Published 16th January 2019


Learning vocabulary is one of the cornerstones of learning English as a Foreign Language. As the saying goes, without grammar a person can communicate but without words, a speaker will not be able to use the language. The coursebooks that we use in our classroom are there to make this learning process a bit easier. They aim to present vocabulary in a way which is easy for our students to understand and learn. To help our students learn vocabulary, most course books teach vocabulary in lexical sets.

A lexical set is a group of words which are related to each other in meaning. Course books do this to provide coherence in a unit. Units are usually topic-based so highlighting vocabulary items which relate to that topic will give the students the vocabulary they need to discuss the topic and participate in class activities related to the topic. These words are easily integrated into the material for the unit and form the basis for any classwork.

However, it has now been realised that this is not the most effective way of learning vocabulary. While there is nothing wrong with grouping words in lexical sets, the problem comes in with their application. Sure, coursebooks provide consolidation exercises and free practice activities but this will only allow for a few repetitions of each word at most. Repetition is key to vocabulary learning and so we need to add in extra activities which will give more repetition as well as provide opportunities for deeper learning.

Activities to exploit vocabulary learning

  • Instead of focusing the students on the vocabulary box in the coursebook, ask them to find ten words in the text which they would choose to learn. You should find that they choose some of the same words. If they have chosen different words, you can discuss which words are more suitable for their learning.
  • Get the students to find synonyms for the target language.
  • Let the students find out more about the usages of the words and any common idioms or collocations which they might be a part of.
  • Let the students find out the different grammatical forms of the words. If the word is an adjective, for example, they can find out if it has a related verb or noun or if it has an “easy” opposite (e.g., happy, unhappy)
  • Ask the students to categorise the words. This can be done into categories defined by you or you can let your students determine their own categories.
  • Play word games.

All of these activities allow learners to focus more deeply on the words. These activities allow them to engage with them more, thus making them more memorable. Plus, they provide essential revision opportunities. Adding these activities into your lessons will help your students learn vocabulary better.