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10 ESL Vocabulary Activities For Young Learners

10 ESL Vocabulary Activities For Young Learners

Words are like little blocks that every learner uses to build their proficiency. Using a vivid imagination anyone can stick 4 legos together and call it an airplane. But to really fly one we’ll need much more than a handful of blocks. We’ll need the know-how, sure, but just as engineering knowledge is useless without the right materials, perfecting grammar skills can only get us so far without an abundant lexicon. Just as an airplane is made up of thousands of individual parts, the English language is made up of thousands of individual words – 171,576 to be exact. No one person knows them all of course, however, it gives us a good idea of what a Herculean task learning a language truly is. According to a popular estimate, fluency begins somewhere around 10,000 words. God forbid you share that statistic with your students as you may end up with a riot on your hands! What you can do instead is turn the arduous task of learning vocabulary into a fun and pleasurable experience. 


All with little to no effort from you and with the help of the list we created below.

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt

Level: A1 and higher

 

Good thing about this activity is that it’ll likely keep your students occupied for 20-30 minutes. Bad thing is that it requires some preparation from you. 

 

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cut few sets of the alphabet letters + hide them around the classroom.

 

Setup:

 

You need one alphabet set for each group doing this exercise. I recommend around 3 groups. You’ll make sure that all letters are cut into individual paper slips. 

 

Note: You may want to take out the X.

 

Before the lesson when students aren’t in the classroom hide all the letters in different places in the room. It doesn’t matter if you put more than one letter in a certain spot. 

 

If you cannot afford to do it alone in an empty classroom but have a Teacher’s Assistant then occupy your students with a game of Shark Hangman or English Bullseye while your TA is hiding letters around the room. 

The procedure:

 

1. Every group needs to complete the full alphabet set.

 

2. For every letter they need to write 3 words on an A4 sheet of paper. 


3. The group which completed steps 1 & 2 the fastest wins the activity.

Body Parts Collage

Level: A2 and higher

 

What you’ll need: a stack of magazines, make sure they have plenty of pictures of people. 

What students need: glue & scissors

The procedure:

 

1. Place the magazines in the middle for everyone to use (or distribute a handful to each group to avoid vulture fights).


2. Instruct your students to cut out different body parts from each picture (but be careful not to destroy body parts someone else might want to use) and glue them in their notebooks to complete a full image of a human. 


3. Each body part they add must be spelled in English somewhere on the side. 


4. This isn’t a competition but you can mention that the student with the most body parts wins. 


You want them to learn/review the basics: arm, head, legs, but also learn more advanced vocab such as lips, cheeks, elbows, ankles, calves. If your students are on an advanced level already then you may even use this exercise to teach vocab such as nostrils, eyelashes, palms, earlobes, etc.

Family Feud!

Level: A1 and higher

 

This game is truly awesome and if you do it once it will up your teaching game and leave a lasting impression on your students, however, it does take some preparation at home. 


This isn’t an exact copy of the famous TV game but an adjusted version created by me to suit the classroom environment. 

Preparation at Home:


Get a handful of thick A4 papers (you don’t want them to be see through). 10 is a good number. On one side write a question and on the other side, your answer. It’s best to base the questions around a particular topic, however, if you’d rather do it as a standalone exercise (or perhaps a killer demo class) then here are some good questions and answers:


1. Five most dangerous animals

Lion

Shark

Tiger

Eagle

Wolf


2. Five team sports

Football

Basketball

Volleyball

Hockey

Rugby 


3. Five (electrical) things you’ll find only in a kitchen 

Fridge (or Refrigerator)

Oven

Dishwasher

Toster

Microwave


4. Five transport vehicles

Car

Train

Plane

Motorcycle

Rocket


5. Five most popular cities

New York

London

Hong Kong

Tokyo

Paris


6. Five animals living underwater

Fish

Dolphin

Whale

Shark

Jellyfish


7. Five things only in a bathroom

Bathtub

Shower

Mirror

Toothbrush

Towel


8. Five things at a birthday party

Cake

Presents

Decorations

Guests

Games


9. Top five western foods

Pizza

Hamburger

Spaghetti

Hot Dog

Cereal


10. Five winter clothings

Jacket

Scarf

Gloves

Warm socks

Hat


The procedure:


1. Stick the categories on the board, questions side. 


2. Put your students into groups of 3-4. 


3. One group picks a category, i.e. Five most popular cities.


4. Give them 2 minutes to write their answers. 


5. First, ask all the groups to read out loud their answers (will prevent them from adding more after you’ve revealed yours). 


6. Reveal your answers. For every one that matches a team gets 1 point. If they matched all 5 they’ll get 2 extra bonus points (but not more than that, otherwise it will be unfair). 


7. The team with the most correct answers for this one question gets to pick the next category. 


8. Continue for all the categories and reward the winning team at the end.

Vocab Board Race

Level: A1 and higher

 

No matter what your students’ age and level are they’re bound to find this activity engaging. It takes a minimum effort from you and can be done as a perfect high-energy warmup.

 

Prep time: 10 minutes. Write vocabulary on paper.

Preparation at home:


On separate paper slips write each vocabulary word you wish to review. 10-20 paper slips is a good number. 


