of unknown words and their meaning.

Invite your students to take part in creating a bigger wall and add pictures, synonyms and antonyms to each word. If they're having trouble grasping the meaning of specific words, adding synonyms can help ease confusion.

Word walls provide a fun way to increase your students' vocabulary skills.

3. Create vocabulary notebooks

A young boy sits in class and completes vocabulary activities in a workbook with a pencil.

Vocabulary notebooks encourage students to expand their prior knowledge and boost their English language proficiency. Hand out notebooks so that they can jot down new words and their meanings. You can motivate students to think about writing synonyms and antonyms beside each new word.

To make vocabulary notebooks more fun, ask your students to draw pictures or create charts to show how they used a word in a few sentences. It gives them an opportunity to practice that word a few times and reinforce its definition.

And speaking of opportunities, a perfect time for students to practice their language with vocabulary notebooks is during writing periods.

A regular cadence of writing periods coupled with their vocabulary notebooks will encourage students to reflect on the words they’ve learned and to actively use them in their writing to get additional practice.

These vocabulary word books remind students of their advancement. It'll help them realize just how much they've progressed throughout the year.

4. Connect word meanings with semantic mapping

Semantic mapping is a type of graphic organizer that displays a relationship between specific words and phrases.

Select one student to draw a keyword on the chalkboard. Next, encourage students to participate in creating the map and write words that are connected to the keyword. For example, a student or teacher could write the keyword "farm" on the chalkboard. Your students would take turns writing words such as cow, barn, horse, hay and farmer.

Semantic maps help build students' vocabulary and reading comprehension. Teachers can add more challenging words each week. As students grow their vocabulary, they'll become confident in their reading and writing abilities.

5. Make word cards

Word cards help students to develop their ability to learn new words and highlight their meaning. There are a few ways you can get students to create their own word cards.

In this example, students can write single keywords on separate blank cards. They'll determine if that word is a noun, pronoun, adjective or verb. Make sure they write the definition below each word. Instruct them to use those words in a few sentences, or turn the word into a quick writing prompt .

Consider putting students into small groups of two to four kids. They can help each other to develop their vocabulary by introducing keywords to each other and asking them to use those words in a sentence.

Weekly word cards support English language development and enhance reading comprehension.   

6. Encourage reading comprehension

A teacher and student read a book to improve reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledges in the classroom.

It's crucial to every student's academic success to develop reading comprehension abilities. A variety of teaching methods, combined with consistent reading assignments, should help build comprehension and vocabulary development. 

Below, you’ll find a few tips to help strengthen your students' reading comprehension skills:

  • Class discussion about books they're reading . Talking about books helps students to remember the stories and promotes comprehension.
  • Phonics. Practicing phonics is a fun way for kids to build their vocabulary skills. Phonics helps students master sounds and differentiate between letters that sound the same as "s" and "th".
  • Reading grade-appropriate books. Give your students books suited for their grade level. Books should be easy enough for kids to understand the story's meaning but challenging enough to expand their vocabulary.
  • Read aloud. Get students to take turns reading aloud to help them see words and to hear them, too. They can learn how to pronounce the words as they go. Be mindful of students who might find reading aloud in front of the whole class to be daunting. If any students come to mind, it can help them to read aloud to a partner, teacher, parent or small group.

7. Use visuals and situations

When possible, use meaningful visuals in your classroom. Flashcard tools like Vocabulary Cartoons help students connect words to fun cartoons through memory techniques. This program works well from the elementary grades through to high school.

Use the following visual vocabulary teaching strategies with your students:

  • If you've created a word wall, ask your students to make paper flashcards with new words and their definitions. Display the flashcards for the entire class to look at every day. Make sure you change the words each week so that they continuously learn new words and phrases.
  • Turn your students into word detectives ! This fun activity gets kids to read books while searching for keywords. Hand them a list of keywords to find in the book. When they find the keywords used in sentences, encourage them to use those words in spoken and written sentences.
  • Kids love art, so why not get them to create drawings to express their understanding of words? Students can form their own connections to new words through drawings, patterns, and other examples.    

Make new words fun to learn! Combine visuals such as graphics and photos with auditory learning to cover a range of learning styles and make it easier for students to learn new words.

Students use word-learning strategies while sitting at a group of desks in a brightly-lit classroom.

Word-learning strategies allow students to familiarize themselves with words and phrases. Instead of having partial knowledge, they'll learn the meaning of the word and any related words. Students can develop word consciousness with the help of quality reading materials and practical teaching methods.  

Break down words into meaningful parts

Word parts are root words you can add a prefix or suffix to make a new word.

Allowing students to read keywords and add prefixes or suffixes helps them garner the meaning of those words based on how it's used in a sentence. Give your students opportunities to guess the meaning of word parts to support their vocabulary growth.

Word parts work best for students with a larger vocabulary.

