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Presenting Vocabulary in YL Classes

By Anita Kwiatkowska
Children’s attention span is extremely short compared to that of adults. Thus your job as a teacher is to use the few minutes you have to present vocabulary as effectively and successfully as you can. Be creative. Be appealing. Be quick. To make sure your students will remember all the new words you taught them, […]

Children’s attention span is extremely short compared to that of adults. Thus your job as a teacher is to use the few minutes you have to present vocabulary as effectively and successfully as you can. Be creative. Be appealing. Be quick. To make sure your students will remember all the new words you taught them, be fun and have fun as well!

Vocabulary Selection

Keep in mind that no matter what memorization techniques you use, children are not able to remember as many words as adults at a time. In most cases, approximately five totally new words seem to be enough to present during a single lesson unit. If you follow a course book, make sure that the new lexical items actually and/or significantly differ from their counterparts in the kids’ mother tongue. It makes no sense to prepare elaborate activities for the students to memorize that “computer” is actually “komputer” (Polish). In addition be open to familiarizing the children with the so called “difficult words”. For YLs any new word can be memorized as long as they can relate it to something they already know in their own language.

Flashcards and Pictures

As visuals appeal a great deal to kids, have a set of flashcards or pictures ready for any new words or phrases you want to introduce. Forget about the old fashioned “What’s in the picture?” sometimes. Instead, roll the cards over in many directions, show for a second and cover again, let them slowly appear from the back of a book. Not only will it make your students enjoy this stage more but it will also make them remember the new words better.


Whenever possible bring realia to the classroom. There is no better way to make a person remember something than to see, smell, touch and taste it. Another way of making the lesson more attention-grabbing is letting the children bring objects of their own. By doing so you will allow personalization and let them have some fun too.

Feel free to invite people to your classroom. If you are teaching professions, ask a doctor or a musician to visit your class and talk about their jobs. The students will be given the opportunity not only to memorize the name of a given profession but learn some other useful words related to it as well.


Try to create a single movement for (if possible) all the new words presented. Even if it is only waving your hand in a specific way or touching your cheek, the chance that the students will remember a word better is much greater. Another useful idea is making noises related to the vocabulary taught. “Meow” if you want to teach “cat” and “moo” if you teach “cow”. With some students the auditory intelligence is more dominant so make sure you facilitate the learning process for them additionally.


Make sure you model proper pronunciation from the very beginning of the classes. Do so not only by making the students repeat the what they hear from a tape/CD. Pronounce the words yourself in many original ways e.g. as an old woman, as a soldier, as a baby, as an opera singer; whispering, shouting, laughing. Drill the students as a whole class, individually and in groups (boys and girls, left and right side, front row and back row). Whatever you do however do not exaggerate! If some students cannot copy your pronunciation, leave it and give them some time. Nothing is more discouraging than feeling different because of not being able to do what everyone else can.

Cross Curricular Learning

Having the chance, find out what your students learn during their Biology or History classes. If they talk about cities while studying Geography for instance, it will be easier for them to get to know some vocabulary related to the topic in English as well. What is more, the amount of new lexical items you want the students to memorize might be more significant.


Do your best to create an appropriate context for what you are planning to teach. If the possibilities are limited make use of the blackboard or furniture in the classroom. Do not be ashamed to dress up! Wear a cowboy hat talking about the West, dungarees and rubber boots when you talk about farming or a raincoat and an umbrella when you want the kids to learn about the weather. If possible, use sound recordings to create a required atmosphere in the classroom or watch a thematically related video beforehand.

Always elicit what you are presenting from the students! Despite being young, they might surprise you with the knowledge they have.


Whenever an opportunity comes up, teach your kids everyday phrases. Say “here you are” when you distribute worksheets and “thank you” whenever you get something from the students. Every time you open or close the window, emphasize the activity and the phrase you use. When students want to use the bathroom, make them utter the “may I go to the bathroom” phrase and let them go. Repeat the procedure every time with all the kids.

Words Written Down

Be careful when you wish to write words down so that the kids remember them better. Appealing as it may sound, this procedure can cause more setbacks than benefits. It is a common problem that learners mispronounce words or phrases having seen them written first at the early stages of presentation. Hence always drill pronunciation before you write anything on the blackboard or familiarize the students with any written form of the words. If you are a teacher with little or no experience bear in mind that students grade one or lower cannot write yet!

Time and Timing

Whatever you do and no matter how you present the vocabulary, keep it short! Children can get bored in the blink of an eye, even if you dance the samba in the classroom. Once you realize that some of your learners are losing interest, do not try to get their attention by all and every means. Hurry up and move on to practice so as not to have the whole class yawning or talking when you try to teach.

To conclude, give your YLs time. Do not get angry if they cannot memorize all the new vocabulary you presented. In time they undoubtedly will.    🙂

Written by Anita Kwiatkowska for Tefl.NET October 2008

© Tefl.NET

One Comment

  • Yivi says:

    Hello, my name is Yivi im from méxico, im going to teach 1rst grade in high school, is my first time teaching and i wolud like to know some advices cause im gonna teach english( 3hrs a week) but the problem is cause out there we speak spanish all time so i dont know what activities do…I will work with Interchange book ….Thanks

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