Indirect Vocabulary Instruction Activities

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

As students progress, it sometimes becomes necessary to let them take the lead. This lesson provides teachers with indirect vocabulary instruction activities designed for classroom use.

Why Indirect?

Indirect (also called student-centered) instruction can be a valuable tool for a number of reasons. First of all, indirect instruction places the majority of the learning responsibility on the student, requiring him or her to use a variety of skills. These skills may include observing, investigating, inferring, and hypothesizing. For indirect instruction to work successfully in the classroom, you, the teacher, must provide clear guidelines regarding how students are expected to perform and behave.

The indirect vocabulary activities detailed below will ask you to get the students started and then basically leave them to their own devices. Once students have received instructions from you, try to mostly remain an observer, but be available to answer questions and get individuals or teams back on task.

Find the Meaning

To prepare for this activity create a list of unfamiliar or challenging vocabulary words students will need to know for an upcoming lesson or unit. For example, if the students just finished a biology unit, you can assign the following three words:

  1. Permeable
  2. Carbohydrate
  3. Aerobic

Next, divide the class into teams of 2-4 students and give each team a copy of the word list. Set a timer for 5 minutes (or more or less depending on the level of your learners) and instruct students to find and write down the definition of each word.

Each team must work together to find a credible definition and record it accurately on the paper. To make the activity more challenging you can prohibit teams from using textbooks or phones/computers, requiring teams to create definitions based on their collective knowledge rather than locating a definition in an outside source. Once time has expired, invite a representative from each team to the front of the classroom. Have each representative read out their team's definitions and facilitate a class discussion on any differences in the definitions.

Vocabulary Everywhere

This activity encourages students to find and analyze vocabulary outside of the classroom, which can be particularly helpful for review purposes.

At the end of a unit (or on a Friday) provide students with a short list of some of the key terms they have been learning. The objective is for students to find these words being used outside of an academic setting. Magazines, newspapers, works of fiction, and Internet articles are all potential sources. When a student does find one of these words, they should document the time, date, and source.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account