Introducing and practising vocabulary in class can be done in a variety of enjoyable and motivating ways. It’s also important for learners to effectively record vocabulary, as well as to recycle vocabulary as much as possible.

Carolyne Ardron

Recording vocabulary
Do you encourage your learners to keep vocabulary records? Get them to write new words at the back of their notebooks during class. Check they know how to pronounce each word and have them underline the main stress. They could also write a translation, or draw a picture of the word. Higher levels can include an example of the word in a sentence to give it context.

Introducing and practising vocabulary
There are over 100 word games on LearnEnglish Kids that help learners learn and practise new vocabulary through picture matching games. Using flashcards is also a great way to present and practise vocabulary. You can make your own flashcards using this flashcard maker or try the sets of flashcards on LearnEnglish Kids.

  • Introduce each vocabulary item with the flashcards. Ask your learners to respond non-verbally to the flashcards through actions. For example, can they move like tigers or elephants?
  • Place the flashcards around the room, on the wall, door, window, chairs or floor. Ask your learners to point to the correct flashcard when they hear it. Depending on the size of the class, learners could run to the correct part of the room or stand next to the correct card.
  • Give each of your learners a set of flashcards and ask them to show you the correct card when they hear the item, for example, you could say, 'Show me the giraffe!', 'Hands up if you've got the jellyfish!', or 'Point to the yak!' This activity works very well in teams – give each team an equal number of flashcards, and the first team to show you the correct item scores one point!
  • Choral drill the vocabulary on the flashcards, as a whole class, teams or small groups in turn. This can be great fun when drilled in different ways: say the words slowly, happily, angrily, loudly, quietly or like an orang-utan, for example!
  • Place five or six flashcards in a line on the board. Drill each item and remove the last card. Drill again, up to and including the missing item. Remove another card. Continue until all the flashcards have been removed and your learners can remember all the missing items!
  • To keep your learners on their toes you could 'flash' the flashcards fast, upside down or back-to-front (just so they can see the outline of the picture or word through the paper) and ask them to identify the item. Alternatively, you could cover the flashcard with another piece of paper and slowly reveal the picture or the letters of the word.
  • Colour code or number your flashcards. Once you have shown your learners both the picture and its corresponding colour or number, place the cards face up on the board or a table. Now ask, 'What colour/number is the aardvark?' Next, place the cards face down and ask, 'What's red/blue/green?' or 'What's number 1/2/3?'
  • Ask your learners if they like the items on the flashcards. Your learners can respond by putting up their left hand for yes, their right for no, or other culturally appropriate gestures. Alternatively, they could shout 'Hurray!' or 'Boo!', then finally 'Yes, I do!' and 'No, I don't!'

Make dialogues using new vocabulary items. Pairs or small groups choose a new word that they think is useful and want to remember. With lower levels you could do this as a class and build up a dialogue to illustrate the meaning of the word on the board. Higher levels learners can use dictionaries and work in pairs to write their dialogues and then act them out. If your class like making videos you could also film learners performing their dialogues and then show the films to the class to revise vocabulary in future lessons.

Recycling vocabulary
Here are a variety of games your learners will enjoy playing whilst practising their language skills and recycling target vocabulary.

  • Bingo. Give your learners a photocopy of flashcards for the vocabulary and a blank bingo card. Ask them to choose a certain number of vocabulary items and stick them onto their bingo card. Alternatively, they could either draw or write the vocabulary. Place a complete set of flashcards into a hat and pull them out one by one. The first player to cross off all the items on their bingo card shouts 'Bingo!'
  • Hangman or Shark. Play traditional hangman, or a variation on hangman: draw a shark in the sea with its mouth wide open and lots of teeth. Draw ten steps going into the shark’s mouth. Indicate the word to be guessed with lines as in regular hangman. Each time a learner says the wrong letter draw a stick man going down the steps. They lose (and get eaten by the shark!) if the stick man runs out of steps.
  • Noughts and crosses. Select nine flashcards and number them 1-9. Draw a grid on the board, numbering each square 1-9. Divide your learners into two teams, noughts (O) and crosses (X). In turns, each team chooses a number between one and nine. If noughts choose square 5, for example, show them flashcard 5. If they can correctly identify the card, draw (O) in the square. Each team should try to choose squares that block the other team from making three in a row, horizontally, vertically or diagonally.
  • Telephone. Put learners in a circle. Whisper a word to the learner on your left. They whisper the word to the person on their left and so on. The last person to hear the word has to write it on the board – see if the word is the same or if it’s changed! Change places to give everyone a go.
  • Categorise. Give each group a set of flashcards and ask them to put them into categories. For instance, animal flashcards could be divided into those with four legs, those with two; those that can fly, those that can't.
  • Guess what it is. Place a number of flashcards on the board. Describe one of the cards without saying its name, for example, 'It's big.... It's got wings... It can't fly but it can run...' The team that guesses the correct card wins a point.
  • Backs to the board. Put learners in pairs, A and B. Ask As to sit with their backs to the board, Bs facing them. Write a word or put a flashcard on the board. Bs facing the board must describe the word to their partner without saying what it is. The first A to guess the word correctly wins a point.
  • Board rush. Place flashcards on the board. In teams, ask your learners to stand in a line facing the board, a little distance away. Say a flashcard, learners must then run and touch the correct flashcard.
  • Snap. Give each group of learners a set of flashcards with two copies of each card. Ask them to shuffle and deal the cards equally, face down. Each player now has a pile of cards. In turn, the players turn over a card, say what it is and place it in the middle of the table. If a player turns over a card which is the same as the previous one the first player to say 'Snap!' wins all the cards. The game ends when one player has all the cards.
  • Odd one out. Write up four words on the board, one of which is the odd one out, e.g. cheeky, happy, curly, nice. 'Curly' is the odd the out because it describes physical appearance and the others all describe character. Get your learners to make their own examples and test each other.
  • Pelmanism. Give each group of learners a set of flashcards with two copies of each card. Ask them to place them in a grid face down on the table. In turn, each player turns over two cards and says what they are. If they turn over the same cards, they keep them and have another go. If the cards are different, they turn them back over and the next player has a go. The player with the most pairs is the winner.
  • Kim's game. Place the flashcards on the board or a table. Ask your learners to close their eyes. Remove a card. Ask them to open their eyes and tell you which card is missing. For even more of a challenge, gradually increase the number of cards that you remove. Having demonstrated the activity, this is another game your learners can play together in groups with their own set of flashcards.

Updated by the TeachingEnglish team

When you have used some of these ideas, why not come back to this page and leave a comment below to tell us how your class went. Let us know if you have any additional ideas!


Submitted by DoDy-H on Tue, 07/04/2017 - 12:06

They all seem interesting for real.. I teach young children and I tried the "Guess what it is" game but instead of describing it orally, I had to write short sentences on the board to make it easier for them. It was really fun hearing all the guesses they made. Sometimes they surprise you with how far they can go :) Thank you for this amazing list

Hello Do Dy-H. I'm a Primary teacher and I want totell you that I did the same activity that you did and I decided to try the other activities that are proposed in this article. I recommend looking at the Teaching English website because there are lots of ideas in the teaching resources section. Maybe you can invite to some colleagues of your grade to see this article. Then you can arrange to meet with them and ask about what they're planning to do in their vocabulary lessons. You migh get more ideas. I suggest trying out some new ways of teaching vocabulary and see what works for you and your learners. You should consider the context of your class and look for supplementary books in the library. I hope my comment has helped you. I see you on the forum again soon! Successes!

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