Teaching English Vocabulary

When Teaching Vocabulary, many teachers still resort to long word lists which the students are expected to translate into their mother tongue, learn and remember.

This approach to teaching vocabulary‏‎ is rather dull and mechanical. It has limited impact and there is very little student involvement.

On the other hand there are better methods.

An Example

Here’s a short text for a intermediate level class. You might well go through the text with your class and perhaps discover with them that the highlighted words are causing problems.

Anyone who is familiar with American media receives the impression that Americans are not too far removed from the days of the Wild West when guys with guns took care of business, both private and public. While American media, like media everywhere, exaggerate and distort, there is a core of truth in these reports. Compared to many countries and cultures, America, especially urban America, does appear to be constantly plagued by violence of all sorts (and as an antidote, a bumper sticker you may see on cars: “Practice Acts of Random Kindness and Senseless Beauty”). To avoid being a victim, use your common sense as you would when traveling anywhere else. Don’t be poring over maps and guidebooks at street corners; avoid wandering, especially alone, in dimly-lit streets or dark alleys; even if that’s where the “real” bars and clubs are; don’t leave valuables in your hotel room; don’t go off jogging or walking very early in the morning until you have familiarized yourself with the neighborhood. Finally mugging is a very familiar word among Americans. It means someone pointed a gun, a knife, or some other lethal object and demanded your money and valuables. It can happen anywhere, anytime. Do not think that because you are in a “nice” neighborhood or an exclusive shopping area it will not happen. People can follow you to your expensive hotel room, confront you in a city park or even when you are in your car (known as carjacking). Do not argue or resist. Do what you are told and hope that you will be able to report it to the police later.

To help your students learn these new words you can try different strategies, amongst which you can:

  • get the class to group the words into categories of their own making
  • use word association
  • choose which words they think they’ll need to use in the future…
  • …and ignore the ones they’re unlikely to find or use much in the future
  • find rhymes for new words
  • find words that they like the sound of
  • find words that they dislike the sound of
  • vote on the most difficult words to spell
  • find synonyms‏‎ and antonyms‏‎

Here’s the word list: Exaggerate – Core – Plagued – Dimly-lit – Urban – Removed – Antidote – Distort – Wander – Alley – Mugging – Valuables – Lethal – Confront


  • City Streets: dimly-lit, urban, alley
  • Actions: mugging, confront


Some of the words can be associated with films the students might know:

  • Lethal Weapon
  • Urban Cowboy
  • The Wanderers

Rhyming Words

Students can rhyme the new word with another they already know.

  • core = sore
  • alley = sally
  • mugging = hugging

Difficult Spelling

The class votes on the most difficult words to spell. The likely winner here is exaggerate or perhaps plagued.

Using the words plenty of times can help students remember them and in a fun way examining them like this reinforces the word, its meaning, and definitely its spelling!


Can the class come up with any? Perhaps by using a dictionary or thesaurus.

  • Remove = take off; take out; eliminate
  • Remove <> add

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Posted in How To Teach English, Vocabulary & Spelling.

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