Ask questions about a word

One way for students to learn words involves understanding the definition, how it works grammatically and its subtext. Motivate your students to ask questions such as:

  • Does the word have a masculine or feminine version similar to other languages?
  • How can I use the word in more than one sentence?
  • Does the word have several meanings? Homonyms such as "pen" can mean an instrument to write with, or an animal enclosure.   

When students deepen their word knowledge, they'll gain confidence in their ability to strengthen their vocabulary.

Reflect and practice new words

Some words are easier to learn than others. Inspire your students to test their word knowledge and determine areas where they need help. They might require assistance in boosting their confidence to use those words in sentences or to speak them with confidence. Also consider that they may not fully understand the meaning of those words.

Encourage your students to reflect regularly on new words and use them in their everyday conversations. This is where vocabulary notebooks come in handy to build word knowledge!

A young student, working at a table filled with other students, works on a vocabulary activities worksheet.

Bring words to life through vocabulary development activities! There are lots of fun things you can do in the classroom that encourage students to practice vocabulary.

Try these activities to boost kids' vocabulary skills:

  • Guided word sorting . Give your students a list of words to sort into various categories, such as parts of speech (noun, verb, etc.), geography (cities, towns), or something they can relate to. Students develop an understanding of new words as they group them into categories. Turn word sorting into a fun game!
  • Word fixes (on-purpose errors). Use a word incorrectly in a sentence and ask your students to correct the mistake. Choose one or more students to write the word correctly in a sentence and share it with the rest of the class.
  • Make mind maps. Mind mapping involves the use of colored pencils and pens to create a graphic of how the keyword connects to other words, similar to the semantic map.

With these fun activities, vocabulary isn’t just another spelling quiz — it’s a core part of your instruction that supports everything else you teach.

Prodigy English is a brand-new adventure that helps students master key vocabulary skills in a world of their very own.

Every correct answer gives students more energy they can use to gather resources, craft items and build their very own village! Create your free Prodigy teacher account to track student progress, send assignments and help build a love of learning.


Strategies for teaching vocabulary.

vocabulary teach this

6 effective strategies for teaching vocabulary, last updated 5 december 2023/ by zineb djoub.

A student’s vocabulary knowledge and skills determine his or her proficiency in comprehension and language use. Therefore, whether we are teaching writing, reading, or supporting our students to communicate more effectively their ideas, vocabulary should be part of our daily instruction. But, what strategies we should use for teaching vocabulary?

The average high school student is estimated to have a vocabulary of 50,000 words and learn about 3,500 new words each year (Graves & Watts-Taffe, 2002).

To build that amount of vocabulary, we should not just focus on using dictionaries as the sole source for word information and asking students to fill in word definitions. But, we should also involve them in developing their vocabulary.

This is through actively engaging them in word exploration and stimulating their interest in knowing more words.

Research evidence indicates that vocabulary development is more successful when learners are fully engaged in activities that require them to attend carefully to the new words and even to use them in productive tasks (Hulstijn & Laufer, 2001)

So, to develop your students’ vocabulary skills, I have compiled a list of engaging strategies for teaching vocabulary. These include both direct and indirect instruction.

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1. Word Wall

To help your students get more engaged in vocabulary development, you need to nurture word consciousness . This means raising students’ awareness of, and interest in all sorts of words and their meanings.

A Word Wall can help you achieve this. This is a collection of words that are displayed in large visible letters on a wall, bulletin board, or other display surfaces in a classroom.

teaching vocabulary: word wall

                            Source: ELL STRATEGIES & MISCONCEPTIONS

So, set this wall and encourage your students ‘to walk the wall’ and hang their favourite words, new or unknown, on it.

Then, invite their classmates to add sticky notes with pictures or graphics, synonyms, antonyms, or related words. Then, student partners walk along the wall to quiz each other on the words (Graves & Watts-Taffe,2008).

Use the Word Wall one or more times a week. You’ll help your students make connections between new and known words.

Since this is an ongoing activity during the whole year, you can keep observational notes of those students who are posting, and responding to their words and those who are not adding words to the wall.

This will help you better understand what your students need to expand their vocabulary.

2. Word Box

Word Box is one of the strategies for teaching vocabulary. This is a weekly strategy that can help students retain and use words more effectively.

Students select words to submit to the word box on Friday. These are words they find interesting or ones they want to understand better. They either use the word in their own sentence or take the same sentence where this word was found.

Then, select five words to teach the following week.

Monday : Introduce the five words in context, explain them, and then tack them to the Word Wall. Tuesday : Ask students to create a non-linguistic representation of the words. Wednesday : Discuss the meaning of the words allowing think-pair-shares. Thursday : Ask students to write sentences using those words. Friday: This is the day to assess students’ learning of the five words using this activity.

