6 Best Ways to Introduce New Vocabulary

6 Best Ways to Introduce New Vocabulary

Claudia Pesce
by Claudia Pesce 466,391 views

New vocabulary is one of the basic building blocks in your students' learning
. But have you ever put much thought into how you introduce new words? Learning long laundry lists of words can be very tedious for students. On the other hand, just introducing words in a student's native language and then translating them into English or vice versa is not very effective, either. You have to start training them to think in English right from the start. Needless to say, the language you are teaching should be spoken at all times, even if students are absolute beginners. Basically, they won't need to produce every new word they learn, some they will just need to recognize. 

So, how do you introduce new vocabulary without resorting to translation or long lists of words? Here are some answers for you!

How to Introduce New Words

  1. 1


    Pointing is probably the technique of choice when teaching real beginners. The teacher shows students illustrations or flashcards and points to the items they wish to teach. You can also use posters, PowerPoint presentations, or different types of computer software where illustrations are presented in electronic format. Google Images is a real life-saver! Pointing works best with nouns such as food, clothes, animals, professions, sports, classroom objects, office supplies, etc. Also colors, actions, and any adjective that can be clearly illustrated (like facial expressions, for example to teach feelings). The main advantage of pointing is that words may be introduced in blocks, and you can easily and effectively introduce several in one lesson. Ask students to repeat the word after you've pointed it. Pointing works well with kids.

  2. 2


    This technique can be used with students of all levels and works best with concepts and ideas that can't be easily seen or touched, like abstracts, or anything that is not a real object. There are different ways to use substitution:

    • Synonyms – You substitute one word students that  students are familiar with for another new one.
      When you call someone, do you sometimes have to wait? You have to hold.
      Do trains usually run on time? They are on schedule.
    • Antonyms – You substitute one word they are familiar with for its opposite.
      Is a Ferrari a cheap car? (No) It’s an expensive car.

    Substitution works very well with phrasal verbs, which usually have a one-word equivalent: Do you put off going to the dentist? You postpone seeing your dentist.

    However, you should be careful when using words that are not exact synonyms or antonyms. For example, 'hard' meaning both 'solid' and 'difficult'. Remember to imply that the connotation may be different in some cases. For example, 'blue' denotes the color, whereas the connotative meaning is 'sad'.

  3. 3


    This technique is similar to substitution, but in this case, you set a scene or situation and then substitute it with a new word or phrase, thus effectively naming the scene.

    • Do you usually eat pancakes, eggs, and bacon for breakfast? (No) So, you have a light breakfast.
    • The hotel accepted too many reservations. The hotel is overbooked.
    • The steak I ordered last night was not cooked enough. It was undercooked/rare/bloody.


  4. 4

    Miming and Total Physical Response

    This technique works great with kinesthetic* learners, namely those who learn best by moving their bodies. Most teachers believe that mining works best with children, particularly when it comes to exaggerating emotions and facial expressions, but adults may also enjoy miming.

    Most teachers are also aware of the advantages of Total Physical Response in the ESL classroom. TPR works well with parts of the body (I’m touching my nose! Touch your nose!), actions (I’m walking to the door), and the imperative mood or commands (Sit down! Stand up!)

    The main advantage in miming and TPR is that you can get students physically engaged in the lesson. It gets them out of their seats and shakes things up. So make sure you maximize opportunities to get them moving!

  5. 5


    The use of realia, or real-life objects in the ESL classroom can make a huge difference in student learning. It engages them and motivates them to learn. It’s fun and sets a more natural learning environment. Here are some examples of realia you can use to introduce new vocabulary includes:

    • Maps
    • Tea sets, dishes, and utensils
    • Clothes
    • Toy planes, trains, cars, animals, furniture, etc…
    • Family photos
    • Holiday items (pumpkin, Easter eggs, Halloween or Christmas decorations)
    • Plastic fruits and vegetables
  6. 6


    You can introduce new words by utilizing magnetic letters. Working with them helps students build their word skills and practice their spelling. Magnetic alphabet sets are inexpensive, and readily available and are a source of endless Word games, particularly for your learners.

* What is Kinesthetic Learning?

This is a specific style of learning where a combination of visual and/or auditory study techniques are used to produce multi-sensory learning. It’s a hands-on approach where students learn through active participation rather than by passive observation. Students learn through the process of doing. It’s effective for students who become easily bored or distracted in class and thrive on physical activity and doing things with their hands. They are visual learners and benefit from visual presentations and graphic organizers.

There are lots of ways in which you can effectively introduce new vocabulary and not have to resort to translation.

Make sure you introduce new words in context and give students plenty of chances to practice. Whatever resources you may need, rest assured that BusyTeacher.org will provide more than enough.


Which techniques do you use to introduce new vocabulary? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

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