And I think to myself, what a wonderful word!

New Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary - for teachers; Tips to Remember New Words - for students; Personal Experience - Ekaterina Arakelian


There are many approaches to teaching vocabulary, and we have already dipped into this topic once. In one of our recent newsletters we discussed the books that every teacher should read, “Teaching Lexically” by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley being one of them. Here is a brief review of some main points of the Lexical Approach so popular with teachers these days, spiced up with our own experience and a few useful links.

Identify the meaning

Look at the list of words for the next unit or topic you are teaching, look through the texts and scripts and find out the context and the exact meaning each word is presented with. Think about which words will be new or may be interesting for your students to learn, plan for how you will explain or define them and come up with at least one more example for each item.

Consider frequency

Not all words appear in the language with the same frequency, which is important to keep in mind when teaching different levels. Lower level students will need to learn higher frequency words, whereas advanced students may find less common words useful to expand their vocabulary. You can always check that on MacMillan dictionary website, which uses a star system to rate the frequency of words.

Convey the meaning

Although translating the word may seem the easiest solution it is not always the best one. Not all words have exact equivalents in your first language, and avoiding L1 will help students get used to and start thinking in your target language faster. You could draw the word, mime it, point at an object, show a photo or tell a story. Giving a clear definition with an example is always a great idea, so you may consider simplifying them. Check out Collins Cobuild dictionary for simple definitions and Skell engine to never run out of examples or collocations. We even advise you to use these sentences to create gap-filling exercises for your students to better grasp the context and meaning.


No word exists in a vacuum, everything we say is more or less made up of collocations. These are a conventional paring or grouping of certain words that we most frequently turn to when we speak. Knowing common word collocations not only enriches your vocabulary, but also increases the fluency, because it shortens the time you need to think of a phrase.
Look at the vocabulary list for your next lesson and come up with several collocations each word often comes up in, which the Skell engine can greatly help you with. Teach your students to notice these collocations in texts and highlight them. A great exercise to use is writing questions that will contain a collocation, removing one word from it, asking students to fill the gap and then answer the question using the collocation. It exposes your class to the context, makes them think of the relation between words and instantly puts this knowledge to practice.

Go further with questions

If you want your students to really remember a collocation, you should ask more questions and make them think even harder. For example, the word “handle” will be hard to remember on its own, unless you collocate it with “handle stress / pressure / change”. After that come up with a few questions which further draw on the meaning and expand the context:
- What kinds of professions have to handle a lot of stress?
- What are some ways to handle stress at work? In your studies? In everyday life?
- Are you good at handling stress? In what situations did you have to handle a lot of stress in the past?
- Do you agree that now people need to handle more stress than in the past?
Remember, that open questions are usually better than closed ones (requiring a simple “yes” or “no”), because they force students to speak more.


Here are some tips to help you remember vocabulary:

  • Keep an organised vocabulary notebook.

  • Look at the words again after 24 hours, after one week and after one month.

  • Read, read, read. The more times you ‘see’ a word the more easily you will remember it.

  • Use the new words. You need to use a new word about ten times before you remember it!

  • Do word puzzles and games like crosswords, anagrams and word searches.

  • Make word cards and take them with you. Read them on the bus or when you are waiting for your friends.

  • Learn words with a friend. It can be more fun and easier to learn with someone else.

  • Learn how to use a dictionary. What information is next to a word in the dictionary? Do you know the different types of dictionary?

  • Learn a few words but not too many. About eight new words a day is a good number.


One more tip is to visualise new words and create associations! Watch this video to find out how:

Apps that will help you remember new words:

1. Vocab1

Vocab1 (view website) is one of the most comprehensive vocabulary apps available and can wow and overwhelm newcomers at the same time by the sheer size and intensity of the app. On offer is an impressive and comprehensive number of words: 142,647 of them.

Vocab1 uses a vast database of more than half a million words to teach you the various contexts within which they might be used. In fact, learning new words within context is perhaps the app’s most important trump card.

But there is much more, such as 649 expert lists and the facility for you to create your own word lists. These lists concentrate upon words commonly used in fields such as medicine, engineering, or education. Special word lists for SAT, GRE and TOEFL are also available.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that Vocab1 utilizes flashcards, interactive games and tests to teach you and you can jump from one section to another whenever you wish.

