Teaching Vocabulary to Young Learners

Updated on December 2, 2016

The Importance of Teaching Vocabulary

One of the beauties of the English language is the diversity of the vocabulary available to it's users. It is also one of the things that can make English hard to get to grips with. Misused vocabulary can make even the most fluent speakers seem inexperienced; on the other hand getting it right gives the speaker confidence and an increased ability to express themselves. Furthermore, a good vocabulary range increasing reading comprehension, ability in technical subjects and written ability.

All good reasons to make sure that your vocabulary teaching is interesting, useful and effective, don't you think?

Happy Students!

Engaging, fun lessons lead to happy students.  Happy students learn quickly and remember more!
Engaging, fun lessons lead to happy students. Happy students learn quickly and remember more! | Source

The Not-so-secret Secrets to Good Vocabulary Teaching

  1. Make it interesting - this is often the hardest part of teaching vocab. See below for some fun activities to make the lessons engaging for students of all levels.
  2. Keep it relevant - Don't teach words your students cannot or will not use - you're only going to put them off and make them think that learning vocabulary is a pointless exercise. If you're following a particular curriculum or book use your common sense, I've seen a book for 3-year-old students which wanted them to learn the word 'syringe'. These were students who were new to learning English and it was not a relevant or achievable word, so the teacher quite rightly cut it from the vocabulary target words for the week.
  3. Set achievable goals- This applies to 3 main areas;
    • The words you are targeting - are they suitable for the students ability?
    • The amount of time you give students to learn them - don't expect your class of 7-8 year-old students to learn their words overnight, by the same token if you give them too long it won't be a priority. Generally, you want to introduce the words on Monday, practice through the week, and test on Friday (or some variation of this based on your class schedule).
    • The number of words you set - Avoid giving long lists of words, its better to learn 5 words well and be able to use them effectively in a sentence; than to try to learn 25 words which are then confused, misspelt and forgotten.
  4. Teach words in context - I never have students write definitions of words, I much prefer that they use the words in a sentence they made on their own. They are more likely to remember the word, better at using and it's a great chance to sneak in extra writing practice.

Make It Interesting: Ways to Make Vocab Fun

Below are just a few suggestions for activities to make vocabulary practice fun. These are primarily aimed at young learners.

Teaching Spelling

  • Sparkle - An old game but a good one. Have all members of the class stand up, choose a spelling word and have each student say one letter to spell out the word. After the last letter has been said the word 'Sparkle' is called out and the next student in line is out of the game! For example: Word = Cat, Student 1 - 'C', Student 2 - 'A', Student 3 'T', Student 4 - ' Sparkle', Student 5 is out!
  • Spelling Bulls-eye - Particularly good fun with an energetic class! Split you class into 2 teams. Students go head to head to spell target words, the winner uses a soft ball (or scrunched up paper) to aim at a bulls-eye (circular target) and score points for their team. Pick your teams carefully so students are paired against those of similar ability.
  • Spelling Battleships - Loosely based on the traditional board game, words take the place of the ships. Assign students into pairs. Each student has two copies of a battleships grid (10 x 10 square, labeled A-J across and 1-10 down). They put each of their words into the grid without their partner seeing. Then you play like regular battleships. Guess a square (e.g. B7) and the partner calls out 'hit' (and tells you the letter) or 'miss'). Students can try to guess the place of words if they feel confident, but it costs them 1 turn. It helps them to become familiar with the words and recognize patterns.

Teaching Meaning

  • Word Ladder - Write the target words on large cards (laminate if you intended to use them again) and place them on the floor in a line to make the ladder. Split your students into 2 teams who line up at opposing ends of the 'ladder'. 1 student from each team start (at the same time) before they can go forward one step on the ladder they must tell you the meaning of the word, or use it in a sentence. If they get it right the step forward. The both keep going until they meet it the middle. Then it's rock, scissor, paper (or some variation of) to decide who can stay on the ladder. The winner continues, the loser has to go to the back of their team's line, and a new team member starts from the beginning of the ladder. First team to the end of the ladder claims a point. (Warning: This game can get very, very excitable)
  • Guess the Word - Place students back to back on chairs. Give each one a list of words, student A gives a definition or sentence but does not say the target word. Student B has to guess what the word is. Once they get it right, Student B makes a new sentence with a different word.
  • Vocabulary Puzzle - Download a printable puzzle template. Take a marker and write the definition or a sentence across the whole puzzle. Then cut it up. Repeat for as many words as you want. Mix the pieces up. Students have to reassemble the puzzle and then match it to the correct vocabulary word. This is a great hands-on activity for students who finish their classwork quickly.

What Works For You?

There are so many great techniques out there—do you have one to share?

If so, I'd love hear from you— feel free to leave a comment below!

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)