Some thoughts on teaching vocabulary

vocabularygamesbirdHey, guys and welcome to SHUT UP AND SPEAK ENGLISH.

Today, I’m going to share with you some thoughts on teaching vocabulary, and some activities you may want to use in class.

Before we start, let’s take a look at the question “What factors affect vocabulary development?”. I got a few. Here’s the  first one: It depends a bit on how old you are, not all young people learn better than all old people, but generally speaking, it’s easier for younger people to remember stuff. It’s quite sad, but it’s actually true. So that’s the big advantage for you if you’re still young and you can learn quite fast.

Personality: this is interesting one. I think it’s easier for some people depending on perhaps as much how they use language. If you talk a lot, you enjoy communicating, chances are, you learn a new language better and you probably remember vocabulary better.

Motivation is the huge one. If you’re motivated, you’ll learn more quickly. Whether your motivation is internal, whether it’s something because you really want to learn a new language or external motivation like you got an exam to past. Both of these things can have an effect. So clearly, motivation is super important.

Of course, there are many different factors that affect vocabulary development.

My question is “How do you teach new vocabulary words?” Are you going to use dictionary? Let’s take the word “conversation” as an example. You might find the definition of this word like this “talk between two or more people in which thoughts,feelings, and ideas are expressed, questions are asked and answered, or news and information is exchanged” in the Cambridge dictionaries online. If you’re going to use the definition to explain the meaning of the word, that totally sucks, and it’t useless because they’ll never know how to use it correctly.


So,I think you should only use dictionary as a tool to really get the meaning of the word and then

  • You have to put the new vocabulary in a clear context.
  • You need to explain/ clarify what it means
  • Finally, check that they understand( the most important thing)

Let’s talk more about the last thing “checking for understanding in class”. Do you often use these ways to check meaning?

  • What does ‘conversation’ mean?
  • Do you all understand ‘beautiful’?
  • You all seem to understand  ‘handmade’

but none of them are not really good,and can you tell me why you think these question might not be helpful?

If I ask the question what does conversation mean?, the difficulty is your students don’t know how to explain the meaning of the word in English, but even they may know the meaning in their mother tongue. If you ask this question do you all understand ‘beautifu’?, they might say No, but they’re likely to say Yes for a couple of reasons. One might be because they genuinely do understand, one might be because they don’t understand but are too embarrassed to say so. Of couse, You all seem to understand ‘handmade’ is not a question, it’s just an assumption. And your students might nod their head as a Yes, it makes no sense at all.

How can we check that they understand?

By asking closed questions that are easy to answer and prove that they understand. But first of all, you have to

  • indentify the meaning of the word (you look in a dictionary)
  • then you turn that meaning into closed question with short/easy answer.

For example: She looks beautiful ( your intonation is one of the key things to helping your students understand the meaning of the word easy)

  • She looks attractive
  • She doesn’t look ugly
  • She’s a beautiful woman.

All you have to do is to make these into questions…

She looks attractive: Does she look attractive? (intonation), they’ll say yes.

She doesn’t look ugly: Does she look ugly? no, she doesn’t look ugly.

She’s a beautiful woman: Is she a beautiful woman?

Let’s take look at one more example: he managed to get to sleep.

  • he tried to do something
  • it wasn’t easy
  • he succeeded

Make these into questions

He tried to do something: Did he try? (yes)

It wasn’t easy: Was it easy? (no)

He succeeded: Did he succeed? (yes)

Try to ask as many questions as you can and by answering these short/easy questions, they’re proving to you that they’ve understood what it means.

But there’s a bit problem. How long can they remember the words? So, in order to help your students remember the words “RECYCLING IS ABSOLUTELY VITAL”. And how do you do it. Here’re my ideas.


A VOCABULARY BOX: You prepare small pieces of paper in the box (blank pieces of paper). At the end of the lesson, you write down the vocabulary words that your students have learned in the lesson on pieces of paper.  Now, you have really useful resource for recycling the vocabulary.

  • You stick words on walls. With partner, they’ll have to go around the wall. One is going to ask ‘what does it mean?’, one is going to explain by giving definition or making examples or using the technique above.
  • Group words. You might want to encourage them to put the words into nouns, verbs, adjectives and so on (You may want to get your students to put the words into different groups like: these are words I like, these are words I don’t like, these are words that I remember, these are words that I don’t remember, these are words I think I use, these are words I think I don’t use). That it’s going to help them know the words in grammar.
  • Put a couple of words on the board( make it challenging for students by putting different words on the board) and then ask them to make a sentence that makes sense, but contains those words.
  • Pictionary: you’re going to pick the words and one student will have to draw, then the others  are going to guess what that word is. This activity is really fun if you split students into teams.

some more different ideas from VOCABULARY BOX

At the beginning of the class, you take out of the VOCABULARY BOX a couple of words (you’ve prepared before class) and learn with them. It seems to be a nice way of breaking ice. In the of class, students will have to put  a few words into the VOCABULARY BOX and those words will be explained in the next lesson (they can be the words they don’t know, they can be new words, they can be the words they don’t know how to use correctly, they can be the words they like and avoid giving easy words like happy, sad or angry) and next lesson comes, you open the Vocab box, pick a few words and help your students understand the meaning.

At home, your students might want to have their own box, and every day, they have to put a couple of words into the box that they learn during the day, and if they want they can share with their friends in class.

That’s it. Hope this has helped. If you like it, give it a like and make sure to share with your friends. Have a fabulous day.




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