10 Ideas And Strategies To Improve ELL Vocabulary Skills

/ / 10 Ideas And Strategies To Improve ELL Vocabulary Skills
Ideas And Strategies To Improve ELL Vocabulary Skills

One of the most challenging things for English language learners is learning the huge amount of vocabulary that is required to communicate in English fluently. For English language teachers, it is just as challenging to come up with fun, engaging, and effective ways to teach vocabulary. That’s why we have put together this list of our favorite ideas and strategies to improve ELL vocabulary skills that you can implement in your classroom today.

RELATED: ESL Vocabulary Games

10 Ways To Improve ELL Vocabulary Skills

1. Label Things Your Classroom

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

A really effective strategy to improve English language learners’ vocabulary skills is to label the things in your classroom. Students will see these labels every lesson and can refer to them when they are talking about or describing the things around them. Get students involved and have them create colorful and creative labels for everything in your classroom, from the board to the clock to the classroom pencil sharpener.

2. Play Word Association Games

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

Word association games are a super fun way to help ELL students improve their vocabulary skills. If you’re not sure what word association games are, they are games in which a word is given to a student and then that student must say an associated word. While playing in the classroom, students can benefit by recalling existing vocabulary that they have already learned and by encountering new vocabulary from the other students. For ideas on how to play word association games in the classroom, check out these five fun word association games.

3. Do Extensive Reading

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

Another effect strategy to help ELL learners improve their vocabulary is extensive reading. Extensive reading leads to incidental vocabulary acquisition making it a fantastic way for ELL students to build their vocabulary skills. If you’re not sure what extensive reading is, it is essentially a language learning approach in which learners would do a large amount of reading. The texts they read should be interesting to them and be easy enough for them to understand so that they can read quickly without stopping to look up words in a dictionary. This approach to language learning improves vocabulary as students encounter new vocabulary in a context which they understand, and so can infer the meaning of new words and acquire new vocabulary. For more information about extensive reading, you can check out the Extensive Reading Foundation’s Website.

4. Make Word Walls

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

Creating word walls around a particular topic can help ELL learners vocabulary development. This strategy works best when you create word walls around topics that the learners are interested in and passionate about. For example, if you are teaching young learners, you may want to create word walls about animals, their favorite cartoon character, etc. If you teaching teenagers, perhaps you can create word walls about a sport or a band they are interested in.

5. Take Pictures

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

Many students these days have their own cell phone and would like nothing more than to use it in class. After learning new vocabulary in class, give students homework to take a picture of something that represents the new words they learned and then to share their pictures in the next class. For example, if students learned the word ‘fast’ they might take a picture of them running, or a fast car. Or if they learned the word delicious, they might take a picture of the delicious food they eat that evening.

6. Act Out New Vocabulary

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

Once students have learned some new vocabulary, get students up out of their seats for a fun game of charades. This is a great way to reinforce the new vocabulary as the students acting out the words must think about and act out the meaning, while the students guessing must try to recall the new words that they learned earlier.

7. Play Drawing Games

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

Just like charades, a classroom game of Pictionary, in which some students draw the new word on the board while the other students guess, is a great way to reinforce and develop their vocabulary skills. There are also many fantastic online drawing games that students can play with tablets in the classroom or at home on their laptops. Check out these five fun drawing games online.

8. Play Hot Seat

The classic classroom game ‘Hot Seat’ is a great way to help ELL students develop their vocabulary skills in a fun way. If you’re not sure how to play, the rules are simple. One student sits in the ‘hot seat’ and then you show the other students a word or phrase from the lesson. The students must describe that word/phrase without saying the actual word. Check out the video above for more detailed instructions on how to play.

9. Use A Thesaurus

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

Learning the synonyms and antonyms of words is a fantastic way for English language learners to expand their vocabulary and develop a sense of how words are related. When teaching new words, ask students to find these words in a thesaurus and find out what other words have the same meaning and what words have the opposite meaning. To make it more fun, you can ask students to pretend they are ‘word detectives’ trying to find more words.

10. Sing Pop Songs

ELL Vocabulary Ideas And Strategies

Just like extensive reading, listen to and singing pop songs can lead to incidental vocabulary acquisition. Not only that, singing pop songs in class is incredibly fun. There are many ways pop songs can be used a strategy to improve ELL vocabulary skills. You can make lyric worksheets with key vocabulary missing and ask students to listen and fill in the blanks. You could also focus on a particular part of speech, for example nouns, and ask students to change those words to make a funny new song. The opportunities are endless. Not sure what pop songs to sing in class? Check out our list of 10 Pop Songs That Students Love To Sing.


Thanks for reading. I hope you found some useful ideas and strategies to improve your ELL students’ vocabulary. Before you go, don’t forget to check out our free English teaching resources including ESL games, online quizzes, PPT Games, ESL Worksheets, and more.