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Teaching ESL Vocabulary: Politics & Government

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Politics and government vocabulary can sound intimidating to ESL students. This lesson provides you with some ready-to-use vocabulary words and related activities for your students to do.

Basic Definitions

Many of your ESL students may feel overwhelmed by a lesson about politics and government vocabulary. For this reason, it is a good idea to ease the way into new vocabulary by first giving the definitions of politics and government.

Your students can begin by saying what 'politics' and 'government' mean to them. You help them out by providing simple definitions. For example:

  • Politics: the set of activities that citizens do in order to elect politicians and the activities politicians do to be elected by citizens.
  • Government: the system that creates rules for citizens and also provides them with services like education, healthcare, or security.

Once definitions are in place, show your students some visuals that illustrate the definitions. For instance, showing people getting ready to vote illustrates 'politics', whereas the picture of a mayor illustrates 'government'.

Students can talk about what/who they see in the visuals and discuss times they saw/read/heard news related to politics and government.

Vocabulary for Politics

Display the words on the following list on a chalk, smart, or white board. Go through the pronunciation and definition of each word with students.

Alternatively, you could show a PowerPoint presentation with visuals for each word. As students see the visual, say the new word aloud and have them repeat it. Once students understand the correct pronunciation, display the actual written word. This activity uses a 'say and see' prompt so that vocabulary sticks.

Some words you can include are:

  • Campaign: the activities politicians do to communicate with people about their ideas, plans, etc.
  • Candidate: a person who wants to be elected as president or governor, among other positions
  • Voter: a citizen who has the right to elect an authority, such as the president or a governor
  • Elections: events where people vote in favor of specific candidates
  • Poll: a survey to determine the opinions citizens have about elections
  • Ballot: a sheet that has a list with the names of candidates for president, governor, etc.
  • Conservative: a person who believes in maintaining laws and institutions as they are
  • Political party: a group of people who share the same ideas about how the country should be

Words stick when students have a context for them. Activities your students can do to use these words include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Students write a short paragraph in which they use at least five words related to politics. The topic of the paragraph might be: 'The last time I voted' or 'The last time I saw news about the elections.'
  2. Students write sentences in which they use the new vocabulary about politics. It is best to give an example, such as 'There are two main candidates for president of the United States.'
  3. Students present different aspects of a vocabulary word. For example, a couple of students can discuss a ballot and show a sample, including the components and how people vote.
  4. Students write a speech they would use if they were running for president, mayor, or another position.
  5. Students brainstorm ideas about how to get more people to vote.
  6. Students discuss this question: 'Would you vote for an actor/actress who wants to be a representative and why, or why not?'
  7. Students talk about a controversial politician from their countries. They explain the reasons for the controversy.
  8. Students discuss this question: 'What characteristics should a politician have?'

Vocabulary for Government

Display and discuss the vocabulary on this list just as you did for the 'politics' words.

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