The Power of Words | Tips for Teaching English Vocabulary


 Why teach Vocabulary?

There are many aspects to learning a foreign or secondary language, but perhaps one of the most important is that of learning vocabulary – a language area which, in my opinion, is not always given the attention it deserves.

For this blog piece, I will be introducing you to online resources and tools that are aimed at English Language learners however most if not all of the tips and techniques discussed can be used to learn any language be it Spanish, Mandarin, French or any other foreign language. For more Language Methodology Tips join us on one of our teacher training courses.

By the time a English language native speaker is 5 years old, they have amassed a word bank of about 5,000 words and they will be building  that word bank daily. A non-English speaker might be fluent in 5,000 words in their native language but they now have the challenge of learning a new language, in this case English and they need to close that vocabulary gap.

Some might question why we would attempt to teach new English words when perhaps our students aren’t always fluent and accurate with the vocabulary they already know. Well, the answer is simple – Vocabulary is their Communication Tool Box.

Vocabulary is our Communication Tool Box.

The word bank in our head is a tool we have instant access to. This word bank helps us communicate better. If we wanted to fix something we would need the right tools for the task at hand in order to get the job done properly and in an efficient manner. Having a wide range of vocabulary works in the same way.


3 Good Reasons for Teaching Vocabulary

The 3 top benefits of having a good vocabulary base are:

  1. Learners can express themselves better.
    Knowing more words allows a learner to choose their words more precisely and so become more effective and accurate when communicating with others.
  2. It empowers learners academically.
    The more words a Language Learner has at their disposal, the more skilled they are at reading. Improving their reading comprehension will increase their motivation to read in the target language. The more they read, the more they will learn and the more they learn, the more they achieve. Therefore in the long run, improving their vocabulary will improve not only their speaking skills but also their reading, listening and writing skills.
  3. Makes life in general, more enjoyable.
    Whether it’s browsing the net , reading for pleasure, listening to music,watching TV or travelling they enjoy, nothing will ever seem daunting again.

So now that we have looked at the importance and the benefits of improving vocabulary, here are a number of strategies for Teaching Vocabulary. All of  these tips can be adapted to you students’ age and learner style.


10 Effective Tips for Teaching English Vocabulary

This area of language learning is considered to be difficult and tedious by many EFL and ESL teachers , but it doesn’t have to be. With a few simple techniques and strategies, our students’ vocabulary range could increase tenfold.


Here are my top ten tips  for teaching English vocabulary:

    1. 1.Set realistic goals.
      Learning vocabulary is a process and involves much more than simply memorising the definition of a word, so don’t overload your learners. In other words, keep your vocabulary lists to a minimum.


    1. 2.Choose wisely.
      Students will come across many new words. Some words are used more frequently than others;some words are academic while others are technical. Focus on the words which are most relevant to their needs.


    1. 3.Encourage them to read.
      Reading exposes students to new words and more importantly it exposes them to words in context. Even ten minutes of reading a day can make a world of difference. Introduce your language learners to sites such as , where they can find short 10 minute authentic reading material ranging from newspapers, magazines and English books.



      ETI Malta_reading_tablet


    1. 4.Create autonomy.
      Explain to your students that memorising long lists of words is not the most effective method to learn new words. Encourage them to think the words through and to try to understand them in context. Motivate them to take the time to look up any new words, in a dictionary to ensure they have grasped the right meaning. There are plenty of useful resources and online dictionaries; The free dictionary is one we would recommend.


    1. 5.Do not teach words in isolation.
      A single word could have a number of meanings when used alone. However, in conjunction with other words, the meaning changes.
      Consider the word give.
      Its primary definition is to pass or hand something to someone.  As in the example, I gave the book to John but does it have the same meaning in the sentence, Her job gives her a lot of satisfaction or in the sentence Don’t give in so easily?


    1. 6.Teach in chunks.
      When we communicate with others we use chunks of language not single words. It’s important that learners notice the pattern that words are used in as well as any words that they collocate with.   Consider the phrases heavy rain and strong wind. In both phrases we mean that there is a lot of rain and a lot of wind, but we can never say strong rain or heavy wind.   The site or the ‘ Sentence Rephraser ’ available from Ginger are two great tools that can help them expore language chunking and collocation. Ensure your students record, review and use any phrases they generate.


    1. 7.Take advantage of available free online tools.
      Sites such as and offer a wide variety of engaging word games. Encourage your students to take a few minutes out of their hectic schedule and to find time to relax with a game of Just Words or Word Battle. Make sure they choose a resource which best suits their learning style and English Language level.


    1. 8.Use and reuse.
      You will need to expose learners to the same word a few times before they can start using it effectively. Try to use the new vocabulary in different situations. The more they use a word, the longer they will retain it. Help them find ways of recording their newly acquired vocabulary and encourage them to review often.   is a brilliant tool that allows students to both browse and create their own word list. Stress the importance of incorporating any new language in their day to day lives as much as possible.


    1. 9.Actively process words.
      Create word charts and hang them around the classroom. Encourage your students to record words that are ETI Malta_classroom_colourful_childrennew to them on these charts.
      If they are hanging in your classroom, your students will automatically scan the charts from time to time. This will subconsciously help them process the words.
      Change the charts on a weekly basis and use games such as Call my Bluff to review words at the end of the week. It will not only make learning vocabulary fun, but will also end the week on a positive note.


  1. 10.Make it memorable.
    When we look back on our lives, it’s often the things we enjoyed doing most that come to mind first.
    Motivate your students by making vocabulary learning and new word acquisition , fun and enjoyable. Try using sites such as Free Rice to give that extra bit of motivation.


For more FUN tips and strategies to teach vocabulary or any other English language area join us on our Teacher Training courses. For more information on our Erasmus+ funded Teacher Training courses, contact us or visit our website.




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Josie, moved from our sister school, ESE to ETI in 2011. At ETI she delivers a number of our Teacher Training courses, in particular those courses aimed at primary school teachers. Throughout her teaching career, Josie has worked with both young learners and adults and has experience in teaching General English, Academic and Exam classes.