10 Vocabulary Activities and Games

Teaching vocabulary to English learners is one of the main responsibilities of an English teacher. In this video I will share 10 Vocabulary Activities to use in English class.

Flashcards are the foundation of teaching ESL. Show students the flashcards when explaining a new word because a picture is worth a 1000 words. Add additional words like synonyms and commonly used words when explaining it. Then play games with these cards by placing the class into groups or pairs.
Line the students up in 2 lines. Show a random card – they compete and guess, then score a point. You could give an additional point if they can use the word in a sentence.

Make sure to add variety by changing the game a bit. You can draw a racetrack on the board. Use a dice to make it fun. Let the students throw a ball at a target. Keep it interesting, don’t play the same game every time, students will get bored.

Another common way to practice new vocabulary is Bingo. Let students draw a grid of 4 x 4 and then write in the new vocabulary. Randomly draw the cards and students cross it out as you call the words. If they have 2 lines they shout out Bingo to win.
They enjoy the randomness and learn the new vocabulary by writing, reading and listening for the words.

I did a video on a free website to play bingo online – you can watch after this one.

Vocabulary should be relevant to learners’ lives so it’s important for you to create connections. Explain how it is used in their life and bonus points if it is useful – We tend to remember things that are interesting or practical in our lives. Give them simple examples of how to use the word outside of class.

A fun way to do this is for students to explain the word. Place them in groups. They open a card and have to use it in context.
Let’s take Apple for example.
Students go around a circle and say something related to that word:
Lower level – Red, food, eat, sweet, fruit
Higher – Use it in a sentence or tell a story. A fun game is to give students a wordlist, and then they have to tell a story, each student adding a sentence by using one of the words from the list.

teach vocabulary

Make a list of words that will be used and share it with the class prior to starting the lesson. You can let them copy it from the board or reveal it to them by telling a story. Be sure to refer to the list whenever you encounter the word during class. Repetition helps with memory so you want to repeat these words as often as possible.

Also try to teach words in common phrases or collocation.
“the habitual juxtaposition of a particular word with another word or words with a frequency greater than chance.”

So basically, words that are often used with the vocabulary word.

For example “appointment” – Make an appointment
Contract – sign a contract.

When going over the vocabulary list, make sure to let students say the words out loud, that gives them an opportunity to practice. Also, with younger students you can anchor words by creating chants based on simple rhythms and creating an action to go along with them. Total Physical Response is tremendously important when teaching new words or practicing phonics with younger English learners.

A is for Apple, A – A – Apple . B is for Ball – B – B – Ball

Create associations between the vocabulary word and other words

Write a word on the board and ask students to call out words related to it. For example : Zoo – animals, food, lion, elephant. They can even expand on those words to create a web. Place students in groups, hand each group a large poster and ask them to make a word web.
The poster with the most unique words, wins.

With clusters you give students a wordlist, and they have to write it underneath different categories – Just like playing scattergories
I did a video on a free website you can use to play scattergories. I put the link to the website in the description.

When teaching students a new word, make sure they know some synonyms (words with the same meaning) and antonyms (words that have the opposite meaning).

A fun way to practice it is by acting it out. Place student in pairs with a word list. They have to act out the antonym of opposite of the word on the card and their partner has to guess it.

I like to play it in 3 phases. I give students a stack of cards. Then I ask them to look at the cards and place them in order, from easiest to most difficult.
In the first phase they explain the card to their partner, they may use the extra words
Phase 2 they play Taboo where they explain it without using some words.
Phase 3 they have to act out the word.

With younger students let them draw an image to help them remember the word.
When reading a story, ask students to circle the vocabulary or underline if it’s a word they don’t know so you can explain it after reading.
You can also show them a picture with many items or a lot going on.
Students write down as many words as they can see. It could also be a memorizing game where you show them an image and they have to memorize as many words as possible.

Ask students to find the translation for the words. Then make a sentence using the English word. Remind them that it is an English class, they should focus on speaking English, this is just a quick way for them to learn.
Another useful way is to use realia – Real objects if possible. For example with food. This is sugar. Sugar is sweet. These are potato chips. Potato chips are salty.

Ask students to look up or write the definitions for the new vocabulary in their own words.
Practice it with the class by showing a random word at a student and asking them what the definition is.

A fun game they can play is by writing down correct and incorrect definitions. Place the class into small groups and give each group 10 different, difficult words.
Using a dictionary to help them, let them write down the correct definitions for 5 words, and random entries from the dictionary for 5 wrong definitions.
Each group exchanges with another and “without cheating” guess what the 5 correct words and the 5 incorrect words are.

I like to use what I call the MOM rule – When a learner leaves class and meets their mom, can they explain to her what the word means. If yes, then they pass.

I hope you enjoyed these ideas to practice new vocabulary with students. Please like this video and share it on social media.

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