TESOL: How to teach vocabulary?

Teaching new vocabulary takes up a large proportion of an ESL teacher's time, particularly when teaching beginners and other lower-level students. Many lessons will be devoted to learning new words, so it is vital that the teacher is aware of the best methods for achieving good results. By using these tried and tested techniques the teacher can ensure that their students will have the best chance of retaining the new language and the confidence to use it both in and out of the classroom.

Teach new words in context

Probably the most effective thing you can do to help your students retain new language is to teach it in context. If you write up a list of new words on the board and expect the class to pick them up immediately then you are most likely going to be disappointed. When introducing new vocabulary it is best to do it in groups of related words, rather than random words that have no connection. Lessons in vocab can be based around a theme such as the weather, jobs, sport, or any other that fits the target language. Using stories containing the target language can also be a popular way to learn and practice vocabulary, for reading, writing, and speaking. By utilizing simple but effective methods you can gradually build your students' understanding in specific areas of the language.

Frequent repetition is a must

Although different teachers often have different approaches to practicing new vocabulary, one thing is typically regarded as essential and that is repetition of the new words. As soon as the new words are introduced the students should be practicing saying them out loud, both individually and as a group. The teacher can model the word or phrase in front of the class and then have them repeat it back as a whole class, followed by individual repetition from students picked at random by the teacher. It is important to then follow up on this practice at the end of the class as part of the lesson review, as well as in subsequent classes over the following days and weeks.

Use pictures and other visuals

As a student learning a new language is bombarded with new information constantly, it is essential that we do all we can to make it possible to retain as much of it as possible. Simply speaking new words and writing them on the board is fine in the short-term, but much of the information will be lost over time as more and more words are added into their studies. One effective way to ensure more information is retained is to use pictures and other real-life objects when they are first introduced in the classroom. If the word ‘tractor’ is first introduced alongside a fun or interesting picture of the vehicle, it is much more likely to be remembered by the student for longer than simply writing the word on the board. To further increase understanding and retention, it is important to go over the new words regularly, using the pictures, over the following days and weeks.

Use games to practice new vocabulary

No matter what you are trying to teach in your ESL class, making it fun is one of the best ways to ensure your students retain the information covered. This is certainly true when introducing new vocabulary as this can be quickly forgotten if you do not entrench it quickly. By using games to practice what has been learned the students are likely to be more engaged and better prepared to use the words out loud in front of their classmates. If you can get the class using the target language in a lively activity, there is a far greater chance they will remember it the following week than if they simply read it in a book.

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