Lower Elementary ESL Vocabulary

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.

Learning new vocabulary, especially as a young ESL student, can be quite a challenge. This lesson provides activities for students to use as they both learn, and integrate, new English vocabulary into everyday practice.

Why Use Vocabulary Activities?

Language learning activities are a great way to keep young English as a Second Language (ESL) students engaged as they learn and review English vocabulary. Additionally, incorporating a variety of literacy strategies into the activities is an added bonus, as it helps with the development and acquisition of important reading comprehension skills. This lesson presents a variety of vocabulary activities to use with young ESL students.

Vocabulary Activities

The following activities are designed to help young learners practice, utilize, and integrate new vocabulary into everyday conversation and practice. Give them a try to see if they help make vocabulary learning a little more fun and engaging.

Flash Cards

Flash cards are always a good idea when it comes to learning new vocabulary. For young learners, it's beneficial to have the written word on one side and a corresponding image on the other side. Students can use flash cards for various games and activities, as well as for practice with memorization, word/picture recognition, and vocabulary recollection.

Vocabulary Charades

Using the flash cards, ESL learners can play a game of charades to practice their understanding of the vocabulary being learned. Learners can play with friends or family by having someone show the written word for him or her to act out. Only the audience can see the corresponding picture to determine if the learner is acting out the vocabulary correctly. For example, if the learner gets the flash card for 'snow', he or she could act out putting on boots, catching snowflakes, and building a snowman. The learner should aim to have the audience members guess the vocabulary word in 30 seconds.

Vocabulary Hangman

Hangman is always a popular game with ESL learners. This activity is great because it helps with letter recognition, spelling, and decoding skills. This can be done anywhere, with family members, or with friends. Using visible flashcards or vocabulary lists, one person will draw spaces for letters of one vocabulary word on a piece of paper, and then write out the alphabet to the side.

The ESL learner will guess letters in the word. Every time a letter is guessed, the learner's partner crosses the letter off the alphabet list and writes it in the correct space in the word. If a letter is guessed that is not in the word, a body part will be drawn on the stickman being hanged. To win, the learner must guess the word before the stickman is completed and 'hanged'. Whether the learner wins or loses, at the end of the game, he or she should try to make a sentence using the vocabulary word for comprehension practice.

Vocabulary Journals

Writing words/phrases helps imprint new vocabulary in young students' minds. It is important for ESL learners to see, use, and write the words they are learning as much as possible to become comfortable integrating them into daily conversations. Learners can use a picture/word notebook to write and draw about the vocabulary being learned. Create one section for adding vocabulary lists, and one section for the learner to use the vocabulary words in writing. To benefit the most from the vocabulary journal, ESL learners should practice reading and writing with these words on a daily basis.


This is a great game for developing student memory, recollection of vocabulary, and word/picture recognition. To start, create a duplicate set of flash cards for the vocabulary that is being studied. Have one set with the written word, and one set with a corresponding image. The learner should be familiar with the written word and its image before the activity takes place.

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