How Can We Activate Vocabulary and Get Our Students to Use It? – ELTChat Summary

Today’s ELTChat session at noon was all about vocabulary and how to activate it with students, in order for them to assimilate it and make use of it. Several interesting ideas circulated the Twitterstream, as always!

So how do we activate vocabulary and get our students to use it? The ideas move among Young Learners and Older or Adult Learners, but you will find that sometimes an idea can very well cross over a category!

  • The idea of using songs is a plus in assimilating vocabulary. For Young Learners they can be songs with repetition in them, such as Old MacDonald,The Colours Song and so on. TPR with songs such as finger chants is so effective with children, as is attaching new vocabulary with gestures. With older students you can use songs with fill-in-the-gaps, or sing a song with a particular word and stop at that word for them to recognise it.
  • Repetition and recycling of the vocabulary is necessary.  The vocabulary found in coursebooks once, needs to be interacted with – more than once.
  • Connecting the words or collocations to something meaningful, something that can help them retain, is the key. Establishing a meaningful and relevant context is paramount.
  • Try to connect the vocabulary students learn to their immediate needs, if possible.
  • When they do use a word or collocation spontaneously, give them praise and write it on the board. The visual effect helps as well.
  • Passing a box with words can help – each student picks a word, describes it to the rest of the class and has them guess which word it is. This is a very effective activity, in particular when you are covering previously taught vocabulary. Guessing can be a very crucial first ingredient in vocabulary acquisition.
  • Games such as Boggle can help students form words and remember them. In addition teachers can use Taboo, Pictionary or miming.
  • Activities such as wordsearches, gap-fills, wordsnakes and crosswords are great ideas in class.
  • The use of post-it notes helps, putting the words on them and placing them all over the classroom. Incidental vocabulary can also be written on notes.
  • Visual representation of vocabulary is helpful, especially with low-level learners. Teachers can use picture vocabulary quizzes, rebus exercises and so on. For younger students, creating their own picture dictionary of new words assists in their learning.
  • Flashcards are essential to helping them learn vocabulary and use it. A very nice game with young learners is to place flashcards in a pile, for the teacher to blow a whistle, yell out the word and the children have to find the card that represents the word.
  • In the same context of visuals, students can bring to class pictures of things they would like to learn and that way attach the word to the image. All these visual representations can prove effective with dyslexic students as well.
  • Have a vocabulary bank for your students.  From this bank, you can assign them a determined number of words which they have to use in any activity.
  • The use of spider diagrams helps students in learning lexical sets and then translation can follow.
  • Extending vocabulary is also useful. Collocations, antonyms, concordances give them more time to study the word.
  • Some students may find keeping a vocabulary journal effective. They write there all the new words as they learn and repeat them frequently.
  • The use of a dictionary, picture or word kind, can help at specific moments.


Words, words, words! (Image taken from

Do learners choose the words to learn, or do teachers choose them for them?


  • Perhaps a combination of both is useful. Students, especially if they are older can see where they need more help and teachers can orientate them to the vocabulary the students need.

Online Resources:

There is a multitude of ideas on helping activate vocabulary in class – have a great time with words!


20 thoughts on “How Can We Activate Vocabulary and Get Our Students to Use It? – ELTChat Summary

  1. Thanks for this extensive list of activities, Vicky! It’s a great resource for my classes. The consolidation of vocabulary is essential to widen the students´ scope.
    Hugs from Argentina!

    1. Hi Marisa!

      Thank you so much – all the resources that were posted on yesterday’s ELTChat are amazing and as you say, consolidating vocabulary helps the students tremendously! I also love the resources you have on your wiki. Congratulations on your work there!

      Thank you so much,

    1. Hi Joe!

      You are very welcome – I am glad you liked it! Thank you for the kind words and the great ideas you have every Wednesday at ELTChat!

      Kindest regards,

  2. Hi Vicky

    Thank you so much for posting the summary of this week’s ELTChat topic on activating and consolidation of vocabulary. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend either of the 2 chats yesterday due to travelling back to Abruzzo from England by car!

    I feel as if I’m up to date with what was covered in this topic, thanks to your fantastic summary with lots of useful and practical links to resources. I am honoured that my Phrasal Verbs presentation was mentioned in your summary!

    I look forward to participating in the forthcoming chats.

    Best wishes from Janet

    1. Hi Janet!

      I hope you had a good trip home.

      Thank you for your great comment – I am so happy you liked the summary! I really enjoyed doing it.

      Shelly mentioned your Phrasal Verbs activity and I loved it! Thank you for all that you do.

      Kindest regards, Vicky

  3. Wow, quite a list and work put into this, Vicky.

    Recycling and continuous exposure to learnt vocabulary or chunks of language are most important in keeping it activated, but also encouraging confidence in the need for production. If you see a word only once in the course of a session, how useful can that really be? We definitely need to be cognisant of incorporating them into handouts, activities and our own classroom usage–not always the easiest task. Keeping a list of them nearby us when we make new lessons is a good idea.

    I’m not a huge fan of gap fills be they in pop songs or otherwise, outside the realm of focused listening. Their purpose is often not well-thought out and therefore inclusion often does really achieve the aims and objectives of the using them. There are so many other activities out there you can use to teach and practise vocabulary that are more interesting, fun, authentic and have a clear purpose.

    My two cents. =)

    1. Correction:
      “Their purpose is often not well-thought out and therefore inclusion often DOESN’T really achieve the aims and objectives of the using them. “

    2. Hi Tyson!

      Thank you very much for your comment.

      The links are fantastic and many thanks to those who contributed them in Wednesday’s noon session of ELTChat.

      What you say about gap fills is really interesting – I will agree with you on the fact that in listening tasks they serve a better and more useful purpose.

      Thank you so much, Vicky

  4. Hi Vicky,

    Really enjoyed this post! Thanks for all the useful ideas within!
    I’ve blogged about your post on my site – would be interested in your thoughts!

    Many thanks,

  5. Good list. I teach IELTS and sometimes I find it difficult to know how to teach vocabulary as some of these words are more difficult words. Collocations and using the words correctly are very important.

    I find a lot of vocab activities are good for lower level learners but when it comes to higher level learners, there are not a lot of good activities around.

    For lower level learners where it is important to recognize the words (using them is easy and it’s not as difficult as words we teach for higher levels), I get my students to use spaced repetition software and it really helps. I also try to use such software for higher level learners – that’s a bit of a challenge using such software. It takes a bit of time but it can be very useful.

    Cheers, just found your website while searching for some vocabulary teaching resources and will take a look at the rest of your site.

    1. Hi Jason!

      Thank you so much for your comment – would you mind my asking which software you use?

      I am happy that your search brought you here and you liked the post!

      Best wishes,

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