Ask one student to answer fill-ins for five words. Give students three cards that can hold up: green cards show they agree with the student’s answer, yellow they are unsure, and red ones they disagree.

For assessing, use a checklist with the vocabulary running horizontally across the top margin and the class list running vertically down the side. (Adapted from Grant et al., 2015, p.195)

3. Vocabulary notebooks

Ask your students to maintain vocabulary notebooks throughout the year where they write the meaning of the new words.

You can introduce a new word each week and work together with students to explore its meaning. Then, ask them to sketch a picture to illustrate the word and present their drawings to the class at the end of the week.

Another way to use vocabulary notebooks :

Students create a chart. The first column indicates the word, where it was found, and the sample sentence in which it appeared.

The other columns depend on your students’ needs.

You can include a column for meaning ( where students define the word or add a synonym), for word parts and related word forms (where they identify the parts and list any other words related to it), a picture, other occurrences (if they have seen or heard this word before, they describe where) and for practice or how they used this word. (Lubliner, 2005)

4. Semantic mapping

These are maps or webs of words that can help visually display the meaning-based connections between a word or phrase and a set of related words or concepts.

Teach your students how to use semantic mapping . Pick a word you intend to explain, draw a map or web on the board ( or on Zoom whiteboard or any digital tool in case you’re teaching online), and put this word in the centre of the map. Then, ask students to add related words or phrases similar in meaning to the new word. (see the example below)

5. word cards.

Word cards can help students review frequently learned words and improve retention.

On one side of the card, students write the target word and its part of speech (whether it’s a verb, noun, adjective, etc.).

On the top half of the other side, they write the word’s definition (in English and/ or a translation). They also write an example and a description of its pronunciation. The bottom half of the card can be used for additional notes once they start using the word.

Ask students to add more information about the word each time they practise or observe it (sentences, collocations, etc.).

Yet, advise them not to add too much information to facilitate reviewing the cards.

Devote regularly class time for students to bring their word cards to class. Involve them in activities such as describing the new words, quizzing one another, and categorizing them according to subject or part of speech.

Also, show your students how to store and organize those cards. This is, for instance, by putting them into a box with the categories they select or ordering them in terms of difficulty. (Schmitt & Schmitt, 2005)

6. Word learning strategies

Our students often have only partial knowledge of the words they learn in the classroom. This is so since a word can have different meanings that they may not be familiar with.

Therefore, teaching students word-learning strategies is important to help them become independent word learners. This is by teaching, modelling, and providing a variety of strategies that serve different purposes.

Here are some examples of word-learning strategies.

a) Using word parts

Breaking words into meaningful parts facilitates decoding. So, studying words’ parts can help students guess the meaning of new words from context.

There are three basic ways that word parts are combined in English: prefixing, suffixing, and compounding.

Teach those parts. But, focus on the most occurrent ones.

Providing explanations about their use and meanings with illustrations is necessary. Yet, it is still not enough.

You need to provide opportunities for students to experiment with word-building skills.

For instance, you can hand out a list of productive prefixes and have students compile a list of words using them. Then, ask them to compare the function of the prefixes in the various examples.

However, consider your students’ level since word parts are more useful to students with larger vocabularies. For instance, a student who doesn’t know the meaning of the adjective content cannot guess the word discontent.

Remember also that learning word parts is an ongoing process. So, encourage your students to continue experimenting with them. (Zimmerman, 2009a)

b) Asking questions about word

Knowing a word means knowing about its many aspects: its meaning(s), collocations, grammatical function, derivations, and register.

So, you can encourage your students to explore a new word’s meaning(s) by asking them to address detailed questions about those features and answer them.

Students will ask questions like these : • Are there certain words that often occur before or after the word ? (collocation) • Are there any grammatical patterns that occur with the word ? (grammar). • Are there any familiar roots or affixes for this word ? (word parts) • Is the word used by both men and women? ( register /appropriateness) • Is the word used in both speaking and writing? (register/appropriateness) • Could it be used to refer to people? Animals?Things? (meaning) • Does it have any positive or negative connotations? (meaning) (Zimmerman,2009a)

c) Reflecting

When students learn new words it does not necessarily mean they’ll use them. Students may avoid using words in writing because they are unsure of the spelling. When they speak, they may not be willing to use certain words as they roughly understand them in context.

Encouraging students to self-assess their knowledge of each new word they learn can help them focus on areas needing practices. Here is an example of a self-assessment scale students can use.

Teaching vocabulary: Self-assessment scale

Besides these 6 engaging strategies for teaching vocabulary, here are some essential tips to follow while using them :

1.  Identify the potential list of words to be taught. Keep the number of words to a minimum (three to five words in one lesson) to ensure there is ample time for in-depth vocabulary instruction. Yet enough time for students to practice them.

2.  Expose students to multiple contexts in which the new words can be used. This will support them to develop a deeper understanding of these words and how they’re used flexibly.

