Editor’s Note: Over the past year, I’ve invited many teachers of English Language Learners to contribute guest posts on specific teaching topics. This new series is on how to help ELLs learn new vocabulary. Today’s guest post is by Outi Frisk. I’m adding it to The Best Sites Where ELL’s Can Learn Vocabulary


Outi Frisk is an English Language Educator in Sweden with a long experience of teaching English to all age groups, from young beginners to high school students and their teachers. She has a website for English (ESL/EFL) teachers, WebEnglish.se.


The following examples are from my most recent classes of teen beginners; newly arrived immigrants, whose English language abilities are zero or close to zero.

After a short warm-up song or animation, we start any theme with pictures, flash cards or other vocabulary videos on YouTube. My favourite Pictionary website is LearningChocolate.com, but there are a few more I use regularly and many more that are useful now and then. You can check my website for more. I show the pictures on the whiteboard and we listen and repeat, just like in the “Old School”.

I use gestures, acting, drawing, mimicking, objects in the classroom and even the students themselves when explaining words. For example, when we learn the ordinal numbers, I make them stand in a row and count. The same with prepositions like ‘in front of’, ‘behind’ and ‘between’. I remember an earlier class that had the most fun over me as the “teacher who lay on the table”. The verb was “to lie”, and they all understood.

Colours, body parts and clothes are examples of vocabulary that you need no other prompts for, except the students themselves. I once had a student teacher, who had eye-colours on pictures and I just asked her: ”But why, when you have 25 pairs of eyes in the classroom?” Sometimes I even snatch a bypassing colleague into the classroom to be the object of descriptions or interviews.

If nothing else works, there are pictures about anything in Google images. It takes no time at all to type in a word in Google Search and click on ‘images’ and students know exactly what the word means. I’ve used this mostly with animals, fruits and other food. Their own food items, too, as we cannot forget to make them feel safe by bringing their own culture into the discussions.

If there is an abstract word that cannot be shown or explained in any other way, we have a multilingual discussion, where the students explain to each other what they think the word means in their own languages and we mostly come to a consensus that satisfies everyone. In these situations, they take out their mobiles and see their translation apps, but a discussion always follows.

To get more practice with the words, we play Kahoot or work with Quizlet where the words have picture prompts. If I cannot find a ready-made quiz on our theme, it is very easy to make a new one from scratch.

My students always get the web-addresses we use in case they want to study more at home, but no assigned homework, as these students often have very sensitive “home” and life situations. Also, in my case, English is their third (or fourth) language as they foremost need to study Swedish in order to start a life in their new country.

The most important thing for me is that the words are not left hanging on their own but put into use with small sentences and dialogues as soon as possible. We watch short dialogues on YouTube and I have them walk around in class and ask each other simple questions depending on the theme. Mostly they just answer whatever is on their mind, but sometimes, like when learning the time, I give them small cards with different clocks on as prompts.

To save your time from planning, there are 10 theme-pages for teen beginners in WebEnglish.se.

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