July 3-1_Vocabulary Building Strategies_Sonja


Vocabulary Building


ELCE Summer Institute: July, 2013

Facilitator: Sonja Follett

Practice makes perfect…

We need to see learning any particular word as being a cumulative process where knowledge is built up over a series of varied meetings with the word.

At best, teaching can provide only one or two of these meetings.

The others involve deliberate study, meeting through meaning-focused input and output, and fluency development activities

(Paul Nation, “Teaching Vocabulary”, Asian EFL Journal)


With a partner, write down the definition of the word “light”

Please also include the part of speech

Now, share with the group…


Explain what you found difficult about the assignment.

What are the problems language learners have when they learn new vocabulary?

“Light” Definition

Still going…

Not done yet…

Just a little bit more…


The 3 aspects of vocabulary learning…








Spoken Form

Written Form

Word parts


Grammatical functions


Constraints on use



What is the meaning?

What is the form?

What is the use?


What activities help Ss to learn a word’s meaning?

In pairs, write down one or two activities that you think help Ss learn a word’s meaning.

Meaning activities

Word and meaning matching


Sentence completion

Crossword puzzles


What activities help Ss to learn a word’s form?

In pairs, write down one or two activities that you think help Ss learn a word’s form.

Form activities

Following spelling rules

Recognizing word parts

Building word family tables


What activities help Ss to learn a word’s use?

In pairs, write down one or two activities that you think help Ss learn a word’s use.

Use activities

Sentence completion

Collocation matching

Collocation tables

Interpreting dictionary entries

Content Bingo

Have Ss make their own definitions (advanced)

Give descriptions instead of words


Word form charts

Word Form Fill-in-the-blank

Complete each sentence with the correct form of the word.


Large rocks and meteorites crashed into the moon’s surface_________________________ large holes called craters.

create creation creator creating

2. One of the _______________________ of the space program was to land a man on the moon.

goal goalkeepers goals goal-oriented



Flashcards can be either picture and English definition or

L1 and L2 words

For example: Ekimi Doctor

Have Ss make their own set of flashcards for new vocabulary.

Then, have pairs quiz each other using the flashcards.

Student generated


Give Ss a list of vocabulary words

Ask pairs to create their own fill-in-the blank sentences for 2 words.

Have pairs exchange papers with another pair and try to complete their sentences.

Have the small group discuss answers.


Words: sun, wind

The ________ was shining brightly yesterday.

The terrible _________ blew down a tree today.

Using 10 words in a story

Give Ss a list of vocabulary words.

Tell them they must use at least 10 of the words in a short story or paragraph.

(Note: this can be done in pairs or small groups)

Collect the story (it is a vocabulary assessment).

(pollution, environment, trash, smoke, plastic bags, cans, recycle, community, laws, throw away)


1. Sort the word cards by category. (e.g., words related to people, words related to things).

2. Find words that have certain connotations such as positive and negative, good and bad, desirable and undesirable.

3. Sort words by part of speech

(e.g., nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives).

Spelling Bee

Small class or small groups

Have Ss stand in a line in front of the board.

Say the first vocabulary word and ask the first student to spell the word.

If the student is correct, she/he stays at the board.

If the student is incorrect, she/he must sit down.

Note: Emphasize that learning is a process and mistakes are a normal and necessary part of that process.

Consider if this activity is appropriate for your students.

Fly Swatter

Choose a vocabulary word from your lesson.

Have two Ss come to the front of the class.

Give each Ss a rolled up piece of paper.

Write the word on the board – (one word is spelled correctly, the other word is not)

For example:

Truck Truk

The first student to “hit” the correct word wins a point for their team.

Word Tiles

Have Ss make a set of alphabet cards

Ask Ss to make 2 or 3 cards for each letter.

Ask Ss to work in pairs and spell as many words as possible related to their lesson content.

When Ss complete one word, they must write it on a piece of paper.

At the end of 10 minutes, collect the papers and see which group has won!

Vocabulary charts

See handout provided…

When you teach new content words, give Ss a list of the words as homework.

Ask Ss to fill out at least 4 of the chart boxes for each word.

Have pairs work together in the next lesson to share what information they wrote down.

Collect the charts at the end of the unit and test Ss on their acquired word knowledge.


Nation, Paul. “Teaching Vocabulary” Asian EFL


Nation, P. (2008). Teaching Vocabulary. Online Course offered by Thomson ELT.

Nation, P. (2007). The Four Strands. Innovation in

Language Learning and Teaching, 1(1), 2-13.