6 Fun Ways to Teach Vocabulary to Your English Students

by | May 4, 2018

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Teaching vocabulary using the same games and activities can become repetitive and stale. As teachers, we can sometimes get into a routine and just stick to the classic methods of teaching vocabulary. So, to help, I want to give you some great activities and methods that I use regularly to make teaching vocabulary fun and exciting for both you and your students.

Let’s first look at a few tips to help set you up for success!

  • Choosing the right vocabulary – It is important to make the right selection of words. This may seem basic but often teachers end up teaching a wide variety of seemingly unconnected words. Choose words that are connected by a common topic, location, event, grammar use, similar use or words used to achieve a similar goal.   
  • Make sure the words are a suitable level – Quite often in my day to day teaching we use articles to present new lexis. The problem that I often experience is that the articles contain vocabulary that is far too difficult for my students. English Profile is a great resource that profiles that English language allowing us to make better judgments about what vocabulary to teach.
  • Mix it up! – Make sure you vary the method of presenting and reviewing vocabulary.  Doing this will not only make your vocabulary classes more dynamic and fun but your students will also benefit much more.

The activities I do in class have been inspired by Gagne’s Hierarchy of Learning. In short, Gagne proposed a system for classifying different types of learning in terms of their degree of complexity.

I look at language acquisition in a similar way. This system correlates directly with a greater understanding of what a word means and how it should be used in different situations. This also means word retention is greater.

With all that being said, on to the games!

 

Copycat

This is a great game to introduce vocabulary for this first time and can be used to get your students familiar with words and common collocations. As the name suggests, students simply have to repeat what you say. I usually prepare about 20 sentences (feel free to freestyle if you are good at thinking on the spot). The sentences start off small and simple and later become more complex. The final sentences might include 3-4 of the new words.

To further this game I will tell my students that the game will be played throughout the whole class and that anytime I shout the word “copycat” they must repeat the next sentence after I finish. You can even build on this further and get the students to create a series of sentences everybody else must copy.

 

Make them say it!

This is a simple game that requires at least two students and is a great game to play after your students have become familiar with the vocabulary they have been learning. Give one of your students a word – only they can know the word and they must not say this word.

Their challenge is to get their partner to say that word. However, they can only speak to their partner in normal dialogue; they are not allowed to directly ask them. Both students should talk in normal full sentences.

Act or draw it

Students write a sentence on a slip of paper. You can specify the complexity depending on the level of your students. For advanced students I might say that the sentence must include a certain number of adjectives, adverbs, or specific vocabulary.

Once your students have written their sentences fold the slips of paper and put them in a hat. One by one students take a piece of paper from the hat and flip a coin. Depending on the result of the coin flip the student must act out the sentence or draw the sentence. I tell my students that they can write on the board when someone gets a part of the sentence right.

 

The story

If I am teaching a group of nouns I often play “The Story” game. You need to prepare two things for this game. You need small pictures/photos of all of the nouns and a short story that includes all of the nouns in question. I will read the story to my students, as they listen to me then must order the pictures based on the order they hear them in the story.

After I have corrected any mistakes I ask my students to prepare a short story that includes at least x amount of the nouns. As each student reads their story the other students must order their pictures as they did previously with mine.

 

What’s the difference?

In order to successfully complete this game your students must not only have a good understanding of the words but they must also communicate effectively. This is a good game for reviewing vocabulary based on a location or specific activity that could involve a mix of lexical items.

To prepare for this game you need to find a picture that includes the items you want to teach. For example, a picture inside a busy restaurant. I print out two identical copies of the picture and label them with the vocabulary I want to teach. This works well if you have between 10-20 words to review. Now, on each picture I label some things correctly and some incorrectly. I vary which ones are correct and incorrect on each photo.

With your students working in pairs I give each student one copy of the photo.  They must not look at each other’s photo. I tell them they must communicate in order to make a communal list of everything that is either labeled correctly or incorrectly in both photos. To end this task get another pair to peer correct. This will inevitably involve your students going through all of the vocabulary and if they have forgotten the vocabulary describing what is being labeled. See the picture below as an example.

That’s me

This is a quick game that needs little preparation. Have the words you want to teach on some flash cards or slips of paper and distribute the cards evenly to your students. I then give a definition/use/example of one of the words and if the student thinks they have that word they must shout “That’s me”. If they are correct they win a point, if not they lose a point.

You can further expand on the game.  Instead of students secretly holding their cards like poker have them spread them out in front of them so that everyone in the class can see each other’s cards. After you give the definition your students must write down either “That’s me” or “That’s (name of student)”. On the count of three everyone reveals who they think has the word with people who are correct winning a point and those incorrect losing a point.

This post was written by Phil from English Lesson Packs – a great site for free to use ESL materials for both students and teachers.

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