ESL Space Vocabulary: List & Games

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

If you are an ESL instructor preparing to teach your students about space, you may find this lesson useful. We'll go over important space-related vocabulary and some games that can be used to help make the acquisition process a little more fun.

Introducing New Concepts

Space is an educational unit that can quickly become overwhelming for English as a second language (ESL) students if not introduced and subsequently taught in an effective and engaging way. In order to help make the learning process easier, it's important to ensure that students are taught the full range of vocabulary terms that will be introduced throughout the unit. Before new concepts are introduced, go over the vocabulary that will be covered in the relating lessons. This ensures acquisition, or learning and understanding, of the content being delivered, especially if formative review and active learning are part of the lesson.

Use of Subtopics

When introducing space as a subject, it's a good idea to break the unit down into smaller subtopics, or themes. This will make it easier for students to focus on each area at a time, while still aiming to learn the new vocabulary being introduced. Consider teaching lessons on the inner planets, the outer planets, taking a trip to space, what is in outer space, and the universe. This way, students will be better able to retain all of the new vocabulary they are learning, since there is an organized process of acquisition involved. Let's look at some vocabulary terms, and then go over a few games that can be used to help keep learning fun as students work on understanding these new words.

Space Vocabulary

As noted in the previous section, it's easier to teach larger units when they are broken down into smaller subtopics. That is exactly what we'll do here while learning the vocabulary terms you'll want to include in your space-themed lessons.

Inner Planets

The inner planets are the closet to the sun. They are separated from the outer planets by an asteroid belt and are associated with the following words:

  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Earth
  • Mars
  • Red Planet
  • Hottest
  • Smallest
  • Rocky
  • Sister Planet (Venus' nickname because it's so close in size to Earth)
  • Terrestrial planets (like the Earth in some way)
  • Metal
  • Closest

Outer Planets

The outer planets are mostly made of gas, further away from the sun, and separated from the inner planets by an asteroid belt. Related vocabulary words include:

  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • Gas
  • Giant
  • Rings
  • Sideways
  • Red spot
  • Storm
  • Blue Planet
  • Biggest
  • Ice

A Trip to Space

When teaching about a trip to space, be sure to include vocabulary relating not only to going to space, but also the jobs involved in studying those journeys.

  • Astronaut
  • Astronomy
  • Astronomer
  • Launch
  • Spacesuits
  • Spacecraft
  • Space shuttle
  • Lunar model
  • Rocket
  • Satellite
  • Space probe
  • Telescope
  • NASA
  • Exploration
  • Scientist

What to See in Space

Aside from planets, there are other amazing things to see and learn about in space. Be sure to go over these terms that will likely come up in any space-themed unit.

  • Pluto
  • Star
  • Comet
  • Atmosphere
  • Asteroid
  • Black hole
  • Crater
  • Moon
  • Meteor
  • Revolve
  • Rotate
  • Orbit
  • Radiation
  • Light year
  • Lunar

The Universe

There is a whole world of concepts, science, evolution, and mind-blowing facts that can be taught when it comes to the overall theme of the universe. Include these terms in your lesson as a guide for what to cover.

  • Big Bang
  • Gravity
  • Alien life
  • Eclipse
  • Martian
  • Constellation
  • Galaxy
  • Milky Way
  • Physics
  • Science fiction
  • Unidentified Flying Object (UFO)
  • Big Dipper
  • Little Dipper
  • Moon phases

Space Games

Once you introduce each subtopic within your space unit, consider engaging students with games that will help them along during the acquisition process. Games are a fun way to get students involved in learning; it allows class time to become more of an active, rather than passive, experience.

Passport to Space

Create a mini passport for every student. Have them work in small groups, pairs, or individually to fill out the passport by writing facts about the eight planets on its pages.

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