4 Ways to Teach New Vocabulary

Mix it up by introducing new vocabulary with these fun techniques!

Vocabulary…it’s a double-edged sword. Students universally recognize the need to expand their vocabulary in order to improve their fluency, but it’s difficult — and often boring — to memorize word after word. Varying the types of vocabulary exercises used will engage your students and enable them to retain the new words more effectively. Remember: your goal as a teacher is to get the students to be able to use the new words when they speak or write. As such, repetition is key…but using the same technique over and over will cause the students to lose interest. Using a combination of the following methods will hopefully get your students excited about vocabulary again.

1. Vocabulary Board Game:

  • Write all of the new words in a long list on the left side of the board.
  • Divide students into two teams, and explain that you’ll be reading out a definition to one team at a time.
  • If that team can correctly guess the corresponding word, they get $100 (pretend money, of course!). If they guess the wrong word, the other team can “steal” the money by guessing the correct word for $50. If the second team still can’t guess correctly, it goes back to the first team for $50, and so on until one team gets it right. Play then resumes with the next definition getting read to the second team, for $100 if correct.
  • You can provide students with a copy of a word-definition list after the game to save them from having to stop and write down the definitions as you go. Or, to save trees, write the definitions next to the words as they are guessed correctly, and students can copy them down.
  • The winning team is the one who has the most money once all the definitions are filled in! For the last definition (since it will obviously correspond to the only word left on the board), I often make it more challenging by making the team tell me what they think the definition is. If correct, they get $100; if not, the other team can try for $50, and so on.

2. Matchup:

  • Have one page of words and definitions for each pair or small group of students. Cut each word and definition from that page into strips (a paper cutter works wonders here). Repeat for each page (paper clips help to keep the piles separated). Don’t forget that you can keep the strips for vocabulary review later, or review for a test.
  • Give a mixed-up pile of strips (words and definition) to each group. Get students to match up the words with the correct definitions.
  • Circulate, pointing out where students have made an incorrect guess so that they can make another attempt with that particular word. Don’t forget to keep a master list for yourself; it helps to refer to it as you circulate.
  • When all the students are finished, you can go over the answers as a class. To make it more exciting, you can turn it into a competition by naming the first group to correctly match everything up the winner.

3. Mini-Presentations:

  • Assign one new word to each student. Have them look up the definition in their dictionaries (preferably English-English).
  • Tell them to write down the definition in their own words. They can ask you for help, if necessary. Circulate to check that their definitions are clear.
  • Also, get them to write down an example sentence, so that their classmates will be able to better understand the meaning of the new word. Circulate to check that the example sentences make sense.
  • When all of the students are done, have them come up to the front of the class one by one. Get each student to write the word and definition on the board, and while the other students are copying it down, have that student read the example sentence. You can add additional clarification at this time, if need be.

4. Context:

  • Being able to use the context (the sentences or paragraphs that surround the word) to figure out the meanings of new words is an essential skill that you want all of your students to be able to master one day. Because it is difficult to do, try it as a class activity once in a while to get students used to it.
  • Have students read through the text first. You can have them do it silently or out loud. Reading out loud enables you to correct their pronunciation and intonation, which is a good use of time since you’re practicing several skills at once.
  • Once you’ve gone through the text, point out the new words one by one, and have students guess at each word’s possible meaning as a class. After a few guesses, you can give students the answer if they are unable to come up with it. Point out the contextual clues that could help them figure out the meaning for next time.
  • This exercise is especially helpful in preparing for examinations like TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, etc.

It’s important to note that going over vocabulary only once will rarely result in retention. I plan to write my next post on fun vocabulary review activities, so check back soon! You can also check out Flashcard Ideas on our website for ways to use flashcards for vocabulary practice and review. Our Simple Sentences lesson plans have lots of vocabulary activities for beginners, too.

I hope your students will find learning vocabulary to be more engaging after employing these techniques!



Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Samira says:

    Aug 06, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    I do appreciate your generosity of sharing such points, Tomorrow I’ve got a workshop, I’ll definitely use them sweetie

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 08, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      I’m happy to hear that, Samira! Good luck with your workshop!

  2. Koka says:

    May 18, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks very much, you have an interesting ideas which makes learning and teaching exciting .Actually u really help me in my practical exam in (Micro teaching) by the way I’m a student😃

  3. Claire says:

    Feb 27, 2017 at 5:49 am

    Thanks so much for the ideas! I’ll definitely try a couple of these out during the next semester.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 27, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      Great! Let me know how it goes. :)

  4. Lahcen bany says:

    Feb 24, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    Thank u very much

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 24, 2016 at 6:03 pm

      You’re very welcome!

  5. naghmeh says:

    Jan 15, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Hi,I’m really glad to see these useful ideas.
    Thank you very much.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 18, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      Happy to hear it! Thank you.

  6. soheila says:

    Aug 11, 2015 at 7:00 am

    thank you dear, this article helped me to make a really funny environment for my students !

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 14, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      I’m happy to hear that your students had fun, Soheila!

  7. Rezsa says:

    Jun 30, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Many thanks Tanya …
    I found it so much useful

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jul 02, 2015 at 9:39 pm

      Thank you, Rezsa! I’m happy to hear it. :)

  8. mary says:

    Mar 28, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Thank you.
    Im glad to see these new ideas!

    Good luck

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 02, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      Thank you, Mary! I hope your students enjoy them.

  9. Eva says:

    Oct 10, 2012 at 3:07 am

    Thanks Tanya for giving some fresh ideas which can make our teaching exciting! Your name is as cute as your ideas.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm

      Aw, thanks Eva! I like your name, too. :)

  10. Nguyen Thanh Tu says:

    Oct 06, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Dear Tanya,

    Thank you very much for your fun techniques. I will practice it next week. I believe that my students will have an interesting lesson next week. Thanks again.

    Best regards,

    Nguyen Thanh Tu, a teacher at Hong Bang Secondary School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

    • Tanya says:

      Oct 09, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      I hope your students enjoy these techniques! :)

  11. marta says:

    Oct 05, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Very clever and innovative-thank you but can you also give me more ideas on how to teach conversation class( my students don’t want to write at all). Thank you


    • Tanya says:

      Oct 09, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      Hi Marta,

      My students always preferred speaking to writing, too! Thanks for the great idea for a blog post. Keep checking back…I’ll write a post on conversation techniques soon! :)

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 18, 2012 at 11:05 pm

      Hi again Marta, did you see my blog post from October 12th? The title is “My Favourite Fun, Student-Generated Speaking Activity.” It’s something you can do in your conversation class. Enjoy!

  12. Max Shayani says:

    Oct 04, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Thank you Tanya, new ideas can always make “learning” and “teaching” easier,
    here in Latin America the use of “English” language is becoming more and more popular, when I moved here some fifteen years ago you had to convince someone to take classes, now a days people look for new opportunities, learing new vocabulary is always a chalenge for the new students, thanks again
    for your good ideas. royalenglishinstitute.com

    • Tanya says:

      Oct 05, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      Thanks, Max! I’m glad that more and more people are choosing to study English, too. :)

  13. Tanya says:

    Sep 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks, guys! I’m glad you enjoyed this post! :)

  14. Melanie Menkevich says:

    Sep 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    This is great! I’ve been looking for new ways to teach vocabulary because mine were getting a bit dry. Thanks a lot, can’t wait for the next post!

  15. Ning Cao says:

    Sep 25, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Thanks for your post, it is very interesting. As an essential part of language, vocabulary plays an important role in the process of learning language. Therefore, ESL learners must acquire a large number of vocabularies. Then, how to help them acquire vocabulary efficiency? I think I could find some answers from your methods.I will try to use these methods in my class. Thank you.

  16. Maryanne Burgos says:

    Sep 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for your useful suggestions.

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