Fun Ways to Teach Vocabulary

Vocabulary lessons can be interesting, fun, and rewarding for both the students and the teacher. However, they can become boring and counter-productive if they are not organised in a proper way.

When teaching vocabulary to ESL students, the teacher has to remember that the goal is for the students to be able to understand and use the words and expressions they’ve learnt in different contexts. Just remembering the words and their definitions is not enough. That’s why it’s important to teach new vocabulary in four stages:

1. Introduction of the new words and phrases in wide context, such as a text (reading task) or a listening task. When introducing new vocabulary, the teacher should also check whether the students understand it correctly or not,

2. Drilling the new words, so that they are committed to memory. This stage can be the most boring part of a vocabulary-focused lesson,

3. Exercising the usage of the new words in narrow context, such as sentences, dialogues, and mini-texts,

4. Practising using the words in wider context through speaking and writing tasks.

Most vocabulary games and classroom activities focus on memorising words and their definitions, spelling, and using the new vocabulary in short sentences.

Here are some engaging ways of teaching new vocabulary.

Relay race

This is both a memory and a spelling game. The class is divided into two teams. A timer is set and each team has to write the words on the same topic on the whiteboard. The goal is to write as many words as possible.

Students stand in line. Each student writes one word and passes the marker to the next student in line. The process is repeated until the time runs out. The team with the most correct words wins.

Definition search

This game is an excellent way for the students to remember new words and their definitions.

The teacher writes the definitions of the new words on numbered cards and then tapes the cards around the classroom. The students pull out numbers from a hat or a box and write them down on a piece of paper. Then they walk around the classroom and search for the corresponding definitions. The students write the word that matches the definition on their sheet of paper.

This game can be played by two teams. The team that finds their definitions and gives the correct answers first wins.


This is a great spelling game that makes practising spelling a lot of fun. The game is played like the regular battleship game, but the students have to spell the word in order to sink the ship. One word spelt correctly sinks a ship.

Vocabulary detective

This game requires some preparation, but it’s worth it because it’s fun and very rewarding. Another great thing about this game is that it involves a lot of inter-student communication.

The words are written on cards. A piece of string is thread through the cards, so that the students can wear them around their necks. Students get one card each which they wear on their backs so that they can’t see their own word. Then the students go around the classroom and ask for clues to help them guess the word they are wearing.

This can be done as a whole class activity or in pairs.

Tell me a story

The teacher will need a set of flashcards to play this game.

A student pulls out a card and makes up a sentence containing the word from the card. For example, if there is a picture of a swimming pool, the student makes up a sentence about a swimming pool. Then the student sitting next to the first student pulls out a card. He or she needs to make up a sentence using the word on the card, ensuring that it continues the story started by the first student. The game is played until the cards run out.

When the class already knows and understands the newly-taught vocabulary well, the teacher should move on to the next stage and practice the vocabulary in wide context. Role-plays are the best way of doing this. Not only do they provide the grounds for using new words and expressions, but also encourage the students to communicate in English, break the language barrier, and be creative.