6 Not So Common Tips for Building Better Vocabularies in Your ESL Students

6 Not So Common Tips for Building Better Vocabularies in Your ESL Students

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 13,596 views

If you are looking for a fun way to slip new words into your students’ vocabularies but are tired of the same old same old, why not try one or all of these not so typical strategies for upping their lexicons?

Try These  Non-conventional Techniques for Increasing  Vocabulary

  1. 1

    Vocabulary Jumble

    Have you found the great value a stacking block game, such as Jenga, has in the ESL classroom? You can do so many things with the simple set of blocks, and your students won’t even realize they are learning. To increase their vocabularies, try writing a vocabulary word on each block. You can either write directly on the block (this will not affect how the blocks function in the game) or use a small piece of tape to stick new words to the block (this may affect how well the blocks slide when students play the game) and change them frequently. When students play, you can require that they give the definition of the word they pull or use it in a sentence. If you like, have a list of the words and their definitions handy for those playing the game. Even if they look up the words on the list when it’s time to define a word, the will still be learning. Most blocks get pulled more than once during the course of a game, and the more they look up or hear a definition, the more they will find themselves internalizing the unfamiliar words.

  2. 2

    Vocabulary Pong

    Ping-pong balls don’t have to be limited to the gym at school. Use them in this crazy and active game to help students learn new words. Write a vocabulary word on the inside of several plastic cups. If you want, put more challenging words on smaller cups and easier words on bigger cups or vice versa. Then set up several cups at one end of a long table in a pyramid, all sitting directly on the table with their open end facing up. You might want to put a little water in the bottom of each cup to weight it down. Students stand at the other end of the table with a ping-pong ball. To play, they must bounce the ball on the table so it lands in a cup, scoring one point. Then, if the student is able to define the word in the cup or use it correctly in a sentence, they score three more points. Play until someone reaches eleven points.

  3. 3

    Comic Books and Manga

    Comic books are a great resource for ESL students. They aren’t overly burdened with words, and the pictures help language students understand more of what they are reading. Keeping a selection of comic books in your classroom for free reading periods is a great way to expose your students to new vocabulary. As students read, have them guess the meaning of unfamiliar words based on the context in the sentence as well as the pictures on the page. You can use comics in a class setting, too. Copy one or more pages from a comic for your class to read. Then put students in groups of three and give them a new copy of the page(s) this time with the words whited out. Without looking back at the original, students should fill in the dialogue and narrator spaces retelling the story.

  4. 4

    Change up Your Font

    You might not believe it, but using different fonts to introduce your students to new vocabulary can actually make a difference in how well they learn the new words. The next time you use one of your regular vocabulary learning activities in class, try putting the new words in a different font. Then, when you want to elicit those new words from your students, write the worksheet questions in that same new font. Teaching vocabulary this way will engage a different part of a student’s brain – the one associated with art and images. The more engaged your students are with new vocabulary words, the more likely they are to remember them.

  5. 5

    Vocabulary Stumpers

    Give your students a chance to stump their classmates with tough vocabulary words in this fun activity. At the beginning of the day, ask if one of your students has a vocabulary stumper to share with the class. The vocabulary stumper can be any word that the student thinks his or her classmates will not know. Have the student come to the front of the room, say the word for the class, and write it on the board. If no one can correctly define or explain the word, that student earns five points. Then, the first student who comes to you with the correct definition at a free period during the day earns five points. You can have as many students share vocabulary stumpers as you like each day. If you put your class into two teams, have them try to stump each other, and then award the winning team at the end of the month with a special treat or pizza party.

  6. 6

    Dr. Seuss Search

    Dr. Seuss is an entertaining author for young students. His habit of making up words to suit his rhymes can be confusing or frustrating for ESL students, but you can turn it into a learning experience for your students. Either in small groups or at an independent learning center, make several Dr. Seuss books available – ones that have several made up words. Then challenge your students to work together to determine which words he invented and are not “real” words in English. Have students write their words in a list. If their list contains any words that were not made up by Seuss, send them back to the drawing board, and their dictionaries, to figure out which words do not belong on their list.

Vocabulary is a never-ending element of language instruction. But just because it’s something that every ESL class includes doesn’t mean you have to use the same old activities to teach every time. These vocabulary activities are unusual and fun for students, and they are just the beginning. Use your imagination to think up other ways to teach vocabulary. You might even want to challenge your students to think up fun games and activities that help them and their peers learn new words in English. When you do, those words will stick, and your students will be better English speakers for it.

What unusual ideas do you have for teaching vocabulary to your ESL students?

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