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ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > How to help students with no vocabulary    

How to help students with no vocabulary


How to help students with no vocabulary
I really need your help... I have a private student who is studying English at level 4 and she has very little vocabulary in English. The other day, not even "good" she knew the meaning!! Unhappy
What strategies would you use for this case?
I �ve tried to make comprehension exercises with her, but she reads the text with difficulty and doesn �t understand what she is reading (not even try it...). I have to go through the text with her and almost translate word by word... but I don �t really think that �s the solution... Confused How do you do it?
I �ve also tried to write some words she didn �t understand and make her write them 5 times with the translation.
I hope you can help me. I really need a hand on this... I feel really lost and frustrated because I don �t know what to do to help her...
Thanks in advance.

7 Nov 2010      

manonski (f)

I �d say maybe you could play word games such as memory games, go fish, matching games...
Maybe the problem is bigger than not learning vocabulary. Has your student been evaluated? It certainly looks like a learning disorder.

7 Nov 2010     


Hi Patricia,

I think the best way to teach students vocabulary are :

- crosswords

- wordsearches

because kids and teens love them a lot. When I use this kind  of exercises  several times on the same topic they remember the words.

The next way is MEMORY GAME - it �s great and funny way to teach your student (I always use it on my private lessons and students just love it ) . You can play several times with your student on every lesson. I often start my lesson from this game and I finish the same.
As a homework I give them some crosswords and wordsearches. Sometimes I ask to write 3-4 sentences with new words. They can be very simple sentences just like : This is a girl.

Before my new lesson I prepare some pieces of paper and write on them some new words.
 I ask my student to arrange the words to make sentences.
Of course I say the sentences in my mother language and he or she has to arrange it in English.
Sometimes I write the new words on two pieces of paper. On the first piece I write the new word in English (I use red colour, because it�s the best colour to remember) and on the second piece I write this word in my language (I use blue colour). I ask my student to match the words .

Of course you can use SONGS  - you can find them on youtube or here :


I can recomend you a great Polish site with crosswords, wordsearches, memory games and bingos (look at the printables - you can find it up, in the right corner ) it�s here :


Have a nice evening .
Hugs from Poland,

    Renia Wink

7 Nov 2010     


give basic adjectives big-small, beautiful ugly, (in the chart)..FOCUS ON PERSONAL INFORMATION.(so she could ask answer Question like what �s your name/adree/where are you from/do you have family/ do you speak English - Yes I do.)..easy texts..if she doesn �t know basic vocabulary there is no use in more advanced...It seem �s to me...she should feel a little bit confident...of her knowledge.. SAY THAT SHE IS -SMART/GOOD FOR YOU/ THAT;s RIGHT/FOCUS ON POSITIVE MOMENTS...APPROVE OF HER energetically ))) to motivate her

does she know the basic Grammar?

7 Nov 2010     


if you make her write the words with their meanings in L1, you just make her write them. this is not a learning activity. after you teach the words, you can apply to this technique to strengthen her spelling.

you had better not to try hard at first because this makes her off to the L2.

as far as i see, she doesn �t have an L2 shemata in mind. you can at first use pictures to teach her vocabulary. after teaching basic vocabulary, you can pass to the sentence-based. you can use simple songs to make her involved into the L2 all the time. 

if it is special-tutoring, i advice you to inform the student �s parents �cause sometimes parents may not accept the truth about their children.  

7 Nov 2010     


Thank you all for your ideas.

Manonski, she has problems in learning, she has help in almost every subject at school. But unfortunately many students have this same problem as her in English. They neglect English in the first years and start laking vocabulary and some of the basic structures in English. Then it �s difficult to catch things again.
Tatyana, she knows some basic grammar, but not that much. As she has difficulty in the vocabulary aspect, it affects the grammar too. I think you are right, if she doesn �t know the basics, it �s no use in more advanced. The problem is that she has written tests at school and level 4 is not that basic anymore... and my job is teaching her so that she is able to get better marks. And I believe that her mother doesn�t understand that we need time to get results. And that�s a problem too. There are no miracles...
Thank you all again.

7 Nov 2010