How Can We Activate Vocabulary and Get Our Students to Use It? – #ELTChat Summary 17/02/2011

A PLN for ELT Professionals

How Can We Activate Vocabulary and Get Our Students to Use It? – #ELTChat Summary 17/02/2011

Words, words, words! (Image taken from

Today’s ELTChat session at noon was all about vocabulary and how to activate it with students, in order for them to assimilate it and make use of it. Several interesting ideas circulated the Twitterstream, as always!

So how do we activate vocabulary and get our students to use it?

The ideas move among Young Learners and Older or Adult Learners, but you will find that sometimes an idea can very well cross over a category!

  • The idea of using songs is a plus in assimilating vocabulary. For Young Learners they can be songs with repetition in them, such as Old MacDonald,The Colours Song and so on. TPR with songs such as finger chants is so effective with children, as is attaching new vocabulary with gestures. With older students you can use songs with fill-in-the-gaps, or sing a song with a particular word and stop at that word for them to recognise it.
  • Repetition and recycling of the vocabulary is necessary.  The vocabulary found in coursebooks once, needs to be interacted with – more than once.
  • Connecting the words or collocations to something meaningful, something that can help them retain, is the key. Establishing a meaningful and relevant context is paramount.
  • Try to connect the vocabulary students learn to their immediate needs, if possible.
  • When they do use a word or collocation spontaneously, give them praiseand write it on the board. The visual effect helps as well.
  • Passing a box with words can help – each student picks a word, describes it to the rest of the class and has them guess which word it is. This is a very effective activity, in particular when you are covering previously taught vocabulary. Guessing can be a very crucial first ingredient in vocabulary acquisition.
  • Games such as Boggle can help students form words and remember them. In addition teachers can use Taboo, Pictionary or miming.
  • Activities such as wordsearches, gap-fills, wordsnakes and crosswords are great ideas in class.
  • The use of post-it notes helps, putting the words on them and placing them all over the classroom. Incidental vocabulary can also be written on notes.
  • Visual representation of vocabulary is helpful, especially with low-level learners. Teachers can use picture vocabulary quizzes, rebus exercises and so on. For younger students, creating their own picture dictionary of new words assists in their learning.
  • Flashcards are essential to helping them learn vocabulary and use it. A very nice game with young learners is to place flashcards in a pile, for the teacher to blow a whistle, yell out the word and the children have to find the card that represents the word.
  • In the same context of visuals, students can bring to class pictures of things they would like to learn and that way attach the word to the image. All these visual representations can prove effective with dyslexic students as well.
  • Have a vocabulary bank for your students.  From this bank, you can assign them a determined number of words which they have to use in any activity.
  • The use of spider diagrams helps students in learning lexical sets and then translation can follow.
  • Extending vocabulary is also useful. Collocations, antonyms, concordances give them more time to study the word.
  • Some students may find keeping a vocabulary journal effective. They write there all the new words as they learn and repeat them frequently.
  • The use of a dictionary, picture or word kind, can help at specific moments.

Do learners choose the words to learn, or do teachers choose them for them?

  • Perhaps a combination of both is useful. Students, especially if they are oldercan see where they need more help and teachers can orientate them to the vocabulary the students need.

Online Resources:

There is a multitude of ideas on helping activate vocabulary in class – have a great time with words!

About the Author

Vicky Loras

This summary was contributed by Vicky Loras – @vickyloras on Twitter – and first appeared on her blog. Vicky is an ELT teacher born in Canada, of Greek parents now living and working in Switzerland where she runs an ELT centre. You can read more about her here and follow her on Twitter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.