Top 10 Vocabulary Activities - Part Two

This is the second of two articles on effective vocabulary activities. Part oneActivities for Teaching Vocabulary is here.

These ideas were stimulated by a talk I attended by Paul Nation, a vocabulary researcher from the University of Wellington. The selection of the best activities for teaching vocabulary is Paul's. The comments and interpretations are mine.

More Effective Vocabulary Teaching Acivities

"A Speed Reading Course"

I was surprised to hear that one of Paul's recommended vocabulary activities, was to take a speed reading course. Perhaps it's best to visit his website and let him explain to you himself.

He has created a free downloadable pdf speed reading course. Well worth a look.


This was also a new activity for me, but one I've quickly added to my collection of vocabulary teaching activities. The method is very simple - and effective. Basically the students talk for 4 minutes, 3 minutes and 2 minutes about the same topic.

First the students need something to talk about. A short text would work. I often have students give short oral presentations to the class (a story about their daily life, or something they've read, or any story). Therefore for my class, this is a logical choice. However, if the text is the same for all of the class, then this would provide more vocabulary practice.

Divide the class in 2 halves. One half are speakers, the other half are listeners. Have the students stand and pair of (speaker-listener). Then the speakers speak for 4 minutes on their topic, using notes as little as possible. After 4 minutes they stop and change partners. Then repeat for 3 minutes; then again for 2 minutes.

Each time the students repeat the (more or less) same talk; they will become more fluent, and gain more practice with the vocabulary. The listeners practice listening to the same or similar sets of vocabulary. If all the students are using the same, or one of two set pieces of text to talk about, the reinforcement of the vocabulary will be even stronger.

The times (4, 3, and 2 minutes) proved to be much too long for my students - Taiwanese university students. No problem! I just changed 4 minutes, 3 minutes and 2 minutes to 60 seconds, 45 seconds and 30 seconds.

If this is still too much of a challenge for your students reduce the times until they can cope. Ask them to repeat their mini-speeches if they finish too soon.

"Pair & Small Group Activities involving Generation"

These are the kind of vocabulary activities that many teachers already use. Paul mentioned: retelling, problem-solving, role play, ranking, and classifying.

Retelling stories is a powerful classroom activity which I've already covered in ESL short stories and in short stories for ESL.

Role play is a commonly used EFL activity, and will help practice vocabulary. Ranking and classifying are fluency activities which also practice vocabulary; and they can be fun.

I look at some of these activities in ESL discussions

"Linked Skill Activities"

These are ESL vocabulary activities I've done for years, without realizing they had a name. In linked skills activities, as Paul Nation described them, the students use the same material; for example a text on "How to ___." Then they approach it in three successive activities; each one using a different skill.

For example: in the first activity the students listen to the text being read aloud by the teacher. In the second activity they might write what they remember from the talk. In the third activity they may do a 4/3/2 activity.

The actual activities and skills being practiced can, or course, be altered to suit the needs of the learners. An important point to remember is the repetition. The use of the same text, in this case.

Linked skills activities give the students a lot of practice, and they do not require a lot or preparation from the teacher. Two very important points!

"Working through Well-Designed Vocabulary Exercises"

Something I use less than I should, probably. Examples suggested by Paul were: true/false exercises, rewording sentences and fill in the blanks.

True/false sentences to practice 'chicken,' could include: "Chickens like to fly in winter." Circle T/F. There are many kinds of vocabulary exercises which could work as activities to teach vocabulary, but remember that by themselves, they are not enough.

A well rounded program for teaching vocabulary will include a good balance of ALL or at least MANY of these vocabulary activities.

Below is a list of related articles - including many ideas for vocabulary activities - on Tesol Zone:

Be creative & have fun when you teach vocabulary; and remember that at intermediate level and above, teaching vocabulary in one of the more important ESL activities.

from vocabulary activities to ESL activities

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