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Vocabulary Words: Vocabulary acquisition activities (ESL)

Vocabulary Words:-

Vocabulary words have been chosen very carefully everyday. In this Article we will discuss regarding vocabulary acquisition activities.

What is learning a word?


To understand a word is to be able to :


  • identify it orally, in listening situations.
  • read it, silently and aloud.
  • Reuse it in context, orally and in writing.
  • define it.
  • spell it.
  • analyse it grammatically: nature and function in a given sentence.


* Do not focus exclusively on nouns, but explore verbs and adjectives as well.

* A word is never isolated in the language, so putting it in context becomes essential.

* In addition to working on the most frequent and richest words, make the rare words known.


Winning approach


Do vocabulary acquisition activities :


  • in a concerted (in all subjects) and repeated manner:
  • during informal moments (at the entrance or exit of the classes/on the occasion of meeting new words/appropriation games…)
  • during a specific moment of vocabulary activity (group class, workshops, personalized help…)
  • by introducing new words every week (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions).
  • in context :
  • in relation to reading activities.
  • through regular classification activities.
  • by memorizing words.
  • by interpreting unknown terms from their context.
  • with the re-use of acquired vocabulary.



  • Set up activities that activate the student’s already familiar vocabulary (in Englich or in his or her mother tongue).
  • Gradually discover notions (antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, various definitions for the same word).
  • To create situations aimed at organizing words (classification, categorization).
  • Work on lexical and semantic fields.
  • Keep word classifications in a notebook and develop their form and criteria (e.g., in alphabetical order, accompanied by drawings, definitions, examples or a history, etc.). Allow students to include equivalents of words in their mother tongue (if any).
  • Schedule oral or written activities to re-invest the vocabulary learned.


Types of activities


Categorization activities


  • Sort objects/images/words into categories, from the simplest to the most complex (generic terms, families, themes).
  • Work on the lexicon of generic terms (e.g. «It’s a book about animals, monsters…»).
  • Using words discovered in class, create «families» (words from the family of music, food, but also words that make people laugh, fear, cry…).
  • Have students classify books by theme (according to title, illustrations).
  • Propose themes and ask students to find words related to them (e.g., inventory of the class animal books, inventory of objects in the kitchen (to be done at home), inventory of what’s in my desk, in my closet or in an imaginary attic).
  • Propose lists of inventories orally (with/without pictures) or in writing, including an «intruder» to be discovered. Small groups of pupils create lists (images/dictated to the adult/written) which they then propose to their classmates.
  • Create different lexical, semantic and syntactic fields (especially for nouns, adjectives and action verbs).
  • Have them create posters (paper format) or web diagrams (ICT) of the fields created. Display them or make them accessible electronically.
  • Create a series of pictures/images/words according to the theme of the class:
  • broad categories (names of people/animals…)
  • narrower classes (name of fruit)
  • Boxes/Books/Books of word treasures to be developed throughout the year or cycle (pictures/drawings/written words). Use an electronic format to make the information easily accessible and storable.
  • Make a picture book to learn how to categorize.


Idea association games


  • Brainstorm by proposing as many words as possible on a given subject (e.g. words related to housing, words that make you laugh or frighten you…).
  • Choose a word (sun, moon, rain, holidays…) and write down on the blackboard all the words and expressions that come to the pupils’ minds when they think of it. Sort these words into categories: those that evoke shape, colour, texture, taste or other associations… Then have the pupils write a text by choosing the words and arranging them like rays of sunshine around the starting word.
  • Find words in a text that revolve around a subject or keyword. This lexical work can be the first step towards understanding a text. In mathematics, create the lexicon surrounding problem solving or a specific lexicon of mathematics.


Playful exercises


  • Meaning marabout game (Give a starting word. Each student must quickly find a word that relates to the given word. Ex.: Addition…total… budget… money… purchase… expenses… energy, etc.).
  • Reading wall game. The reading of a text is done in a group. A paragraph is assigned to a dyad. Each team must choose one or two key words from the paragraph read and write them on the board. In turn, the teacher invites the students to explain the choice of their key word. Students write each of the key words identified in a notebook (accompanied by a jointly chosen definition or illustration).
  • Common word game (student readers): Starting with a given word, two teams must produce a maximum number of words in a few minutes. The search can be done with or without a dictionary or electronic research tool, depending on the time allotted. The objective is to obtain the most common words with the other team. (Ex.: Africa: jungle, gorilla, elephant, huts, safari, drum, mines…)
  • Game of opposites. Giving the opposite of a word. Alone or in groups of two, the pupils answer the string orally, e.g.: «I’m a teacher». Ex.: Verbs (in – out…), adjectives (long-short…), adverbs and prepositions (fast – slow, up – down…), by adding suffixes («in-im»: complete – incomplete / possible – impossible / capacity – incapacity); «dice»: butcher – unbutcher / paste – unstick / make-up – remove… (Note that this is not a general rule: ex. (Note that this is not a general rule: e.g., pressure-printing, infusion-melting).


Word Definition Activities


  • Discover a word through a question-answer game or a guessing game.
  • Create crossword puzzles or arrow words.
  • Write the definitions of words orally or in writing.
  • Make a mystery word (for rare words).
  • Propose a text with one or more rare words and try to imagine the definition of this/these word(s). (The text should provide clues without giving a solution). Allow the pupils to discuss (exchange moment), to use a dictionary or any other tool and to validate the adopted definition.


Discovery of a new word, an unknown word or a rare word while reading.


  • Pause reading to explain/define the word in context.
  • Then define the word out of context by trying to get students to find sentences that include the word.
  • Record this word and its definition in the New Words/Rare Words notebook (a personal notebook or booklet that the student keeps throughout the cycle to indicate progress).



E.g. explicit vocabulary learning when reading a text from the sentence: «Augustine was dozing in the living room. »


  • Contextualize : The word is explained in context within the story: Augustine slept a little bit/almost/half/not deeply…
  • Have students repeat the word aloud to create a phonological representation of the word.
  • Recontextualize: simply explain the word in another context:
  • When you drive a car for a long time, you may feel drowsy.
  • When you stay up late, you may feel sleepy the next day at school.
  • Making connections: Ask students to produce their own examples. When might you feel like falling asleep? When might you feel like falling asleep? Begin the sentence with I might feel drowsy… (if I’m tired…when I’m in bed.) In high school, ask to extrapolate. What would «drowsy» mean?
  • Make the word sound louder (by having the word repeated out loud again).
  • Conclude with a review of the explanation of the word. What word did we talk about?
  • Reinvest : In other activities or at other times, revisit the word. Regularly ask students for new words learned (new words or rare words notebook).


Guessing game: Find the word


  • On scraps of paper, write down a common word that may have several meanings. For example: chain, card, leaf, moss, mouse, square, beach, blade, ice…
  • Students are placed in small groups (2 to 4) and draw a word in a box.
  • Each team must invent a riddle that incorporates at least two different meanings to the word chosen.


Ex. 1:  Make music and hang the sheets of paper. Answer: The paper clip.

Ex. 2: Is made up of several dots and is the opposite of left. Answer: Right.


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