The procedure:

 

1. Divide the class into 2 teams. 


2. Stick all the paper slips on the black board.


3. Position the teams into two lines, facing the board. 


4. Say out loud one of the definitions. The first student from each line must race to the board and grab the corresponding paper slip. 


5. At the end the team with the most paper slips wins.


But wait, there’s more!


6. Now, they have to write the definitions to the paper slips they’ve collected. The team who finishes first gets points! This will give the losing team a chance to win, whilst making the winning team work harder.


Seriously wait, there’s even more!


7. Each team reads one of their definitions to the other team. If they guess the word on the first try both teams score 1 point. If they guess it on the second try only the team who was reading gets one point. If they guess it on the third, no one gets a point. 


Wait again, there’s even…. no, just kidding, that’s it.

Action Vocab

Level: A1 and higher


What you’ll need: a handful of paperclips with some basic actions written on them. A hat (or a bucket/bowl/bag, something to put the words in).


The procedure:

 

1. Pick one person to come to the front.


2. They reach into the hat and draw the action, i.e. jump on your left leg.


3. Now they must do your vocabulary task while jumping on their left leg. 


The task can be: name 5 animals, define the word ‘excited’, use ‘marble’ in a sentence


4. If they complete the task, they get to call out the next person. 


5. If they fail, have them draw another action. 

 

Note: Needless to say, the student who keeps failing should only do two/three attempts max. After that allow them to go back to their seat. 


Actions:


Jump on the left leg

Jump on the right leg

Close your eyes and move in a straight line

Balance a pencil on another pencil (hold them flat)

Balance a book on your head

Play ‘clap hands’ with the teacher

Spin around

Do a run around the classroom

Run from the door to the window and back

Etc.

The Word Triangle

Level: A2 and higher

Setup:


First, you’ll need to show them how this is done. 


1. On the board draw a medium size triangle. 


2 At every corner of the triangle write one word.


3 Turn to your students and ask them to guess the word that associates with all three.


4 Do this a couple of times.


Examples:


Animal, friend, house – PET

Food, cold, milk – ICE CREAM

Tall, old, green – TREE

 

The secret to do it is to first think of the final word and then come up with its 3 associations. 


The procedure: 

 

1. Put your students into groups of 3-4


2. Write the group names on the board


3. Instruct each group to create up to 10 word triangles. You can narrow the vocab to the current topic or the recent words you’ve been teaching them, or go completely random.


4. When the groups are ready, pick the first one and ask them to read 3 associations from one of their triangles. 


5. When another group guesses the word both of these groups get one point. After that the group that has guessed gets to read their triangle. 


6. Continue the game until the end of the world.

I See Someone

Level: A1 and higher

The procedure:

 

1. Position the chairs in a circle or a line, enough for every student minus one.


2. The student without a chair stands on the side and says: I see someone with glasses.


3. Every student who’s wearing glasses must rise and switch their place.


4. At the same time the Caller is trying to take someone’s space. 


5. If they succeed, the new person standing becomes the Caller and so on.

This game is also great for practicing negations: I see someone who isn’t wearing a t-shirt.

Words from Word

Level: A1 and above

 

This one works great for individuals as well as groups. It’s great fun if you turn it into a competition.


 

The procedure:

 

1. Write one long word on the board, i.e. COLLABORATION 


2. Instruct your students to write as many words as possible using only the letters from your word. 

COLLAR, BOAR, COLON, etc.


The best thing is you can play this game with virtually any long word. I found that it also works great as homework for the lower levels.

Don’t see the lesson you’re looking for? Then contact us and request it here

Sticky Note All the Things!

Level: A1 and higher

 

What you’ll need: Sticky Notes (or Post-It Notes) in different colours (they often sell 4 colours in one package). 


The procedure:

 

1. Divide your students into groups, as many as you have different colours. 


2. Give the Sticky Notes in one colour to each group. 


3. Put 5-10 minutes on the timer. 


4. Groups must go around the classroom, naming as many items by writing their names on the note and sticking it on. They do it until the time runs out. 

 

Note: It’s super important that students hide the words by folding the notes or writin =g underneath them, otherwise all groups will rip off each other. 


5. At the end , the group with the most correctly spelled words wins.

Baseball Charades

Levels: A1 and higher

 

This game exercise uses up a lot of paper so I recommend only using pages from old worksheets that would otherwise go to the bin. I’m serious, if you use clean A4 sheets for this Leo DiCaprio and I will hunt you down. 

Setup:


1. Prepare a stack of A4 sheets (old worksheets!) that have one side blank. 


2. On it write 1 word per A4 sheet from the current vocabulary you’re reviewing. 


3. Crumple every page into a ball. 

 

4. Use a notebook as a baseball bat. 


The procedure: 

 

1. Stand one volunteer on one side of the classroom and the rest of the students in a tight group on the opposite side. 


2. Give them the baseball bat (notebook). 

 

3. Throw one of the vocab balls towards them. The batter hits and the ball is flying through the air towards the group of students. 

 

4. The person who catches it brings the ball to the batter’s side (the batter joins the rest). 

 

5. Now they need to mime, draw or explain that word to the rest of the class. 

 

Note: you can make it more exciting by putting 1-2 minutes on the timer. 

 

6. If they succeed, they become the next batter and score one game point. 


7. If they fail, simply throw the ball to the group and the person who catches makes their attempt.

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