You can do so by giving students frequent opportunities to hear the meaning of the words, read content where these words are included, and also use them in speaking and writing.

Remember that there are four types of vocabulary:

  • Listening vocabulary includes the words students hear and understand.
  • Speaking vocabulary is made up of the words we speak.
  • Reading vocabulary includes the words we comprehend when we read.
  • Written vocabulary is composed of the words we use in our writing. (Reutzel & Cooter, 2013)

3.  Encourage extensive reading because this gives students repeated or multiple exposures to words and is also one of the means by which students see vocabulary in rich contexts.

Grant, K..B., Golden, S.E., & Wilson, N.S.(2015). Literacy Assessment and Instructional Strategies: Connecting to the Common Core . USA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Graves, M.F., & Watts-Taffe, S.M. (2002). The place of word consciousness in a research-based vocabulary program. In A.E. Farstrup 1 S.J.Samuels (Eds.), what research has to say about reading instruction (3rd ed., pp.140-165). Netwark, DE: International Reading Association.

Graves, M.F., & Watts-Taffe, S.M. (2008). For the love of words: Fostering word consciousness in young readers. The Reading Teacher , 62 (3), 185-193.

Hulstijn, J. & Laufer,B.(2001). Some empirical evidence for the involvement load hypothesis in vocabulary acquisition. Language Learning 51/3:539-58.

Lubliner, SH.(2005). Getting into Words: Vocabulary Instruction That Strengthens Comprehension . Baltimore: Paul H. Brooks Publishing.

Reutzel, D.R., & Cooter, R.B.(2013). The Essentials of Teaching Children to Read: The Teacher Makes the Difference (3 rd ed). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Schmitt, D., & Schmitt,N.(2005). Focus on Vocabulary . New York: Longman.

Zimmerman, Cheryl. B.(2009a). Word Knowledge: A vocabulary teacher’s handbook. New York: Oxford University Press.

Zimmerman, Cheryl. B.(2009b).(ed.). Inside Reading: The Academic Word List in Context. Four Levels. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Thank you for sharing these strategies! I love the idea of the word wall and word box. There is an element of surprise about what word they will learn and also remember it.

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I am glad you found those strategies for teaching vocabulary helpful. Thank you for your feedback.

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4 Ways to Teach Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension

Teaching these literacy strategies simultaneously can engage students in active processing, improving performance in both areas.

Photo of elementary school children reading

As a teacher and researcher, I know the importance of vocabulary instruction for improving reading comprehension. There is some evidence that a reciprocal relationship exists between the two and that improving one may improve the other. It is especially important to explicitly and directly teach these skills to our youngest students. Teachers can use evidence-based strategies for delivering vocabulary instruction to improve reading comprehension and vice versa by integrating literacy across content areas. These should engage students in active processing, which is essential to student learning and retention.

I’d like to share four active ways to teach vocabulary and reading comprehension that have worked well for me.

1. Read-Alouds

Teachers can incorporate vocabulary into a read-aloud, first by reading through the book and identifying vocabulary words to be targeted for instruction. Preteach the vocabulary words to the students, and during the read-aloud discuss their meaning by providing brief, student-friendly definitions (for example, if a character is described as anxious, the teacher could add, “That means worried or scared”). Next, review the context of the words within the story. Students should repeat the vocabulary words for correct pronunciation and then visualize the meaning of the word and connect it with a memory. Using the example of “anxious,” students would connect the word to a time they were feeling that way. Provide students with an example where vocabulary words are used differently from how they were used in the story. For example, if the story was about a child who was anxious about going to a new school, provide the students with a scenario like “I was anxious when I had to go to the doctor and get a shot.”   Follow up the read-aloud with vocabulary activities and word play: For example, have students provide a sentence using the targeted vocabulary words. One activity could involve having the students act out the meaning of a word (“If you’re feeling anxious, how would you look?”). Another possible activity is to display several pictures and have students identify the picture that goes with the given vocabulary word, or students provide the vocabulary word that matches a given picture. This activity targets students’ receptive and expressive language skills. Extend the lesson: This could be accomplished by incorporating questioning techniques. For example, ask the students how or when they might feel anxious, or what they could do when they feel that way. Another extension of the activity is to have students illustrate the vocabulary word or write a sentence that includes the word. 

