Vocabulary Lesson Plans

Need ideas for vocabulary lesson plans (or unit plans) for intermediate or advanced students? There are a lot of starter ideas here, with sources and related practice activities on various subjects, as well as a few outlined lesson plans. (Planning ESL Lessons gives basic guidelines for combining materials and practice into a coherent lesson if you want to try the less-developed ideas at the bottom of the page.)

General Planning Suggestions

An illustration of various ways to study vocabulary, from reading (in context), definitions, matching, flash cards, & other games, to gapfills-- as well as pictures for beginners.
An illustration of various ways to study vocabulary, from reading (in context), definitions, matching, flash cards, & other games, to gapfills-- as well as pictures for beginners.

Vocabulary is best learned (or taught) in context, while listening, reading, or watching. For beginners’ vocabulary lesson planning, it helps to use a lot of realia and pictures. See Clothing Vocabulary for an example.

For intermediate or advanced lessons, look for reading or listening materials that demonstrate the use of the important vocabulary, preferably with several repetitions in slightly different contexts. Try several related lessons, showing some of the same words used in several different sources.

You can also use the same reading or listening source for several different types of lessons: reading or listening for gist and again for details, a vocabulary lesson, and either a discussion or a writing lesson about students’ reactions to the reading or their opinions on the subject. (I wouldn't do all of these every time, however!)

Ideas for a Unit on Attitude

For a unit on attitude and motivation for high intermediate or advanced students, there are several fascinating articles and TED talks in EnglishHints’ newsletter English Detective issues 26 and 27. You could do two lessons on optimism, using a New York Times’ article for one and a TED talk for the other, teaching some vocabulary in each (as well as recycling a lot of it) and comparing their points of view and the research they present.

Newsletter 26 (see back issues) gives some ideas on how you could introduce them, and some of the vocabulary you might teach. (You can see word frequency and choose vocabulary for yourself by copying the text into VocabProfile.) The might lead up to a class discussion on ways of handling setbacks or of various attitudes toward life.

I’ve made a full-fledged reading/listening and vocabulary lesson plan (also available as a pdf there) on words related to motivation and Dan Pink’s TED talk. The lesson includes a comprehension test to check understanding and also to practice for tests like the SAT or TOEFL—useful if many of your students expect to take those tests. See also the related lesson below.

Demonstration: Advanced Vocabulary Lesson Plan

Shawn Achor’s entertaining— though difficult—TED talk on how happiness enables better work and success (rather than vice versa) could easily get a similar treatment.  It would be best for advanced students only—not due to difficult vocabulary but to the speed of presentation and the cultural background needed, including some idea of how research works and is financed in western countries.

Possible Academic Word List (AWL) vocabulary includes (depending on what your students already know): create/creativity (used 7x), data (3x), focus/focused (3x), formula (6x), negative (8x), neutral (3x), normal (2x), outcome (2x), positive (15x), potential (2x), predict/predicted (4x), or others.

(I got these from VocabProfile, explained a little in Using the Internet for Vocabulary Lessons. Your class might do better studying other words-- accurate, error, percent, psychology, research, valid, etc. You might want to check it out for yourself.)

Non-AWL vocabulary that are important to his point include ‘outliers,’ ‘weird’ or ‘weirdo,’ and ‘lens.’ It might be a good idea to discuss the point he’s making about needing to look at not the average, but the far-above average, to learn about human potential. (It might well be hard—without a little guidance-- for non-native speakers to follow his complex reasoning and “in” jokes about how research is biased by publishing potential and a business model that profits from problems.)

One way to help students notice the key points (and key vocabulary) of the talk is by passing out a worksheet with key quotes on it—and blanks they need to fill in as they listen. Then pause the video immediately after those statements (or if necessary replay them) to let students complete their worksheets.

For example, here’s a quote from 6:17-6:30:  “See what we're finding is it's not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the ______  through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the _____, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

I took out two uses of the word ‘lens,’ and left blanks in their places for students to fill in. You could use ‘outcome’ as well. Other good statements start at 5:01 (possibly omitting ‘positive’—used twice, ‘posits’—if you’re teaching it, or ‘outliers’), 7:06 (‘success’ or ‘focused’-2x), 9:24 (‘formula,’ ‘success,’ ‘successful’-2x) or near the end at 11:26 (‘retain,’ ‘scanning,’ ‘negative,’ or ‘positive.’)

