Published 13th July 2018


There is no disputing the fact that learning vocabulary is one of the building blocks of learning a language. Without grammar a learner can still get by but without vocabulary there is no hope. So it makes sense that we, as teachers, want to focus on teaching vocabulary to our learners.

There are loads of different ideas and strategies to deal with vocabulary learning but the fact remains that it is an integral part of our EFL lessons. As such, here we have a few ideas to add to your collection for activities to help with vocabulary retention.

3 Vocabulary Retention Tips


A lot of the time we come across words during our lessons which are not clearly related. These may not be the vocabulary items we set out to teach during the lesson but we end up teaching them anyway. In these cases it becomes necessary to find a way to put the words into context. In other words, spend some time on the usage of the words in order to help your learners find hooks to connect the new words with those they already know.


Give your students some time to visualise the word as they see fit. In this way every learner comes up with their own interpretation of the word which will help them remember the meaning. What can be useful for this activity is to bring in elements of sight and sound as well. Colour and sound have been shown to improve recall so if your students can add colour and sound to their images so much the better.

Repetition, repetition, repetition

Repetition is the key to vocabulary retention. However, learning words and their meanings by heart is not a lot of fun. As teachers we need to come up with interesting games and activities to motivate our learners to engage with vocabulary on a regular basis. Here are a few ideas for repetition games:

  • Pictionary – learners draw a word and their team must guess the word from their drawing
  • Half a crossword – learners must complete a crossword with a partner; each learner must make up clues to give their partner
  • Back to the board – one member of each team sits with their back to the board; the teacher writes a word or phrase on the board and the other members of the team must describe it to the one with their back to the board
  • Strangers on a train – each learner is given a word or phrase they must use; in pairs or groups the learners must have conversations together and try to use their word or phrase as naturally as possible; afterwards the other learners must guess what the word was

When teaching vocabulary, don’t forget to make it as fun and entertaining as possible. This will ensure that no matter what technique you use you will be successful!