5 Steps to help your students learn more vocabulary


Every time I read about how to keep remembering new vocabulary, I feel like it is a magnetic force pulling me to think strategically about this topic. What I mean hear is that growing one’s vocabulary knowledge needs consistency and constantly mental work. First, let me ask you some basic questions here.

Have you noticed the struggle of your students to keep up with the new text and lessons in the classroom?

Do you feel that your students’ writing style stays the same every time they submit their paper to you?
Do you like to improve your learning habits and enhance your memory and attention?
Are you a teacher who wants to help your students build their academic vocabulary?
But the most crucial question is how to help them reach advanced vocabulary learning goal for the long-run?




In this post I am going to show you my 5 sequential steps of vocabulary learning strategy with some visual details of how each step works. I called my strategy Vocab-Backup Strategy VBS.

Strategy #1: Synonym First!

“Synonyms are easier to remember’’

I always look at synonyms as the golden keys to one’s mind. What does this mean? And how does it work? I am going to show you the particulars later on, but this truth is how I approach the study of new words. Synonyms can save your mind energy, which will allow you to think faster.  Looking at new words for the first time can leave you feeling overwhelmed; your brain has to stop and look for the closest information related to this new word that it already knows.  Try this activity and look for any word that you do not know. Watch your brain and see what are you trying to remember, perhaps if you have heard these new words or seen it in a written text.


word activity 

You likely noticed that your brain’s first reaction to an unfamiliar word is to look for synonyms of that word or at least it tries to remember where you may have heard it before. If you start to look for other information beside synonyms or antonyms, you likely noticed that you lost your brain’s attention, which probably undermined your chance of knowing the term.

The following subsections are my guidance to you to apply the first step.

  • Words are in brain.

If we think about the first fundamental goal of learning a new language, we remember that the number of words in any language expands day by day.  Neuroscientists have put a lot of effort into locating the part of the brain in which language can be activated, where the first image of a new word we come across is picked out. The parts of the brain that are usually responsible for language are called “Broca and Wernickes Areas” (see figure 2), which are in the Left Hemisphere of the brain. Even though Broca and Wernickes areas are responsible for different language tasks, the process of grouping words works faster than other processes, such as looking for definition(s).




  • Synonyms are easier to learn.

Technically speaking, when it comes to looking up a new word, it is much easier to think, locate, and memorize by knowing similarities and differences of related words in the brain. The actual process is much more sophisticated than what has been said. However, in this step, ELLs will develop a better understanding of how the language itself operates by exploring several examples of similar vocabulary.

  • Synonyms mean more words.

Mathematically speaking, if you start learning new words by connecting the unknown words to the known ones, you will likely expand your language capacity to a bigger level. Knowing many synonyms of any word we know can help us more than knowing its independent meaning first.   

Strategy #2: Meaning with Context

“Context must marry meaning”

It is very hard to match and comprehend the meaning of new words within their contexts unless you also define the purpose behind using these new words. Here is an example: the word “address” can carry many meanings, and understanding what it means depends on the context in which the writer and/or speaker wants to apply it.

  • Meaning applies in contexts.

In fact, both meaning and context work together, yet many ELLs cannot differentiate between them or explore them wisely for future usage. This is a very common mistake that hinders language learners from knowing the proper context of each new piece of vocabulary they come across. As I have said, and as you know, when ELLs come across a new word, they often attempt to find its definition first, which can appeal as a short-term learning strategy to know a word’s information. For better vocabulary knowledge, though, ELLs should always count how many meanings there are for new terms.



  • Words are in dictionaries.

To approach this step, ELLs or any language learners must understand (at an early stage of language learning) how to look up vocabulary in the dictionary and practice that by themselves and with the help of their teachers. More importantly than knowing how to look up words, though, is knowing what aspects of vocabulary information or knowledge the target language has. 

  • Apply different contexts of a word.

The search for a particular word should not be stopped at knowing its meaning or definition. Rather, go further to understand the cultural aspects of where it could be applied and how people use it in their writing or speaking. More importantly, ELLs or language learners should repeatedly encounter new vocabulary several times to best recognize its usage in different contexts in order to master it and produce it in their own speech and writing. 


Strategy #3: Pronunciation Practice Process

“Hear your sound to produce your voice (private speech strategy). It will work.”

As text and speech flow at different paces, listening to new words can clench the mind’s thinking process for part of a second, making you think of how could you say it as you heard it. A very good imagination of the sound can be linked with any image or object that you could relate the new word to. The real purpose of making the sound of a new word familiar is to help the mind relate it to different knowledge segments. For instance, if you know of the apple but never get a chance to hear its name, you will not know its sound features in your mind.

  • Listening is the best practice of all.

Listen, listen, and listen. Listening to a word alone to correct your pronunciation won’t help that much, but it is worth keeping your ears busy listening to media (e.g. radio, YouTube clips, TV, podcasts, people’s daily communications, etc.) or any audio channels that strengthen your knowledge of the target language’s sound system.

  •  Syllable is for sound.

    What is more, knowing the syllables of a word can be the best way to practice the sound and the spelling of a word at the same time. There has been very little focus on the syllables of words in the classroom setting during my ESL learning stages. It is much easier to practice new words, particularly those that contain many syllables, in this way. Consider inconspicuous as in.con.spic.u.ous. This strategy works especially for beginners.

  • Private Speech has it all.

Vygotsky called it egocentric speech, and Lantolf, (1997) named it mental rehearsal. Whatever we call it, it has contributed to enhancing second language development in general. Private Speech is defined as the self-speaking of utterances for the purpose of understanding and maintaining language mediation by language learners, whether as a child or an adult, but not for communicating with other people.



Strategy #4: Bookmark Your Vocabulary Search

“A bookmark is always connected to my memories.”

It might sounds like I refer to “making Notebook”, you are right, but I named it “bookmark” because it implies both remembering and constant vocabulary practice. Vocabulary learning usually involves the repetition of the cognitive and social or metacognitive-motor skills to help the mind develop higher retention of a new word. If you decide to build a good, solid vocabulary bank or to master a large amount of an academic word list, you have to create your “vocabulary bookmark’’ notebook. 

  • Use vocabulary Bookmark notes all times.

 It is important to look back repeatedly for your new words in one place. Once you establish your notebook, your long term memory gates never close on the vocabulary written there, no matter how hard it is. You will train your brain to repeat, remember faster, recall new and old memory, relate big or small pieces of information together. The process of bookmarking each word should be continuously accessed in a daily or weekly timeframe.

  • Bookmark new words is beneficial to remember .

ELLs should bookmark their vocabulary search for two reasons. First, bookmarking can assist ELLs in knowing that he or she came across this word and specifically in which linguistic and cultural contexts he or she searched for this word. Second, bookmarking each piece of vocabulary usually encourages ELLs to again look up some of the words they searched for previously.

  • Why bookmark your vocabulary search?

Learning vocabulary remains the most frequent activity by L2 learners. ELLs must setup their vocabulary bookmark for the following reasons:

  1. Check new words daily and weekly.
  2. Practice vocabulary repetition & retention practices.
  3. Assist deliberate vocabulary learning.
  4. Regularly look up new words in dictionary.
  5. Bookmark new words is beneficial to remember.
  6. Evoke L2 learners’ memory to use new words in speaking and writing.
  7. Keep vocabulary learning updated.


Strategy #5: Remembering Strategy for Writing

“Writing makes words continue to flourish in our minds”


If you are one of those who love to write their name repeatedly while they are freely thinking, that is because you have a good talent in writing and you picture your ideas too while writing. This technique enhances your relationship with every written word you see. But writing a new word may challenge the language users’ in different perspectives until it becomes fully engraved in the mind. Try to think about it. Can you remember the new word by writing it, sounding it out loud, making an analogy image of it, or maybe writing its syllables? These are my self-learning strategies I used to build up my new vocabulary.

  • If I write them I will keep them in my mind .

When working on any learning task in building a new vocabulary, writing them can double efforts to guarantee the best usage of new vocabulary.

  • Picture your word.

The favorite methodology of learning the spelling of the new words is to choose an analogy picture for each word you come across. In other words, make an image of every new word mentally to help remember its sound, spelling, and meaning in context for long-term memory practices. A new study conducted at University of Georgetown found that our brain can add new words to its “visual dictionary” even if they are made up and have no meaning attached to them (for more information about this study see Glezer, Kim, Rule, Jiang, & Riesenhuber, 2015).

  • Use them in writing.

Perhaps obviously, there is no better writing practice for any new vocabulary than using it in both speaking and writing to enhance language development stages. Practice using the new words in writing can increase your confidence to depict a new style of writing in essays and augment your language proficiency level.

  • Syllable is for spelling.

There is much to say about the writing process in any language stage, yet most ELLs or language users ignore the use of syllables to learn the spelling of new words.  Dividing the word in its syllables, stresses, or patterns will open your eyes to the deep structure of the new word. Take for example the word in·im·i·ta·ble (inimitable), which contains five syllables. By looking at the prefix and the suffix of this word, I can easily recognize several important pieces of information such as spelling, elements of predicting its meaning, breaking up the sound, and finally associating this word with an image or special context that you encountered this word.

Final words

It is very hard to imagine yourself learning new information or a language and not being able to grow your vocabulary bank. The need for our life’s legacy and continual sparking of our journey grows everyday with new language and information entering our mind. Without vocabulary building, we can be very dumb at simple tasks or new knowledge exchanges. The force for building new vocabulary should guide you for brighter future. That is the reason why vocabulary learning strategy is needed to unlock your language competency and performance.


To read more about my 5 Vocabulary Learning Strategy, you can always check it out on Amazon!

Blog: https://adlism.blog/ , @: tntesol.vbs@gmail.com , t: @Adlism1 , FB : https://goo.gl/Y54rDU





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