2. Graphic Organizers

One way to teach vocabulary is to use graphic organizers, which are useful for both fiction and nonfiction information and for teaching across content areas. Graphic organizers help students to organize their ideas when responding to texts or completing writing tasks. In addition, graphic organizers benefit students with recalling and transferring information. Deciding on which graphic organizer to use can be a personal preference or depend on the task. For example, a story map would be suitable for fictional text, but not necessarily useful with nonfictional text. With nonfiction text, use of a Frayer model or T-chart in optimizing vocabulary instruction makes the most sense. T-chart: Teachers can use a T-chart for comparison of examples and nonexamples of the vocabulary word through words, pictures, or sentences. Story map: A story map helps students to understand the elements of a story, such as characters, setting, problem, and solution, or sequential points of the story, such as beginning, middle, and end. Frayer model: With a Frayer model , teachers help students learn vocabulary words by incorporating a student-friendly definition, characteristics, examples or synonyms, and nonexamples or antonyms. A Frayer model can be used before reading to activate background knowledge, during reading to teach new vocabulary, or after reading to assess understanding of vocabulary. For example, using the word cooperation , we can complete the Frayer model as follows:

  • Definition: Working together
  • Characteristics: Helping, sharing, taking turns
  • Examples: Building a Lego tower with a friend, helping each other clean up toys
  • Nonexamples:  Fighting over a toy, leaving someone out of a game

3. Mental Imagery

Help students learn how to make a mental picture of text. First, choose text that is very descriptive. Next, read a few sentences, pause, and share your thinking by “drawing” a mental image of the sentences. Be sure to incorporate all the senses (I see..., I hear..., I smell..., etc.). Have the students share their imaginings and note their different mental images.

For more interactive practice, provide a student with an illustration that is rich in imagery and have them describe what is in the illustration, while the other students and teacher make a mental image. Then, have students share their “picture.”

4. Questioning Techniques

Teach students how to predict, clarify, question, and summarize. Teacher modeling and student practice will be necessary. The use of rich language and discussion surrounding text and concepts improves children’s vocabulary and comprehension. Predict: Before reading, use the book cover or title to talk about what will happen. During reading, discuss what will happen on the next page or chapter. After reading, ask the students to say what they think will happen if the story continues. Or ask the students to rewrite their own ending.

Clarify: Clarify can be used to explain a decoding strategy or to clarify an idea or unknown meaning of a word. For example, the teacher can model this: “I know the sound of ‘ch’ and ‘st’ at the end makes it a closed syllable, so this word must be ‘chest.’” An example of clarifying an idea can be modeled as such: “The main character was ‘drowsy,’ so he went to take a nap. ‘Drowsy’ must mean ‘tired.’” 

Question:  Model for the students how to question by using the statement “I wonder …” For example, “I wonder why the character did…,” “I wonder why the author wrote this sentence…,” or “I wonder why ____ happened.” 

Summarize:  Have the students retell a story in their own words. Completing a graphic organizer, such as a story map, will help them to organize their thoughts and remember the story elements. They can refer to it when retelling the story.

All of these techniques can be modified for use with older students or emergent bilingual students. For example, older students will be able to provide elaborate written responses rather than just drawings. Older students can also be exposed to multiple meanings and tenses of vocabulary words. For emergent bilingual students, the use of gestures, real photos, objects, or drawings may help with understanding of vocabulary words. In addition, teachers can incorporate the vocabulary word in their native language to parallel the word in English.  

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30 Meaningful Vocabulary Activities for Every Grade

These activities are the definition of fun!

vocabulary teach this

Learning new words is like adding to your writing toolbox. Your writing becomes so much more interesting and engaging when you have more tools available. Check out these fun and engaging vocabulary activities for kids in grades K-12, and give your students the equipment they need to build their wordsmith skills.

1. Write vocabulary short stories

a clipboard with a vocabulary short story written on it

Using vocabulary words in writing shows mastery. Challenge your students to use all of their vocabulary words in an original short story. Allow students to pair up and share their stories with a partner.

Learn more: Lucky Little Learners 

2. Put your students in the “hot seat”

Divide your class into two teams. Choose one student from one team to go to the front of the room and sit in a chair facing the class with his/her back to the board. This person is “on the spot.” Place a word on the board so everyone can see it except the person in the chair. One at a time, team members give the person a clue about the mystery word. If the word is guessed before two minutes are up, the team gets a point and play turns to the other team.

Learn more: On the Spot/Upper Elementary Snapshots

3. Match up words and definitions

a vocabulary activity set featuring vocabulary words and definitions

Download these vocabulary words and matching definitions. Distribute one card to each student (either a word or a definition). Allow students to circulate in the room and find their “match.” Switch cards and repeat.

Learn more: Teach Starter

4. Sketch up some word maps

a word map made up around the word cowboys

Creating word maps from vocabulary words encourages students to find the relationships between the vocabulary word and other words. Have them include words, pictures, examples, real-world connections, definitions, descriptive words, etc.

Learn more: Southern Fried Teachin’

5. Create Post-it stations

a small clipboard with a purple post-it note attached on top of a floral backdrop

Post vocabulary words around the room, then have students circulate and write an original sentence using that word on a sticky note. Follow along and make sure students use the words correctly.

