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Useful Methods for Teaching Vocabulary

Useful Methods for Teaching Vocabulary | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Teachers often encounter difficulties in various aspects of language teaching. The main task of every teacher is to motivate and engage a student in the process of language learning. In this regard, teachers try to set a learning environment in the classrooms to be able to demonstrate and make learners stay focused on the lessons. There are different methods and approaches to learning English, and it is not always easy to choose the best one to make a lesson effective and successful.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Mahri J. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Why work on vocabulary?

Among a great variety of essential parts of language learning, vocabulary building is one of the most important ones and a kind of a starting point in the learning process. Language teachers introduce vocabulary at early stages to engage and motivate students to learn a new language to feel at ease when communicating with people, asking and answering questions, making presentations, raising your self-esteem, and feeling confident.


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One of the problems for a teacher when teaching vocabulary is the choice of appropriate words for learners. First of all, the teacher should pick the vocabulary that appropriates to the task or theme of the lesson. Also, a teacher needs to select the words by students’ levels and ages and focus on how often the students can use this vocabulary in the language structure. The frequency of vocabulary usage as well as the so-called “vocabulary storage” are important factors to take into account. Hence, the vocabulary understudy could be also grouped as “deceptive words” (the words that students already know but do not use much) and “productive words” (the words that students know and use).

So, how do we, teachers, teach the vocabulary?

It is not a surprise to say that students should know and learn the meaning and the usage of new words as well as spelling (the way a word is written) and pronunciation (how it is pronounced). It is also important for learners to know the category the new vocabulary belongs to, their part of speech and their interactions with other words (collocations, synonyms, opposites, etc.).

Taking into account all these significant parts in mind, ESL/ELL teachers should come up with certain ways of teaching vocabulary, choose the ones that will work well for their particular classroom settings, ages, levels, and learning styles of their students (Moreover, educators might have to make some modifications to adapt the techniques to their learners’ needs).

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Also Read: Two Main Ways of Teaching Vocabulary to English Language Learners


One of the most effective methods of vocabulary learning, which I have learned through my TEFL course, is called “ESA” (Engage, Study and Activate) by Jeremy Harmer. This method could be productive in a step by step vocabulary teaching. During the Engage phase, a teacher must engage and interest students to make the learning process more fun and stimulating. At this stage, the teacher elicits the new words and explains their meanings. There is certainly a wide range of ways to explain the meaning: miming and explaining the word meanings through actions, for example (teachers should even act silly sometimes, if necessary). Pictures or flashcards can also be very helpful tools in this matter, especially when introducing new words to beginners. An important task for a teacher at this phase is also to define the comprehensive vocabulary, the words that students will be able to understand. Writing down the new words on the board or putting them up on the walls along with pictures describing the meaning (a kind of a “word wall” display) will help students memorize the vocabulary through visual aids.

At the Study phase, the teacher can use different activities, such as gap-fills, word search, or crosswords, matching, pronunciation and drilling exercises, as well as study from dialogues and texts. In addition to this, various sentence building activities or games with new vocabulary will be effective too.

As for the final Activate phase, the teacher can use some communication games, role-plays, or have some discussions with the vocabulary under study. At this stage, the teacher can divide the class into small groups and let the students in groups create a poster or advertisement. There are a lot of effective ways to approach and achieve the lesson. Interacting with students through games is a fun way of learning vocabulary and the language because games work well for all ages and can involve all the students in a learning process.

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In conclusion, I would like to say that no matter what method teachers choose when teaching vocabulary, the main thing is to find the most effective one that will work for both: the teacher and the students. There is no doubt that teachers will come up with the right one and will be able to motivate learners to study and make learning meaningful and successful if they are dedicated teachers who love their students and have a great passion for teaching. I agree with the quote by Margaret E Sangster that “No one should teach who is not in love with teaching”.

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