Vocabulary Activities for English Language Learners

Learning Oct 14, 2021

Vocabulary building exercises can take a variety of shapes. These can be as simple as keeping a small book with you and writing down each new word you come across or making time to watch movies in the language you are trying to learn. Vocabulary building is something that new language learners need to prioritize. Concentration on this activity will improve all aspects of their language learning journey (Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening). Here are a few vocabulary building activities for English Language learners to do alone and in groups:

1. Build your own vocabulary book

This is very simple. When you come across a new word, write it down, either in a physical book or keep a list on your phone. Then when you have a moment write it and its definition down in an alphabetized book or list on your phone. This is a great reference to have when writing or reading. The repetition of transferring the new word from one place to another and adding to it reinforces the word in your memory. Once the new word is in your vocabulary book, you can add to it, additional things like synonyms, antonyms and various forms of the word in different tenses.

2. Flash Cards or Sticky notes

This activity is great for when you have a couple of minutes between activities, like waiting for an appointment or on public transport. Make yourself a couple of flash cards or sticky notes with really difficult words or grammar rules that you know you struggle with and keep them in your wallet. If it is pronunciation you struggle with you can write down the phonetic transcription from Google Voice and practice that or if it is using the word in sentences. Write down a couple of sentences that use the word and memorize those or opening lines of famous novels. Switch out your flashcards for new ones weekly or monthly.

3. Board Games

Scrabble, Pictionary and words with friends are great games to play with a group of people learning English. This is an activity you can do with friends or family and your ESL class. Scrabble can be played normally or you can make sentences or words with the blocks and give them to friends to unscramble, this would be lots of fun with tongue twisters. For ESL students it would be best to play with a dictionary. Pictionary is a great way to practice and share new words you have learnt with friends. Drawing pictures under time constraints and having friends guess the words is a whole bundle of fun.

4. Concept Maps

These are great exercises to build vocabulary links. You choose a word; nouns work well and then write down all the words you associate with the word. For example, the word, ‘Halloween’, then the associated words like scared, clowns, ghosts, vampires, spider-webs etc. Then going from there you keep adding words to the linking words until you have filled the page or you cannot continue. If you cannot continue then you may use a dictionary or a thesaurus to add new words. However, this is when you start a new page with more links. If you keep doing concept maps regularly then you will soon find yourself being more expressive in conversations.

5. Crosswords

Crosswords are an excellent way to improve your written English and increase your vocabulary. They test your word association and spelling. Crosswords are great as they can be used in their physical form, you can buy a book or do ones in a newspaper or magazine. Or you can download the wide variety of free Android or IOS apps that have crosswords specifically for ESL Students or ones that vary in difficulty.

Vocabulary building is an important aspect of learning English. It also allows students to navigate those tricky moments when they feel trapped by their lack of ways to express themselves. A large vocabulary helps students communicate more and with greater precision. It also unlocks more advantages for learning the language like reading or watching movies. But will also help them in more serious situations like job interviews. Happy vocabulary building!

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