How to Teach Vocabulary to ESL Students

Instructor: Marquis Grant
This lesson will provide strategies and ideas for teaching vocabulary to English as a Second Language (ESL) students. A short quiz will follow that will test your knowledge.


With more English as a Second Language (ESL) students entering the classroom, it is increasing important to implement special instructional practices so that they can be successful.

Vocabulary is probably the most important component of instruction that will benefit ESL students. Vocabulary is essential to understanding the material taught across subject matter and is used in all forms of communication: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Increasing ESL students' vocabulary will aid them in improving academically across the chart.

A word wall that incorporates visual aids is a good technique for teaching vocabulary
Word wall

Foundational Concepts

There are a few basic concepts that ESL teachers should keep in mind when teaching vocabulary, including sheltered instruction, building background knowledge, and scaffolding.

Sheltered Instruction

The term sheltered instruction means that general curriculum-based material, including math, science, social science and language arts, is taught in a way that all students, including ESL students and students with diverse learning styles, can understand. For example, teachers may utilize visual aids to introduce vocabulary. Sheltered instruction also encompasses the techniques of building background knowledge and scaffolding.

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