Learn more: Now Spark Creativity

6. Play a game of Pop!

a hand pulling a car with an illustration of popcorn and the word pop! out of a red and white striped bag

Write vocabulary words on cards or craft sticks and place in a paper bag. Write the word Pop! on three to five cards or sticks and add them to the bag as well. To play, students will take turns drawing cards or sticks out of the bag, reading the word and giving the definition. If they correctly define the word, they keep the card or stick. If not, it goes back in the bag. If they pull the word Pop! they must return all their cards or sticks to the bag and start over. The player with the most cards or sticks wins.

Learn more: Pop/Not So Wimpy Teacher

7. Take a gallery walk

Hang six to eight large sheets of chart paper in various places around the room. On each sheet, write one vocabulary word. Have students work in small groups, rotating between stations. At each station, ask students to come up with a different, original way to use each word. Continue the activity until all students have visited every station.

Learn more:

8. Create vocabulary strips

an index card vocabulary activity

Have students draw a diagonal line across an index card. On the top half, have them write the vocabulary word and definition. On the bottom half, have them draw a picture of the word and use it in a sentence. Cards can be joined together in a strip for easy review.

Learn more: Teaching Fourth

9. Play a round of Pictionary

a Pictionary vocabulary worksheet

This fun activity requires students to draw a picture for each word to create their own visual dictionary. When students create their own visual representations, they develop an association with the word that they will be able to tap into when needed.

Learn more: Pictionary/Lit in Focus

10. Make a word map

Word map for the word Respect (Vocabulary Activities)

Word maps help deepen understanding of a vocab word by relating it to other words and concepts students already know.

Learn more: Word Map/Upper Elementary Snapshots

11. Use the Frayer model

Frayer Model for the word Noun

Frayer models are a popular way to learn new words and concepts. Kids define the word in their own terms, then list facts and characteristics, examples, and non-examples.

12. Draw vocabulary Sketchnotes

Vocabulary sketchnotes for words like prohibit and reproach (Vocabulary Activities)

Kids and teachers love Sketchnotes ! Rather than writing out definitions, have students draw a sketch that sums up each word instead. It’s a lot more fun and gives kids an image for visual association and to help remember the meanings.

13. Bump words along

Printable vocabulary worksheet for Bumper Words game (Vocabulary Activities)

Group vocab words together with a few other words with similar meanings and one that’s an antonym. Students identify the antonym and “bump” it to the next box, filling in the next group of words. They continue until the worksheet is full.

Learn more: Reading and Writing Haven

14. Post a graffiti wall

Graffiti wall for the vocabulary word

Think of a vocabulary graffiti wall like a collaborative word wall. In the classroom, post the words on the wall and have kids add sticky notes to illustrate the term (they can use words or pictures). Online, try a tool like Padlet or Google Slides.

Learn more: Digging Deeper

15. Match words to describe character

Character Match printable worksheet showing a drawing of a person with matching vocabulary words

This is a terrific way to practice vocab words pulled from books you’re reading. Ask students to use various words to describe the different characters in the book and their feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Learn more: The Sassy Apple

16. Fill in words from A to Z

Printable A to Z vocabulary word game worksheet

This vocabulary game is fun and challenging, and you can play it at any age. Choose a word, then challenge kids to come up with related words for as many letters as possible. These could be synonyms, antonyms, examples, and more. Trickier letters are worth more points!

Learn more: A to Z/Lit in Focus

17. Try Flip for vocabulary activities

Flipgrid assignment page titled "Know Your Vocabulary'

Forever a Teacher at Heart/Twitter

Are you on the Flip (formerly Flipgrid) bandwagon yet? It’s perfect for vocabulary activities! Have kids record a quick video for each word, using their creativity to make it fun and meaningful.

18. Battle it out in Vocabulary Jeopardy

Vocabulary Jeopardy game with categories like synonym and antonym

Good vocabulary activities encourage more than just memorization of definitions. That’s why we like this Jeopardy game idea. It explores synonyms and antonyms and how words are used in real sentences.

Learn more: Not So Wimpy Teacher

19. Use RAFTs to write vocabulary stories

Vocabulary RAFT printable worksheets

Writing a story using vocab words is a perennial favorite, but the RAFT method gives it a new twist. Students are assigned a Role (the point of view from which they’ll tell the story), an Audience, a Format, and a Topic. For instance, they might be an astronaut (Role) writing a postcard (Format) to their friends back home (Audience) about what they’ve seen on Mars (Topic). RAFTs are especially great for kids who claim they don’t know what to write about.

Learn more: RAFT/

20. Discover the power of words

Write With Power printable vocabulary worksheet

Vocabulary words take on greater meaning when students incorporate them into their daily lives. Challenge kids to use their vocab words in conversation and writing outside the language arts classroom. Use the free printable worksheet here to help them keep track of how often they use them.

