Teaching ESL Vocabulary: Traffic, Cars & Driving

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 ESL learners progress, it's important for them to add practical vocabulary to their language repertoire. This lesson includes some traffic, car and driving vocabulary and teaching strategies designed for the ESL environment.

Vocabulary Matters

Before you embark on teaching new vocabulary and language skills to your English as a Second Language (ESL) students, it's important to provide them with word lists for reference and review. The word lists below are meant to serve as a starting point, so feel free to add your own words or include student suggestions.

Traffic & Driving Words & Phrases

This list includes common traffic vocabulary students may come across in every day life.

  1. Traffic jam / traffic light / traffic signal
  2. Road work / road maintenance
  3. Bumper-to-bumper
  4. Alternate route
  5. Turn lane
  6. Speed limit
  7. School zone
  8. Highway / freeway
  9. Off-ramp / On-ramp
  10. Parking space / parking lot / parking garage / parking meter
  11. Carpool
  12. Passenger
  13. Intersection
  14. Crosswalk
  15. Pedestrian
  16. Tow-away zone
  17. Road signs (stop, yield, speed limit, etc.)
  18. Traffic cones
  19. Driver's license
  20. Auto insurance

Car Vocabulary

  1. Seatbelt
  2. Airbag
  3. Engine
  4. Tire / spare tire
  5. Steering wheel
  6. Back seat
  7. Windshield
  8. Oil change
  9. Mileage
  10. Car / truck / van / sports utility vehicle (SUV)
  11. Gas pedal / brake pedal
  12. Parking brake
  13. Turn signal / blinker
  14. Brake lights / hazard lights / emergency lights
  15. Glove box / glove compartment

As you review each word, be sure to elicit a short definition from your students. Focus on practical definitions and descriptions that students can relate to, rather than relying on a dictionary.

Teaching Car & Driving Vocabulary

It's vital that students don't simply memorize the word lists. Instead, ensure students have ample time and exercises that stress real-world usage of the terms. There are several ways to accomplish this.

Collages & Dictionaries

Have students find and cut out visual representations from magazines and newspapers of words from the lists. You can also have small teams of students compile their pictures into a visual dictionary or collage to share with the class. Try having a contest for the best dictionary or collage, and award a prize to the winning team.

Role-Playing Activities

Role-playing is another great way to help students review and use the new vocabulary. Role-playing encourages realistic use of unfamiliar words and also helps students visualize the terminology. To begin, create different role-playing scenarios and encourage your students to use situation specific vocabulary. For example:

  • A driving instructor teaching a new driver or driver's education class
  • A car salesman trying to sell a car to prospective buyers
  • A police officer stopping a driver for a traffic or vehicle violation

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