More Vocabulary Lesson Plans or Units

EnglishHints has a lot of pages to practice academic language: vocabulary instruction, practice, crosswords and other puzzles, and quizzes,etc., Almost all are associated with interesting readings or videos from the Internet that should be understandable for intermediate or advanced ESL students. Easier readings come from ESL sites like the Voice of America or BBC’s Learning English.)

Some examples of possible vocabulary lesson plans using those pages follow. Mix and match to suit the needs of your class. The relevant Academic Vocabulary Word List page (abbreviated AV List pg. 1,2,3, or 4) will give vocabulary in each reading and links to all the practice activities connected with it. (Links to readings and activities are also in each newsletter issue –see the Back Issues page.)

     >>>A unit on finding employment might have a lesson on vocabulary useful for resumes and job interviews: vocabulary traits, verbs describing accomplishments, etc. See Personality Vocabulary for some words for personality traits, and Action Verbs for Resumes for good past tense verbs of experience and accomplishments. (You can find many similar lists—longer, shorter, with examples, etc., by an Internet search for ‘action verbs for resumes.’)  I would start with several example resumes, showing how the ones using specific traits and verbs are much more effective.

You wouldn’t need to teach all the words, of course. Consider what your students already know and their work experiences. If you have an advanced class with varied experience, you could do a class brainstorm to determine known and unknown words, then pair or team them and have groups research meanings of unknown words in relevant parts of the list and report back to the class.)

     >>>For a unit on classical Greece and Rome and their effects on the Western world, see newsletter 5 (AV Lists pg.1). English Online has a great lesson on ancient Greece for low intermediates up, with definitions of many of the words used. I probably would not use the Khan academy (harder, now that they added a video) or Roman science articles from the newsletter for a class. Simple Wikipedia has an article on the Roman empire that is fairly short and uses relevant vocabulary, if you want to give background on the Romans for a second lesson. 

Students can learn or practice common vocabulary that comes from Greece and Rome using several pages on EnglishHints. Best for two- four lessons: Greek Roots, Vocabulary from Classical Roots, Common Greek and Latin Prefixes, Classical Roots Crossword and Answers (pdfs), Practice Latin Word Roots, and Greek and Latin Roots Quiz (a pdf). All of these but the prefix page emphasize the vocabulary taught in newsletter 5, so words are recycled.

     >>>For a unit on sustainability you might use some of these readings, talks, and practices from NL 17-19 (AV Lists pg.3 and 4): TED talks on “the Business Logic of Sustainability,” “A Sustainable Future, “Using Nature’s Genius,” (as well as a follow-up on the Sahara Forest project) ”A Clean Energy Proposal,””Designing Cities” and “Charter Cities,”   Extraordinary People profile on Wangari Maathai  and her work on sustainable tree-planting,and Voice of America on Green Cities.

Related practice exercises: Conservation Terminology Gapfill (on the first two TED talks), Social Science Vocabulary Crossword and Answers (includes words from those talks, Clean Energy, Nature’s Genius, and the Wangari reading too), Comprehension Practice on Nature’s Design and Clean Energy, and City Planning Crossword and Answers. (the Conservation Gapfill and Comprehension Practice are currently only available as interactive activities online, but if you would like to use them,  contact me and I will make pdfs for them.)

     >>>For more ideas, you could check on newsletter 16 on American democracy, 11-12 on business vocabulary (AV Lists pg.3), 13-15 for a unit on social change/making a better world (all AV pg.3), newsletter  7 on Leonardo da Vinci and art vocabulary (as well as creativity and Chinese contributions to world civilization—AV Lists pg.2), and (AV Lists pg.4:) newsletters 20-21on changes in global power+, 22 for changes in education, and 23 for ideas in medicine.

If you’re looking for detailed intermediate-up vocabulary lesson plans, see Lesson Plan on Motivation (discussed briefly above) and Vocabulary Lesson Plan on Goals. If you’d especially like to see any of the others outlined here (or suggested from other newsletter topics), developed like those lessons, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. I do appreciate comments and suggestions.

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