Finally, Vocab1 offers extensive support to users, even online forums where users can communicate with each other. This is certainly one of the best vocabulary apps these days for serious and systematic learners.

Review: ★★★★★

2. WordUp

Expanding your English vocabulary is what WordUp is all about. Geeks Ltd, an award-winning software company and owners of WordUp came up with a unique product in many ways. Learners will remember new words if they experience the use of that word in real-life situations. Thousands of short video clips from TV shows and movies are used to demonstrate the use of a specific word in many different contexts.

Another unique approach used in WordUp is the app’s focus on 20,000 most commonly used words, sorted in order of how useful each word is. Learning the most useful words first encourages learners to use those words in everyday conversations and situations.

WordUp also employs the principles of “spaced repetition” to aid retention. Every new word you learn is repeated a day, a week, a month and six months later. If you forgot, WordUp would show you its meaning and context again and again.

WordUp is free and available for either Android or iOS devices. English speakers at all levels of fluency will benefit from this very best vocabulary app.

Review: ★★★★☆

3. Magoosh Vocabulary App

Magoosh is primarily concerned with test prep apps. Magoosh Vocabulary builder (available for Android and iOS) is just one of their vocabulary apps aimed at students preparing for their GRE, GMAT, TOEFL and SAT tests.

Magoosh’s vocabulary app is ideal for students on the go that may have just a few minutes at a time to learn new words. Test prep experts carefully chose 1200 words most likely to feature in the test. For each new word, the audio pronunciation, definition and examples of how the word is used are given. Learners start as beginners and progress through the intermediate to the advanced level.

Having fun when learning certainly encourages students to spend more time learning; that is why Magoosh Vocabulary Builder uses a gaming approach. Users can either compete on their own to unlock new words (and worlds) or they can battle against each other to see who knows the definitions of new words best. Progress tracking is available too.

Review: ★★★★☆

4. Quizlet

Quizlet, one of the top 50 websites in the USA and with more than 50 million users, is much more than just a vocabulary app. Quizlet is an extraordinarily large collection of study guides and flashcard sets aimed at helping students prepare for a vast array of subject-related tests, including SAT and GRE.

Flashcards, games and quizzes are the pillars on which the app is built. However, students can choose between an astonishingly creative seven different modes of learning. Space limitations prohibit a full description of all these learning modes but students can form teams that compete against each other, opt for a flashcard lesson, test themselves with interactive games and even opt for a spelling test!

Quizlet is one of the most used vocabulary apps and is available for iOS and Android. Its price depends on the number of units you wish to get. Prices are different for schools. Users can contribute flashcards of their own and teachers can design their own tests.

Review: ★★★★★

Find more apps here


Teaching lexis can’t be called easy work. Fortunately, or unfortunately, a teacher can present a new word and its meaning, to use practical drilling exercises which can help to remember a new lexical attempt. However, only a student manages to learn a group of words on the level of being able to use them easily in the correct context. We as teachers can show the suitable techniques for making this process smooth and simple.

We tend to give our students the most suitable tools to make the process of remembering new vocabulary successful.

I have some personal life hacks which usually save me while having vocabulary lessons with my students.

Firstly, you as a teacher need to understand clearly how many words your student can possibly remember. In fact, it can be 5/10/20 words per one lesson. Don’t be disappointed if the number is low (e.g. 7 words). In this case pay more attention to how you practice those words by using a role play, for example. As for me, I usually give from 8 to 15 words depending on the individual wants and abilities of each student.

Secondly, in my practice, I often use specific drilling exercises which I find convenient for training new vocabulary items.

For example, drilling exercises (word substitution) are really popular among my students as a way to check the understanding of the new words. It can be used during the lesson, right after learning the definitions, or as a revision exercise several days later (in the next lesson). Honestly, this type of exercise lets the teacher analyze how a student gets the meaning of a new word; and if something goes wrong, you always have a chance to help your student with understanding and doing the exercise successfully.

One more exercise which I highly recommend trying with your students is “jumbled words”. The technique is quite easy: the letters of the word are put in the wrong order, and they should unscramble it. So, your students need to remember the spelling of the word to successfully do this kind of task. In my point of view, this exercise could be used as homework, since none of my students could cheat on it and, in all cases, they learned the words with a little pinch of anger and joy.

That’s all for now!
Stay amazing ♥