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Five Ways to Teach Vocabulary

Are you dreading teaching your next vocabulary lesson? Hate handing out those vocabulary sheets and hearing groans from your English or ESL students? Don’t worry, vocabulary is one of my favourite parts of teaching English and I’m here to help!

So, what’s the key to teaching vocab without making students memorize lists? Games! Actually, games are my favourite way to teach just about anything in English class, but that’s a post for another day (and perhaps an ebook!)

By the way, if you’d be interested in an ebook on the topic of Vocabulary Games, could you let me know in the comments? I’d love your feeback as I plan my site. Since launching just a week ago, I’m trying my best to figure out which posts you’d love to hear more about!

5 Ways To Teach Vocabulary

Here are 5 ways I teach vocabulary both in the classroom and with individual tutoring students (without using boring word lists!). Oh, and students will actually remember the vocabulary this way, too (bonus!)

1.  Crossword Puzzles

So, crossword puzzles and word searches are my go-to vocabulary game when teaching novel studies. Actually, even for native speakers of English, crosswords are a great way to review. Crossword Weaver software lets you and your students create crosswords in a matter of minutes in an easy-to-use, affordable software package. Did you miss my post on the Magic of Crossword Puzzles in the classroom (or tutoring sessions)? You can check it out here if you’d like.

2.  Spelling Hangman


Actually, I started using Spelling Hangman with my very first tutoring student – way back when I was 15 years old!  I used to tutor little kids and help them with their English homework. Wow, did they LOVE working with the magnetic whiteboard and different coloured markers! So, how do you play Spelling Hangman?  Well, it’s super easy:

  • Draw a hangman with blank spaces so your students have to guess the word
  • Write the definition of the word (or a clue or synonym for more advanced students) next to the hangman. This will help students connect the word to the concept
  • Give students ample chances to guess.  (Start with a stickman with a face and hair).  Kids get really excited over this one, though. Don’t be surprised if they’re soon asking you to add a necklace and earrings so they have enough chances to get it right!
  • Tip: Let students draw on the whiteboard. They love it, really!

3.  Flashcards – Memory Style

Remember that game called memory from when you were younger?  Where you had to shuffle up cards face-down and then make pairs with them, remembering where the cards were for your next turn?  It works just as well with English words and their definitions as the “match”(or whichever language you teach!).

  • Student A chooses two cards.  If the word matches the definition, it’s a pair.  If not, both must be put back in the same spot
  • Student B chooses two cards and tries to get a “match”
  • The student with the most matches at the end of the game wins!

Now, I know that it takes time to make flashcards like these, but don’t worry! They are on the list to go in my Free Printables Library, which is coming soon! Just sign up for the welcome printable at the end of this post, and I’ll keep you posted!

4. Word Hunt

Word Hunt Game

This game is SUPER simple.  All you have to do is a choose a fairly long word that students have been working with. Let’s say  PROCRASTINATION is our word.

  • Students write the word at the top of the page
  • Now, students must find as many words as possible by scrambling the letters in the word. Letters may be used more than once, and in any order but not twice in the same word if it doesn’t appear in the word twice. For example, “cast” would be an eligible word, but casts would not be, as there is only one “s” in procrastination.
  • Give students 5 to 6 minutes to find all the words they can
  • The student with the most words when the time is up wins!
  • *Challenge: Words that are longer than 3 letters get an extra point. Words longer than 4 letters get two extra points.

5. Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect is a simple variant on the Word Hunt game.  This time, you need to use pictures! Grab stock photography off the internet (Unsplash is a great, royalty free site). Be sure to choose photo with lots of clutter or detail! Print the photo in colour and place it in the centre of the table where the game players are seated.

  • Students should have pieces of paper labelled from A to Z
  • Set a timer for 2 minutes.  (Set a longer timer for younger children or ESL students)
  • Students now have 2 minutes to find all the words they can that begin with each letter.
  • Count all the correct (and correctly spelled!) words.
  • Correct words receive 1 point each
  • Words with difficult starting letters (X, Y, Z, J) receive an extra point

Resource Tips

If you’re looking for resources to keep your ESL students learning vocabulary and talking in class (in English!), check out my picks from Amazon below.

Crossword Weaver & 1-2-3 Wordsearch Bundle –   Crossword Weaver is one of my go-to resources in tutoring sessions, especially when I’m teaching new vocabulary from novel studies! The bundle with 1-2-3 Wordsearch Maker is the best deal; you can also create word searches with the touch of a few buttons.

Keep Talking – by Frederic Klippel  –  I know this book is quite old, but it is a good one! I use this all the time in my tutoring sessions and younger and adult students love the games. My favourites one is the Speaking Board Game. My adult evening class last year in Barcelona was having laugh-out-loud fun with it! Grab your copy here.

Cambridge Exam Flash Cards – What better way to prepare for the Cambridge Advanced Exam Vocabulary than using fun flashcards?

Whiteboard – Don’t undestimate the power of a magnetic whiteboard! On the go with tutoring students? Check out this mini whiteboard, which will fit right in your bag! Need a whole pack for your class? Amazon has an awesome “lapboard” whiteboard package here.

My post on the Ultimate Phrasal Verbs Game is here, too. (It really works, I promise. My students remember their phrasal verbs from the stories they create using my game template – which is free, by the way!) Grab your copy at the end of this post.

Thanks again for being a reader of The Teaching Cove! I’d love to hear your comments below.

Happy Teaching!


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