21. Create graphic organizers

Colorful graphic organizer for vocabulary words

Colorful organizers like these are terrific vocabulary activities. Want to go digital? Have kids make a slideshow, one slide per word. They can include the same information, but instead of drawing a picture, have them find one online that illustrates the concept.

Learn more: Graphic Organizers/Upper Elementary Snapshots

22. Focus on a Word of the Week

Printable Word of the Week vocabulary worksheet

Give really important terms the attention they deserve. Choose a new vocab word each week, then explore it in depth day by day.

Learn more: Lit in Focus

23. Join the Million Dollar Word Club

Million Dollar Words: Display 6-8 content related words. When a student uses one of the words in academic conversation or writing correctly, the class says

Post a list of target vocab words. If a student uses one of the words in class (outside of vocabulary activities), they become a member of the Million Dollar Word Club! You can have them sign their name on a wall in the classroom or award a badge online. You could even develop this into a reward system for homework passes or extra credit.

Learn more: Million Dollar Words/The Sassy Apple

24. Explore shades of meaning

Paint strips turned into acorns with vocabulary words and synonyms on them (Vocabulary Activities)

This is a cool idea for exploring synonyms and the slight differences that make words unique. Ask for paint sample strips at your local hardware store, or buy a clip art set . In the classroom, use these paint strips to make crafts for a bulletin board. Working in a virtual environment? Have kids print clip art strips at home or use the images to make slides or digital worksheets.

Learn more: Around the Kampfire

25. Personify a word with social media

Hand-drawn Facebook page for the vocabulary word Affluent

This is one of those vocabulary activities kids will want to do over and over again! Assign each student a word and have them create a fake Facebook, Instagram, or other social media page for it. They can draw them freehand or complete a template like these from Teachers Pay Teachers . Post the images to a shared Google slideshow so other students can use them for review.

26. Play vocabulary word Taboo

Vocabulary cards with synonyms on a pink-striped background

In this game, the goal is for one student to get their partner to guess the word by describing or giving examples of it. The trick? There’s a list of additional words they’re not allowed to use! Let other students see the card in advance to help keep the players honest. (Flash it on a whiteboard and have the guesser face away.)

Learn more: Teaching Talking

27. Roll a die for vocabulary activities

Roll a Word printable worksheet for vocabulary practice

Choose a vocab word, then have the student roll a die ( these virtual dice are handy ) to see which activity they get to complete.

Learn more: Roll a Word/Lucky Little Learners

28. Write an acrostic

vocabulary teach this

Write an acrostic poem for each vocab term, using the letters to determine the first word in each line. This can get really challenging when words are longer!

Learn more: Vocab Acrostic/Upper Elementary Snapshots

29. Play vocabulary board games

a vocabulary board game called word on the street

Everyone knows that playing games is the best way to learn! Try some of these fabulous board games with your students and watch their vocabularies grow!

Learn more: 11 Vocab Games to Make the Learning Stick

30. Become a Word Collector

Word Collector children's book

This is one of those picture books that grown-up kids will enjoy as much as little ones. Use it to remind your kids that they don’t need a vocabulary list to learn new words—new words are all around them. Encourage them to keep a word list or journal of their own to record new words they want to explore and use more often.

Buy it: The Word Collector by Peter Reynolds on Amazon

Reading poetry helps students expand their vocabularies. Check out these must-share poems for elementary school and middle and high school .

Plus, get all the latest teaching tips and ideas when you sign up for our free newsletters .

Help kids make a deeper connection to new words with these vocabulary activities. They work for any word list, elementary to high school.

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  1. 10 Engaging Vocabulary Activities

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  2. 10 Vocabulary Activities for Any Word List with Editable Templates

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  3. Vocabulary Activities (use with any list!)

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  4. How to Teach Vocabulary: 10 Tips for Elementary Teachers

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  5. 4 Tips On Vocabulary Teaching For EFL/ESL Teachers

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  6. How To Teach Vocabulary To Esl Beginners

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  1. 💞😍 use vocabulary 💖🦞🥰


  1. ESL Vocabulary Games

    This vocabulary game can be used to help students practice collocations. Write the first and last word of your run-on collocations in a ladder on the board, leaving empty rungs for the words in between. Explain that each word on the ladder makes a collocation with the word next to it and that the collocations can be read up or down.

  2. Houses Rooms Furniture ESL Games Activities

    In this free house vocabulary worksheet, students learn and practice vocabulary for rooms and parts of a house. First, students discuss two house-related questions in pairs. Students then match rooms and parts of a house vocabulary from a box with pictures. Next, students use the house vocabulary to complete sentences.

  3. Vocabulary words: An evidence-based literacy strategy

    Best used for instruction with: Whole class Small groups Individuals How to prepare: Choose the words to teach. For weekly vocabulary instruction, work with students to choose three to five new words per week. Select words that students will use or see most often, or words related to other words they know.

