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TESOL: Planning to Teach Vocabulary

Although it does not get as much attention as grammar, vocabulary is as fundamentally important in developing English language proficiency. The benefits of a wide-ranging vocabulary are many, as learners can’t express themselves effectively with grammar alone. Nevertheless, teaching vocabulary can be challenging, and creating an effective vocabulary lesson plan is key to successfully equipping learners with new words. This OnTESOL graduate blog shows 5 easy steps to plan your vocabulary lessons.

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TESOL Lessons Teaching vocabulary1. Choose appropriate words to teach

Selecting suitable vocabulary to teach is not always as easy as it seems. The easiest way to do this is to choose a list of words that are part of the learning material or have been chosen as being important in the course syllabus. Doing so will guarantee that both you and your learners will understand the purpose behind learning the new words. A good number of new words for any given vocabulary lesson is between seven and ten

Read: How to Introduce New Vocabulary

2. Decide what learners need to know about the words

There are many aspects to knowing a word. Here is a list of questions you can ask yourself when deciding what your learners need to know about any particular word:

  • What does the word mean?
  • What type of word is it (a verb / a noun / an adjective etc.) and what are the other parts of speech?
  • How is it spelled/pronounced?
  • Does it follow any (un)predictable grammatical patterns (irregular verb / uncountable noun)?
  • Does the word have particular connotations (positive/negative)?
  • When is the word used or not used (formality/rudeness)?
  • How is the word related to other words (synonyms/antonyms)?
  • What are its collocations (the way that it occurs together with other words)?
  • What do its prefixes and suffixes tell us about the meaning?

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3. Model the proper use of vocabulary

You’ll often find that learners will translate a word into their native language and think that they are well on the way to knowing it. They tend not to take into account the questions noted above. For this reason, it’s essential that you provide contexts that exemplify how the word is used. Most often this would be in the form of a sentence, although you can use a variety of other methods to illustrate correct use. Models of use can also include a visual illustration, a mime of an action, or a sliding scale of words with varying degrees of strength, for instance.  

4. Get them using the words

Start learners off using the words in a similar context to the one in which you presented, such as writing sentences that use similar situations to the ones you used in your examples. Substitution drills are a good way of slowly getting them to use the new words in slightly different contexts and building up knowledge of how the word is used.

5. Test their knowledge

Word games are a fun way of testing how well learners know a word. Hangman is a good way of checking they can spell a word correctly, while then Blockbuster’s grid format game is good for checking definitions (What ‘H’ word means the opposite of ‘sad’?).

It’s also a good idea to revisit vocabulary from previous lessons on a regular basis. A useful strategy is to have a vocabulary bag in which you keep all the words the class has learned in a bag on slips of paper. Testing learners will help them retain their knowledge of how to use them.

Video tutorial: Lesson planning strategies for teaching new vocabulary

Initially, it might seem strange to devote a whole lesson to learning vocabulary, but the rewards for doing so are great in terms of language development. In the video below, OnTESOL graduate covers lesson planning strategies for introducing new vocabulary, integrating new vocabulary, and putting new vocabulary to use.

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