Vocabulary Lessons.

Sample Vocabulary Lessons.


A Vocabulary lesson is a way of teaching new words to students. When introducing new words it is a mistake to resort to long boring lists of words and simply having the class read them, the teacher to translate them and have students memorise them. This process of teaching new words can be dull and tedious for both teacher and students. This approach is also limited in its impact and allows for very little student involvement.

When dealing with new vocabulary ‘visual strategies’ can be very effective. Students will associate words with pictures and is a common and very successful technique. However, it is not the only technique available to teachers. There are many such devices available to teach new words in an effective way.

Students should be guided into the following:

  1. Students can be encouraged to interpret the meaning of the word.
  2. The shape of the word can be taken into consideration.
  3. The pronunciation of the word.
  4. The utility of the word.

The more ways the teacher can get the students to look at a word the better the chance they will have to remember it and retrieve it later if and when the need arises.

A simple set of procedures can be applied when teaching new words:

  1. Place the list of new words on the board for all to see.
  2. Invite students to group them in categories of their own making.
  3. Find rhyming or similar looking words.
  4. Find words they like the sound of.
  5. Find strange looking words.
  6. Vote on the most difficult to spell.
  7. Find synonyms and antonyms.

There are two basic types of Vocabulary class and these are known as ‘passive’ and ‘active’ lessons. In ‘passive’ the teacher encourages students to recognise words on a given text and it normally applies to reading and listening. In the ‘active’ style which is related to writing and speaking English the vocabulary is taught to students who are then invited to reproduce it.

Corpus research advises us that over 2000 words are used in everyday English conversation and these are sufficient for most ordinary conversation. Such research can help educators at all levels of English teaching. It demonstrates how words are organised into patterns which students can learn by understanding combinations of words. These combinations are known as ‘Collocations’ and ‘Chunks’ which come in patterns of 2, 3,, 4, 5 and 6 word sentences. (For example; “If you know what I mean?”).[1]

Active And Passive Vocabulary Lessons.

1. Sample ‘Active’ Vocabulary Lesson.

The most common method of ‘’active vocabulary lesson’ is to show a detailed picture (poster) in relation to the words being taught and to have students select details from the picture and relate these concepts in English. With the poster in full display a series of leading questions can be asked to encourage conversation. As in this example where the aim is to teach words related to building and construction:

The words being taught in this lesson are:

  1. Cranes.
  2. Builders.
  3. Construction Site.
  4. Workers.
  5. Bulldozers.
  6. Hard Hats.
  7. Foreman.
  8. Wheelbarrow.
  9. Tyres.
  10. Digging.
  11. Drills.
  12. Fencing.

Additional words will inevitably crop up n the duration of the class as students try to establish the English name for something they recognise in the picture. The teacher will remain in full view of the class and encourage such contributions by elicitation of questions.

The Building Site.

Sample Questions:

1       How many CRANES?

2       How many WORKERS on the nearest building?

3       How many BULLDOZERS?

4       How many HARD HATS do you see?

5       Which one is the FOREMAN?

6       What colour is the WHEELBARROW?

7       How many TYRES do you see?

8       How many men are DIGGING?

9       What colour is the DRILL?

10   Why is there FENCING around the SITE?

Students would also be invited to make observations about the picture and to exchange views and opinions on detail. Conversation is encouraged to increase maximum use of English throughout the lesson. It is further necessary to inspire students to ask questions related to their own lives but connected in some way to the picture. These questions are more ‘academic’ than ‘visual’ based and as such allows the students to use the information they have acquired from the lesson. Such questions can be as follows:

Additional Conversational Questions:

  1. How many people have a friend or relative in construction?
  2. What is your favourite building in this city and why?
  3. Do you like modern or old architecture?
  4. Do you live in a nice building?
  5. Where is the ugliest building in the city?
  6. What building would you most like to live in?
  7. Compare Churches to Museums and Office Blocks?
  8. Which are the oldest buildings in the world?
  9. Are ‘Pyramids’ buildings?
  10. Have you ever been on top of a skyscraper?

2.     Sample ‘Passive’ Vocabulary Lesson.










Once Upon a time there was a PRINCE making his way through the FOREST. As he rambled slowly he seemed sad and confused. He found a small STREAM and went to drink some water from it. Having sipped the water he sat back on a small rock and began to weep. As he sat alone weeping he failed to notice the GURU approach him.

The GURU paused for a moment and touched the PRINCE on the shoulder. “Why, asked the GURU, do you weep?” The PRINCE shook his head and said, “I have travelled the world, walked every city, looked in every FOREST, searched every street but nowhere can I find Love.

I weep now because in this world there is no Love for me so I must venture through my life and not experience the magic of true Love and for this I am sad and I shed the tears of a heart-broken man.”

When the PRINCE finished speaking the GURU smiled and whispered, but loud enough to be heard, the words ‘What a silly Man you are my friend to think such foolish thoughts.’ The PRINCE was confused and offended at the GURU’s reply and insisted that his sorrow should not be ridiculed without some further explanation.

The GURU sat down on the bank of the STREAM and told the PRINCE to listen carefully. “Can you see the BUTTERFLY in the flowers on the other side of the STREAM?” the GURU asked. The PRINCE looked across and saw a big beautiful yellow BUTTERFLY hovering over the yellow daffodils. “I see him, yes!” the PRINCE replied. “Well, said the GURU, Love is very much like a BUTTERFLY, my friend, when you chase it, it shall fly away, but if you stand still, it shall land on you”.[2]

Class Objective:

Students are presented with this text (on projector and/or as a hand out). They are not expected to understand the text but are invited to collaborate on piecing it together like a jigsaw. With the help of the picture students can look for clues as to the meaning of the story and the characters, locations and sentiments expressed.

The teacher can get the discussion going with such questions as:

  1. What words are familiar here?
  2. What ‘chunks’ and ‘collocations’ are in action?
  3. What ‘basic’ words are in most use and what does this tell us?
  4. What are the meanings (guessed) of new words?
  5. Where can we find streams, rivers or oceans?
  6. Are there any slang words or idioms?
  7. How can we use hyponyms, synonyms or antonyms to assist us in translating this text?
  8. Is the old man right?
  9. What contextual (past, present or future) tenses are at work in the text?

10. What other observations/conclusions can be drawn from structure and layout of words and sentences?


 Vocabulary teaching is necessary for teaching core English words. When teaching vocabulary it is best to focus on Form, meaning and usage. ‘Form’ focuses on pronunciation, spelling, inflections and derivations; ‘Meaning’ includes basic and literal meanings, derived and figurative meanings and semantic relation and connotation. Finally, Usage will focus on sub categorization, collocation, sociolinguistic and stylistic restrictions and slangs and idioms.

Teaching Vocabulary relies on presentation; definitions should be clearly demonstrated using examples (eg; hyponyms), illustration, demonstration, context, synonyms, opposites (antonyms), and translation and associated words (collocations and chunks). Incidental vocabulary acquisition should be encouraged for further lexical and semantic development of the words learned through explicit instruction and for learning additional vocabulary.

[1] Dr. Anne O’Keefe (Moodle) http://www.vle.mic.ul.ie//course/view.php?id=156 Accessed On: 04.04.2012 Gerard J. Hannan.

[2] The Butterfly © Gerard J. Hannan 2005.


About Gerard Hannan

Media Student at MIC/UL in Limerick, Ireland. Worked as a Broadcaster/Journalist in Limerick for over 25 Years and has also published four local interest books.

Posted on April 10, 2012, in Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Please Take A Moment To Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: