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Have you ever introduced a reading unit with new vocabulary, or a part of an ESL unit with vocabulary learning and seen your students groan? Or maybe you’ve met with struggling adult students who simply want to¬†know more vocabulary so their conversations can be more fluent?

Well, you’ve come to the right place! Today’s post is about exactly that ūüôā


Why Vocabulary Can Be Difficult To Remember


You know when you want to say something in a second language, but can’t find the words? Perhaps this happens to you in your first language sometimes, too.¬† Well, second language vocabulary learning is a huge field of study that teachers, linguists, and¬†psychologists have been studying for awhile.


Of course, remember that keeping vocabulary fun is an important way to get students to remember it long-term.¬† If they’re dreading the topic, it’s not likely to be top-of-mind when they need it ūüėČ

Using vocabulary is important, too, of course. Experts argue about how many times you need to have used a word to¬†really know it, but I’ve heard that around 11 is a good guess.

That’s eleven times really¬†using the word, not simply hearing it.¬† (Don’t get me started on the 2500 word essay on what it means to “know a word” we had to do at Oxford…)

Vocabulary Learning Strategies is often a complex topic!

This TESL Journal lists out a plethora of strategies that may help, but note that how you best learn vocabulary may be individual.

So, the best way to teach vocabulary to your students is to teach it many different ways, and help students find which vocabulary learning strategy works best for them



5 Fun Ways To Encourage Vocabulary Learning

1.  Learn With Crossword Puzzles and GamesCrossword Puzzle Vocabulary Learning

If you’ve read some of my earliest posts, you know that I use crossword puzzles with my English and ESL students

In fact, in my upcoming¬†Teachers Pay Teachers¬†store, I’ll have a bunch of novel study guides available for purchase, crossword puzzles included! (Hang in there, folks, as soon as I reign in my PhD work, I’ll be creating more resources you’ve asked for!)

Crossword Weaver is my favourite Crossword Puzzle maker, and it comes with 1-2-3 Word Search Maker when you buy it here.  

It’s¬†super simple to use, and kids love it!



2.  Encourage Daily Practice

Practice makes perfect, right?

Well, okay, maybe it’s not¬†perfect – but it sure helps!¬† Reading and memorizing vocabulary lists is definitely not the way to go. In fact, I’ve noticed a lot of my students are asked to do this here in school (in Barcelona).

I’d rather encourage¬†speaking¬†to practice vocabulary, and get students to¬†have as many conversations outside of class as they can.¬†


3.  Surround Yourself With Vocabulary

One of my favourite ways to remember new, common vocabulary when I’m starting to learn a language is to use¬†sticky notes or labels¬†to label objects around the house.

Yes, it takes some care to make sure it’s done neatly – but it works!¬† Every time you see an object and you think “table”, for example, you’ll have the same word in another language in front of you (“mesa” in Spanish, for example).


4.  Re-tell An Experience In Another Language

Now, this one is tricky! Have you ever tried telling a friend about an experience, in a language other than the one it happened in?

For example:

If you had a conversation with a friend, shop owner, or at a party in your second language, have you tried explaining it to a friend in your first? It takes a great command of reported speech! 


Well, to get my students to practice this, I have them do exactly that. Tell me about your latest conversation with your best friend. For example, one you had in Spanish, but tell me the entire thing, in English).


Actually, I practice doing this myself – re-telling myself a story in Spanish, and then in French, to catch any vocabulary words I’m missing in my less dominant languages.

I know, I know, I’m a total language geek ūüėČ


5.¬† Keep A Vocabulary Box & Make It A “Game”

This is my discovery of the week!  Actually, I thought of this one as I was browsing for stickers in a dollar-store-like shop next to my apartment building.


Looking through their bags and crafty stuff, I came across these little treasure boxes for 90 cents.¬†Cute,¬†I thought,¬†it’s like a mini treasure chest.

Then, I got a genius idea!!!

Why not make this a¬†treasure chest of words?¬† Kids love “finding treasure”, so to them it is¬†totally a game.¬†

First, I let them decorate these boxes with stickers, markers, glue, glitter, and whatever they like. I tell them to work hard on it! It’s going to be key to their vocabulary learning. The twins who decorated the box below decided to have a theme of “Seasons”.

So, they drew corresponding images on each side. We learned a lot of new vocabulary just from the images they wanted to draw!

Next, every time we come across a word we don’t know, we write it on a slip of paper and put it in the treasure chest. Students keep the treasure chests at home. This way, they can add words between lessons.

Soon, they’ll have a “treasure chest” full of words we can play games (like charades) with.¬† It is so great to see how excited they are to show their parents their new “treasure chests”!


Keeping Vocabulary Learning Flexible

No matter which age group you teach, or whether you teach online or in person, remember that vocabulary learning must be flexible.

What do I mean by flexible?

Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  1.  Expose Students to a Variety of Vocabulary Learning Strategies

Switch it up! While I love using crosswords and word search puzzles, I definitely don’t use them for every class. I don’t even use them for every novel study with every kid.

  2. Listen to your students!

Sometimes, the best way to figure out what’s working best is to¬†ask.¬† What makes learning English (or whatever language you teach) words difficult for them? What has worked best in the past?

  3. Play games with adults, too 

Yes, I know,¬†hangman and tic tac toe (using words, not an x or an o)¬†might seem like children’s games, but adults have fun with them, too! Remember that adults need an escape from reality sometimes. What better way is there to learn than having fun?


Have fun with these ideas, and let us know in the comments below what your favourite vocabulary teaching method is ūüôā

Happy Teaching!


P.S. The photo for today’s main image is one I took of the¬† Vocabulary Treasure Chest two of my younger students made.

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