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 3. Teaching ESL/EFL Vocabulary


Course Description

Do you sometimes wonder if the vocabulary your textbook is teaching is really what your ESL students need to learn? Well, you’re not alone. Many teachers long to have a more precise and effective way of helping their students learn English vocabulary, and in this course, I’ll show you how.

Over the next six weeks, you’ll discover what the different types of vocabulary are, as well as how to accurately assess what your students already know and what they need to learn. You’ll also explore the most powerful way of teaching vocabulary as you teach ESL: across the four strands. These four strands include meaning-focused input (listening and reading), meaning-focused output (speaking and writing), language-focused (deliberate) learning, and fluency development.

You may be surprised to learn that you don’t need to devote class time to all the types of vocabulary. Instead, you’re better off teaching your students learning strategies with certain categories, and you’ll get to fully delve into what these are too.

In addition, you’ll find ways to evaluate how successful your vocabulary activities are, see how to teach vocabulary with content-based instruction, and explore how to monitor your students’ learning. By the end of this course, you’ll understand what makes a well-balanced vocabulary course and how to design one of your own!

Course materials are developed by Heinle I Cengage Learning, a global leader in ESL/EFL materials. Course content is approved by the TESOL Professional Development Committee so students who successfully complete this course receive a TESOL Certificate of Completion.

Instructor: Paul Nation

Paul Nation is Professor of Applied Linguistics in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has taught in Indonesia, Thailand, the United States, Finland, and Japan. His specialist interests are language teaching methodology and vocabulary learning.

Paul’s books include Focus on Vocabulary (2007) from NCELTR/Macquarie, Teaching Vocabulary: Strategies and Techniques (2008) from Heinle Cengage Learning, Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking with Jonathan Newton (2009) from Routledge, and Teaching ESL/EFL Reading and Writing (2009), also from Routledge.


Internet access, e-mail, the Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox Web browser, and the Adobe Flash and PDF plug-ins (two free and simple downloads you obtain at by clicking Get Adobe Flash Player and Get Adobe Reader).


A new section of each course starts monthly. If enrolling in a series of two or more courses, please be sure to space the start date for each course at least two months apart.

All courses run for six weeks, with a two-week grace period at the end. Two lessons are released each week for the six-week duration of the course. You do not have to be present when lessons are released. You will have access to all lessons until the course ends. However, the interactive discussion area that accompanies each lesson will automatically close two weeks after the lesson is released. As such, we strongly recommend that you complete each lesson within two weeks of its release.

The final exam will be released on the same day as the last lesson. Once the final exam has been released, you will have two weeks to complete all of your course work, including the final exam.     


Week 1

Wednesday – Lesson 01
Do you want to help your ESL/EFL students strengthen and expand their vocabulary? Then you’ve come to the right place! In this lesson, you’ll discover where to start in the process. You’ll get acquainted with the different types and levels of vocabulary, and you’ll see how to discover just what vocabulary your students need to learn. You’ll also learn ways to teach the words you’re students will most need to know and how to handle the words they won’t run into so often. There’s a strategy to teaching vocabulary, and you’ll start exploring it here!

Friday – Lesson 02
In today’s lesson, you’ll discover how to create a well-balanced vocabulary course. It involves balancing four strands: (1) meaning-focused input (listening and reading), (2) meaning-focused output (speaking and writing), (3) language-focused (or deliberate) learning, and (4) fluency development. You’ll get a survey of each of these strands that will lay a solid foundation for exploring them in detail in the lessons that follow.

Week 2

Wednesday – Lesson 03
There are two essential parts to the first strand of meaning-focused input: extensive reading and extensive listening. Today, we’re going to dive into both of these, looking at their benefits and some of their challenges. You’ll also learn about an essential resource that provides a wonderful foundation for vocabulary learning: graded readers.

Friday – Lesson 04
In today’s lesson, we’re going to look at some of the how-tos connected with the second strand: meaning-focused output. We’ll concentrate mainly on speaking, because many teachers have a hard time picturing how they can teach their students vocabulary through a productive activity like speaking. But there’s actually a lot you can do! You’ll gain an understanding of how vocabulary learning takes place through negotiation and remembering. You’ll get some springboard ideas that you can adapt into many different kinds of activities. And you’ll see how to design your worksheets and speaking activities to maximize vocabulary learning.

Week 3 

Wednesday – Lesson 05
Deliberate, or language-focused, learning plays a very important role in any vocabulary course. It speeds up our students’ rate of learning and helps them correct their own errors, and it makes our teaching even more effective. So in this lesson, we’re going to look at some activities you can use with this important strand to help your students learn single words and multi-word units (like idioms and figures of speech).

Friday – Lesson 06
If your students can’t use what they’ve learned, what real good is their knowledge? Today we’re going to look at the strand that helps students be able to confidently use what they’ve learned: fluency. You’ll see why it’s so important to give 25% of your class time to fluency development and how you can do it with interesting and challenging listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities.

Week 4

Wednesday – Lesson 07
The most effective way to help your students learn low-frequency vocabulary words is by equipping them with strategies. Today we’re going to explore four of the most useful strategies: guessing from context, using word cards, analyzing word parts, and using the dictionary. With these strategies, you can put your students’ learning in their control, helping them become effective and independent learners.

Friday – Lesson 08
If you need to prepare your learners for high school or college, you’ll need to equip them with two vital levels of vocabulary: academic and technical. But do you know how? In this lesson, you’ll discover just what you need to do! To teach academic vocabulary, you’ll use the very valuable Academic Word List (AWL) and teach it right across the four strands. With technical vocabulary, you’ll provide your students with effective strategies for learning the words they need to know for their particular fields of study.

Week 5

Wednesday – Lesson 09
How can you tell if your vocabulary activities are working well? That’s the question we’ll set about answering in today’s lesson. We’ll start by exploring the conditions that are necessary for our students to have deep and thoughtful learning. Then we’ll look at two ways to analyze activities: through four questions, and through the involvement load hypothesis (this may sound scary, but it’s really quite simple!). Finally, once we’ve see how to analyze activities, we’ll discover how to improve them for maximum effectiveness.

Friday – Lesson 10
In today’s lesson, we’re going to explore some of the ways you can help your second-language learners cope with the vocabulary they’ll be meeting in different content areas. Content-based instruction has two big challenges for your students: They not only have to learn about the subject, but they also have to learn the language to convey those content-matter ideas. We can make their learning load easier to bear by using well-constructed experience tasks, shared tasks, and guided tasks.

Week 6

Wednesday – Lesson 11
Do you know the most effective ways of testing your students’ vocabulary knowledge? That’s what we’ll be exploring today. In this lesson, we’re going to tackle the following questions: What is our purpose for testing? What are the features of a good vocabulary test? What are the types of tests we can choose from? What aspects of vocabulary do we want to test on? By the time we’re done, you’ll find the answers to these – and a lot more!

Friday – Lesson 12
In our last lesson, we’re going to explore a model that will help you in the course design process. You’ll learn about what to look for when you analyze your students’ needs and the classroom environment. And you’ll also see how to incorporate important language-learning principles into your course. Goals are at the heart of design, so we’ll be looking at those too. And you’ll see how all of these areas can guide you when you choose your course content, decide on the teaching sequence, select your lesson format and presentation, and determine how to monitor and assess your students. And we’ll wrap up by looking at how and why you should evaluate your course’s effectiveness.

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