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Top 5 Activities to Help My Students Learn New Vocabulary

Rosie Norman

Together with grammar, vocabulary is one of the key items in language learning as this allows us to express ourselves more precisely and in a more interesting way. Anything can be nice but it is also more colourful to say that something is delicious, beautiful, charming, and pleasant. English has a wealth of vocabulary because of its Germanic, French and Latin roots.

Language is now considered to be made up of word clusters rather than isolated words so becoming aware of collocation, expressions, and ways of saying something is all part and parcel of improving vocabulary skills.

With that said, let’s take a look at some ways to help our students learn new vocabulary:

The traditional way of recording vocabulary is the bilingual dictionary style, where the student writes down certain words in the language being learned, with the equivalent word in their native language. This is a quick way of finding meanings of basic words but there are a few barriers with this method. Often these lists can offer literal translations of words and certain false cognates may come up. This method is a great way to start, but not recommended for more advanced vocabulary

Other Options:

The Monolingual Dictionary Technique: Rather than sliding between two languages as in the bilingual dictionary technique, we can use the same language to describe the item in other words, giving a definition or a synonym. This is the monolingual dictionary technique. This helps students gain a better general grasp of the language and it is always useful for describing something when the word you want remains an obstinate blank! For such a method a good thesaurus is a great tool to have on hand.

Flashcards/Images: We all have different ways of learning, visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic to name a few. So why not get your students to make a picture dictionary.

This is especially useful for elementary students who need to learn more basic vocabulary. With each lesson new vocabulary words can be added to the book and at the end of the class the students can review everything they have learned during the class as well as the words from past classes. Pictures of objects or actions can also be cut out and pasted on to a card and used in a class, pair, or one-to-one activities. You can get creative and use these cards in guessing games (charades or Pictionary), sentence building activities, or even role play activities.


Mind Maps: Another visual activity can be done by making a mind map. This can go from a simple pen and line drawing to something more fun with drawings and colour. On the board you may write a word or draw a picture (depending on the age of your students) and then list or draw certain words which are associated with the specific term you started out with. For example, with the central topic of travel we can then have subsections like accommodation, transport, hobbies etc. and then you can focus on associated vocabulary related to these topics. Mind maps are excellent for reviewing and learning new vocabulary.

This method may be more appropriate for students who are at the intermediate level or higher. Provide your students with a worksheet listing some sentences with new vocabulary words highlighted in them. Have the class watch some videos of a popular English series or some ESL YouTube videos of people having a conversation. When the characters use a specific sentence listed on the worksheet, encourage the students to pay extra attention to the tone, gestures, and context. You may even replay the scene once or twice so that your students can completely analyse the situation and sentence.

You may find some resistance on behalf of the students to use other ways of learning vocabulary other than the bilingual method. Generally it is much easier and quicker to look up a new word on their Smartphone dictionary. Unfortunately many of these dictionaries are very basic and in some ways more than useless. However, it is worth insisting on students learning other ways to record and recall vocabulary despite old habits dying hard!


Language is now considered to be made up of word clusters rather than isolated words so becoming aware of collocation, expressions, and ways of saying something is all part and parcel of improving vocabulary skills.

Do you have any creative activities to add to this list that could help students learn new vocabulary? Let us know below!

About the author

Rosie is British born and lives in Patagonia Argentina. She is a language teacher and translator and loves exploring places. When not typing articles on her ‘compu’, she’s busy outside tending her beautiful small holding or ‘chacra’ in the foothills of the Andes.