  4. How to Teach Vocabulary to ESL Students: 5 Teaching Methods ...

    1. Present Words with Visual Stimuli How to teach ESL vocabulary with visual stimuli: 2. Attach Context to Vocabulary How to teach ESL vocabulary with context: 3. Build Confidence with Word Clusters How to teach ESL vocabulary with word clusters: 4. Keep New Words Practical How to teach ESL vocabulary with practical exercises: 5.

  5. Doing It Differently: Tips for Teaching Vocabulary

    Step three: Ask students to create a non-linguistic representation of the word (a picture, or symbolic representation). Step four: Students engage in activities to deepen their knowledge of the new word (compare words, classify terms, write their own analogies and metaphors). Step five: Students discuss the new word (pair-share, elbow partners).

  6. TeachingEnglish: How to teach vocabulary

    How to teach vocabulary is a free self-study training course, which is divided into three hour modules. It also includes: A dedicated Facebook community of course participants with up-to-date insight, resources and innovative ideas for you to try out. Engaging discussions taking place in the Facebook community

  7. Presenting vocabulary

    Teachers Knowing the subject Articles Presenting vocabulary This article looks at what needs to be taught when teaching vocabulary and ways to present and teach vocabulary. Author Richard Frost, British Council Introduction What a student may need to know about an item Ways to present vocabulary Alternative ways of teaching vocabulary

  8. Teaching Vocabulary

    Morphemic Analysis Cognate Awareness (ELL) Contextual Analysis According to the National Reading Panel (2000), explicit instruction of vocabulary is highly effective.

  9. 21 Ideas for Teaching Vocabulary in the Classroom

    Parents EDUCATORS Subscribe 21 Ideas for Teaching Vocabulary I'm sharing 21 ideas for teaching vocabulary. You may not be able to use all of them, but I hope you can find some ideas that will work well for you! I've shared books about vocabulary instruction, as well as the theory and techniques. This post is a lot more practical.

  10. Parts of the Body ESL Games Activities Worksheets

    These free parts of the body games help students to learn and practice body parts vocabulary. Students begin by playing a parts of the body pelmanism game. In pairs, students take it in turns to turn over one word card and one picture card. The student reads the body part on the word card.

  11. 14 Ways to Learn Vocabulary and Explore Language With The New York

    Below are eight easy ways to start learning new words in engaging contexts, understanding their nuances and trying them out for yourself. 1. Read just one Times article of your choice. Related ...

  12. Five Key Principles for Effective Vocabulary Instruction

    1. Focus on rich meanings, not just dictionary definitions. Too often vocabulary instruction is no more than kids copying definitions from the dictionary. But researchers have identified a number of instructional approaches that outdo any learning that may accrue from copying definitions.

  13. Teacher's Corner: Teaching Vocabulary

    Learning vocabulary is an essential part of learning a language. In this month's Teacher's Corner, we look at ways to build and enrich students' vocabulary. Join us to explore ways to build students' acquisition and comprehension of vocabulary.

  14. Vocabulary Teaching Strategies for Middle School

    Strategies for Teaching New Vocabulary. Make it visual: Students create a visual that represents each word. Encourage students to create something that has a meaning for them and that will not only help them remember the word but also help make a connection to it. I often create handouts divided into eight boxes, one word at the top of each box ...

  15. Teaching with

    VocabTrainer™ For educators Discover a better way to teach vocabulary partners with teachers to help students master new words. We teach vocabulary so you can focus on the curriculum. Start a free trial Purchase now Get a quote Ready-made resources We teach more than 17,000 words with over 253,000 questions.

  16. 7 Creative Strategies To Improve Vocabulary Teaching

    Vocabulary skills are critical to each student's academic achievement. In and out of the classroom, student success depends on grasping reading comprehension and English language development. Effective vocabulary strategies help you educate children as they learn new words.. Developmental delays, reading difficulties and infrequent exposure to new words can cause setbacks in student progress.

  17. Strategies For Teaching Vocabulary

    1. Word Wall To help your students get more engaged in vocabulary development, you need to nurture word consciousness. This means raising students' awareness of, and interest in all sorts of words and their meanings. A Word Wall can help you achieve this.

  18. 4 Ways to Teach Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension

    Teach students how to predict, clarify, question, and summarize. Teacher modeling and student practice will be necessary. The use of rich language and discussion surrounding text and concepts improves children's vocabulary and comprehension. Predict: Before reading, use the book cover or title to talk about what will happen. During reading ...

  19. 30 Meaningful Vocabulary Activities for Every Grade

    1. Write vocabulary short stories Using vocabulary words in writing shows mastery. Challenge your students to use all of their vocabulary words in an original short story. Allow students to pair up and share their stories with a partner. Learn more: Lucky Little Learners 2. Put your students in the "hot seat" Divide your class into two teams.