Upper 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.

If you are teaching upper elementary ESL students, this lesson will come in very handy. We will go over important vocabulary all students should be learning, as well as great ways to go about teaching it. Read on, to learn more!

Vocabulary Learning

No matter the age or learning level, when it comes to learning English as a Second Language (ESL), students can be easily overwhelmed when new vocabulary is introduced. Once your students enter the upper elementary grades, they will begin learning more complex vocabulary terms and grammatical structures.

Note that while younger elementary students often learn vocabulary words organized by theme or category, upper elementary students usually do not, so it's important for you to engage your students with a variety of hands-on learning activities. Additionally, make sure your students approach the new vocabulary through various literacy strategies, including reading, writing, listening, and speaking, to ensure that complete comprehension and acquisition take place.

Vocabulary Breakdown

For ease of presentation, the upper elementary vocabulary list in this lesson are broken down alphabetically. Ensure that each word is clearly taught along with its definition to ensure full student comprehension.


  • Absurd
  • Abuse
  • Access
  • Accomplish
  • Achievement
  • Aggressive
  • Alternate
  • Altitude
  • Antonym
  • Anxious
  • Apparent
  • Approximate
  • Assume
  • Astound
  • Available
  • Avalanche


  • Beverage
  • Bland
  • Blizzard
  • Budge
  • Cautiously
  • Challenge
  • Character
  • Combine
  • Companion
  • Crave
  • Compassion
  • Compose
  • Concept
  • Confident
  • Course
  • Courteous


  • Debate
  • Decline
  • Dedicate
  • Deprive
  • Detect
  • Document
  • Duplicate
  • Edible
  • Endanger
  • Exasperate
  • Exert
  • Exhibit
  • Feeble
  • Frigid


  • Gigantic
  • Guardian
  • Hazy
  • Hearty
  • Homonym
  • Identical
  • Immense
  • Impressive
  • Independent
  • Intense
  • Intercept
  • Jubilation
  • Kin
  • Luxurious


  • Major
  • Miniature
  • Minor
  • Mischief
  • Monarch
  • Moral
  • Myth
  • Narrator
  • Navigate
  • Negative
  • Nonchalant
  • Numerous
  • Oasis
  • Occasion
  • Overthrow


  • Pardon
  • Pasture
  • Pedestrian
  • Petrify
  • Portable
  • Preserve
  • Protagonist
  • Provide
  • Purchase
  • Realistic
  • Reassure
  • Reign
  • Reliable
  • Require
  • Resemble
  • Retain
  • Retire
  • Route


  • Seldom
  • Senseless
  • Sever
  • Slither
  • Sluggish
  • Soar
  • Solitary
  • Solo
  • Sparse
  • Spurt
  • Strategy
  • Suffocate
  • Summit
  • Suspend
  • Synonym


  • Talon
  • Taunt
  • Thrifty
  • Translate
  • Tropical
  • Visible
  • Visual
  • Vivid
  • Wilderness
  • Withdraw

Teaching Strategies and Activities

Aim for six to seven new vocabulary words a week, and use those words as much as possible throughout the class lessons. Keep the vocabulary visible at all times, so students can always see how the words are spelled. Encourage students to use the words in conversation, class activities, and homework assignments.

Vocabulary Binders

Have students maintain a vocabulary binder or notebook to keep track of new words, definitions, and word work. This acts as a source of resource and repetition as students go about integrating the new vocabulary into everyday conversation. Students can organize the binder with tabs, add new words as they are taught, and write sentences to practice comprehension. The more practice the better.


Write the new words on one side and the definition on the other side. Students can make their own flashcards, to practice on their own or use with partners. For a class activity:

  • Have students break into two teams.
  • One at a time one team member will come forward and face each other on either side of a desk where an object is placed in the middle (think Family Feud and the buzzer).
  • Announce a vocabulary word (student must give definition or sentence), or read a definition (student must give vocabulary word).
  • The student who grabs the object from the desk first and correctly completes the requested task wins a point for his or her team.

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