Suggestions for Teaching Vocabulary

In his book "Vocabulary Myths," Keith Folse notes that "[ESL students] see acquisition of vocabulary as their greatest source of problems...[However], vocabulary is not dealt with sufficiently...some teachers cover some vocabulary, but this is hardly ever done very systematically. Vocabulary is something that everyone assumes that learners will somehow pick up, much the same way everyone assumes that students will just pick up good pronunciation" (Folse, 2004).

It is therefore essential that vocabulary which is introduced in class be reviewed and reinforced repeatedly. The following are some ideas for recycling vocabulary both inside and outside of the ESL classroom, using Gerry's Vocabulary Teacher.


Gap-Fill Exercises - Various Techniques

Gap-fills are an excellent way to reinforce vocabulary, and allow the student to encounter the vocabulary in a variety of contexts. The exercises can be worked on individually or in pairs in class, or can be assigned as homework to be quickly reviewed in class the next day.


The Standard Multi-Word Gap-Fill

Gap-fill exercises can take various forms; the most common is the standard multi-word exercise with a number of sentences and words to choose from. A short example exercise with 5 sentences is shown below.

standard gap-fill


The Gap-Fill with Clues in Root Form

A challenging variation of the above exercise is a gap-fill exercise in which the words which are gapped are presented in their root form. In this way, students have to choose the correct word from the contexts given, and supply the appropriate form of the word, such as a different derivation or different tense. A short example exercise with 5 sentences is shown below.

gap-fill root form


Multiple Contexts for One Word

Another variation which can help students to understand the various derivations for a word is a gap-fill exercise with several different contexts for 1 word, each showing a different form or derivation. A short example exercise with 5 sentences is shown below.

mutiple contexts


Listening Practice with Gap-Fills

Gap-fill exercises can be presented as listening exercises. In this exercise, students hear the sentence rather than reading it, and have to choose the appropriate answer. A short example exercise with 6 sentences is shown below. The next day in class, students can be shown the sentences that they heard in the language lab. At this time, they can see if what was said is the same as what they thought they heard. It also offers an additional opportunity to review and learn the target vocabulary.

listening practice


Crossword Puzzles with Gap-Fill Clues

Gap-fill exercises can be presented as crossword puzzles. Rather than presenting dictionary definitions as clues, use gap-fill sentences in context. Crossword puzzles are an excellent way to review vocabulary, as students will immediately know their answers are incorrect if they do not fit the puzzle. In addition, if the students can't figure out the answer, they can simply count the squares in the puzzle, find words of equal length and then try to deduce the correct answer. Students who use this strategy should be encouraged to then go back to the puzzle and re-read the context to see if they now understand. An excellent crossword puzzle program is available free of charge from The program allows you to make a crossword puzzle within minutes. All you have to do is type in the answer and the sentence clue, and the computer will generate the best configuration to fit all the words into the puzzle.

A variation on the standard crossword puzzle gap-fill review is the partners' puzzle. Two puzzles are created – puzzle A and puzzle B. Students get the clues for their partner's puzzle. Student A figures out the answers and tells them to Student B, who fills in the blanks in her puzzle. Student B figures out the answers to his clues and gives them to Student A to fill in the blanks in his puzzle. This exercise provides an additional challenge in that the students are not able to count the number of squares in the puzzle to help them find the appropriate answer. This activity can be done in class as a race between groups.


Interactive Web-Based Gap-Fill Exercises

Using Hot Potatoes formats JCloze and JMatch, Gerry's Vocabulary Teacher will automatically generate interactive web-based gap-fill exercises for posting on a class or institutional website. Web-based exercises are an excellent way of reviewing vocabulary, as students receive immediate feedback for their responses, and can review the material at any time from any computer with Internet access. Short example exercises created using JMatch and JCloze are shown below.



Interactive Vocabulary Games

You can create a variety of interactive games on the Internet using The basic game-maker program is available free of charge. Use Gerry's Vocabulary Teacher to create contexts, replace the blank ____________ with the symbols ###, and have the target vocabulary as the answers. Complete instructions for creating the games are available on the website. We have found the best game template to be: Arcade Game Generator - WordShoot. Click on the image below to give it a try! Each level of the game gets increasingly challenging.


Using Target Vocabulary in Speaking Activities

It is equally important that students use the new vocabulary in speaking activities. Three interesting and effective techniques are described below.


Quick Discussions

With Gerry's Vocabulary Teacher, you can choose topics for short warm-up discussions using vocabulary under study. The students are in pairs and change partners after each topic. In this exercise, the students are using the vocabulary in a meaningful context. For example, to practise the following vocabulary: torture & subsidize, our class had the following discussions:

Is it acceptable for the police to use torture to get information from prisoners?
Should the government subsidize university education?

Quick discussions can cover a variety of topics, including those relating to experience, culture, opinion and personal questions. See the examples below.

Experience - What things have you found it difficult to adapt to in this culture?
Culture - What is the most common symbol of your culture, and what does it represent for you?
Opinion - Is violence justifiable in the fight for human rights?
Personal - How do you expect learning English will be of benefit to you in your future?


Find Someone Who...

The old Find someone who… activity can also be used to effectively review vocabulary, using questions found in Gerry's Vocabulary Teacher. This exercise is helpful in having the students relate the new vocabulary to themselves and to their own experience. Students circulate with their sheet and ask classmates questions to find affirmative answers for the queries below. For example: "Have you had an argument recently?" If someone answers "yes" to a question, they should tell their classmate about it. A "no" answer means the student should ask another classmate. A short example exercise with 5 sentences is shown below.

find someone who



Proverbs & Quotations

Proverbs and quotations provide a memorable and thought-provoking review of target vocabulary. Students are given a variety of quotes and/or proverbs from which to choose their favourite and then circulate, explaining to their classmates what it means and why they chose it. Examples of quotes and proverbs found in Gerry's Vocabulary Teacher are shown below. The square brackets indicate words which the software program could remove for a gap-fill exercise using the sentences.

Using the techniques described above, teachers can review and reinforce vocabulary in a variety of ways, help the students develop a greater understanding of vocabulary, and meet with the students' various verbal and non-verbal learning styles.