Teaching vocabulary: A daunting task

Unnati Ved

As an English Language Teacher (ELT) teacher, my vocabulary teaching has been evolving over the years but when I was a novice, I recollect conducting a class for learners aged 8-10 years. We had been reading the book, How to train your dragon? by Cressida Cowell.

Vocabulary sheets were given to the learners based on the book. Learners were asked to identify words related to ‘anger’ in a time-bound activity by looking at the meaning in the vocabulary sheets. The kids came up with words like ‘livid, ferocious, furious, indignant, infuriated.’

I was delighted to see them respond positively and effectively to my activity. I gave an example -‘Fishlegs was angry at Snotlout for teasing him.’

I asked the learners to use any word from the new vocabulary sheets and make a sentence. The learners came up with sentences like “When my sister teas monkey then monkey becomes so infuriate”,  “The dragons were ferocious at the Vikings”.

I was teaching vocabulary exactly the way I had learnt in school.

While pursuing my masters in ELT, I learnt that the meaning of a word is not sufficient, learners must learn the form and use of the word as well.

So when I decided on a vocabulary video contest as founder of Eager Readers, a reading, writing, public  speaking and drama school for learners aged 3 to 19 yrs, I was determined not to follow the same route.

After much deliberation and brainstorming, I picked 12 words from a passage in a Harry Potter book. These 12 words were completely new words for the A2 level learners. EFL teachers   suggest that you should teach 10-15 words max in an hour’s session.

To help them understand the meaning of a word, we asked the learners to read the passage silently. A multiple choice quizlet was prepared where learners could choose the correct option of the meaning by looking at the images. Sixty per cent of the learners did not get it accurately. After error correction, the passage was shown again and now   the learners got about 70 per cent of the words right. The next session took place after a few days, and most of the learners had forgotten the initial words taught. The vocabulary was presented in new ways via an illustration. Then learners were split in pairs and one illustrated the word and the other guessed the word. Subsequently we also did a miming exercise with words in pairs.

Learners were introduced to technology to get innovative with their vocabulary video. The video had to be 15 seconds or less and it had to exhibit the meaning of the word visually- you could act it out or use imagery, animation.

We invited Dr. Usha Raman, Professor of Communications at the University of Hyderabad as a judge for the vocabulary video contest. The learners were excited to receive inputs and suggestions from Dr. Raman. There were seven teams in pairs and the learners used POWTOON – a digital communicative tool, Flipgrid- Online Video device, PPT-Presentation and drawing and   acting to explain their words.

The ultimate aim was to imprint at least 60 per cent of these words in their minds and hopefully we managed to achieve that. Learning vocabulary needs constant practice.

As Evelyn Waugh, famous English writer says, “One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.”


The author is pursuing her MA in ELT from Oxford TEFL. She is the founder of Eager Readers, a reading, writing, public speaking and drama program. She has also completed her LTCL (MA equivalent) in Communication Skills and ATCL (BA equivalent) in Speech and Drama. She is a post graduate in Finance having completed her MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute, Mumbai. She can be reached at unnati@eagerreaders.in


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