ESL Vocabulary Activity Worksheet: Dictionary Skills

If you’re on the lookout for a cool and effective way to help your students improve their vocabulary, writing, and critical thinking skills, you’re in the right place. In this blog post, I’ll explain an ESL vocabulary activity that could become your secret weapon in the classroom. It’s all about taking complex language and making it simple using the good old paper dictionary.

The Magic of Vocabulary in ESL Teaching

Now, we all know that vocabulary is kind of a big deal when it comes to ESL teaching. It’s the building blocks of communication. The more words your students know, the better they can express themselves. And that’s where our “Dictionary Skills” activity comes into play – to help you give your students a vocabulary boost.

What’s the ESL Vocabulary Activity about?

It’s very simple. A text about an everyday activity but there’s a twist. The activity is described with a very sophisticated, complicated language. Your students are on a mission to break down that intricate language into everyday English, and they’ve got a trusty paper dictionary to back them up.

Goals for Your ESL Students:

Your students are going to be introduced to some pretty difficult words. Think of it as their passport to new vocabulary.

DIY Learning: This activity is all about independence. It’s like telling your students, “You got this!” as they tackle language challenges on their own.

Mastering the Dictionary: Armed with their dictionaries, your students are going to become pros at finding the meanings of tricky words. It’s like giving them a treasure map.

Writing Skills on Point: By simplifying complex language, your students are also leveling up their writing skills. It’s like taking a complicated puzzle and turning it into a simple picture.

Think Critically: Breaking down those fancy words into everyday language is a sneaky way to boost those critical thinking skills.

How to Get Your ESL Class in on the Action

Set the Challenge: Tell your students that they’re going to decipher a very complicated text. Don’t give away the twist.

Introduce the Dictionary: If you haven’t used a paper dictionary before, show them how to use it. It’s like unveiling a superpower tool. Alternatively, you can let them use an app on their phones but I think they will learn more using the paper dictionary.

Task Time: Explain what is happening – their job is to take the fancy text and make it sound like something you would say to your grandma.

The Whole Learning Package: Remind them that it’s not just about words. They’re also becoming better writers and thinkers during this journey.

In a Nutshell: Empowering Your ESL Students

So, when it comes to ESL teaching, having a solid vocabulary is like having the key to fluency. This ESL vocabulary activity is here to make vocabulary expansion, independent learning, and critical thinking a breeze. By simplifying those big words, your students will be not only learning new stuff but also mastering the art of using a dictionary.

With this activity, you’re giving your ESL students the tools to grow their vocabulary, work on their own, and sharpen their thinking skills. It’s time to unlock their full language potential. Get ready to start that journey to vocab mastery in your ESL classroom – it’s going to be fun!

10 Websites To Make Your Lessons More Engaging And Fun

This is a list of my 10 favorite fun ESL/EFL websites which I regularly use when I want to spice things up a bit in the classroom, reward my students or give them some relax time.

These are all great for learning vocabulary, revising, they can be used in various projects, to promote reading, cooperation, creativity. There are soooo many things you can do with these sites, just use your creativity or get inspired by my tips.

1. Kahoot

With Kahoot, you can create various quizzes and games and if you’re in a bit of a hurry you can use its extensive library of quizzes. It has a number of quizzes on various vocabulary topics, grammar and many interesting topics such as history, geography, pop culture, trivia.
My tip: Have your students sign up at Kahoot and create their own quiz. You can assign them a topic based on what you’re currently studying in the class or let them choose their own topic. They love creating their own quizzes, especially those with insider jokes.

2. Baamboozle

I use this site mostly with my younger learners as it doesn’t have many higher level grammar or vocabulary quizzes.
My tip: put your students in teams (max number of teams is 4), choose a quiz and let them play the Classic mode with the power up, it’s much more fun!

3. Jeopardylabs

Everybody knows Jeopardy. So far, I was able to find any grammar or vocabulary revision quiz I needed. Lots of quizzes on many topics, but beware as the quality varies. You can create your own Jeopardy quiz and you can also assign your students a topic and let them create their own quiz to test their classmates’ knowledge.

4. Smartypins

This is a fun little Google game which can be used as a warmer, filler or a 5 minute activity when teaching travel, culture, etc.

5. Geoguessr

This is a similar site to now nonexistent Locate street (which I liked better). It uses Google Street View to drop you anywhere on the planet and you must guess your location based on vegetation, signs, people. It’s a funny way to teach the students about interesting and remote places. I sometimes use it as a reward, the kids love it. Tell them to sign up, it’s free and they will avoid the annoying pop up.

6. Merriam-Webster

I didn’t expect a dictionary website to be this entertaining. There are games, quizzes, videos. They are educational and fun and I love them.
My top picks: Name That Thing, there is also the Animal Edition of the game. You have 10 seconds to answer each question, 12 pictures and a lot of fun!
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary is also fun and you can repeat after a couple of months to see if your students’s vocabulary has improved.
Another game is a challenging puzzle which is described as “anagram puzzles meet word search.” This one can also be downloaded to mobile phone.

7. Etymonline

How often do you explain the etymology of the vocabulary you are teaching? I do it quite often as many English words come from Latin, Greek, French and it’s easier for the students to remember the words when they see how similar the words can be to words in their own language(this applies to European languages).

8. 5 Minute Mystery

As the name suggests, this site offers short, five-minute mysteries. Students have to sign up, it’s free and quick and then they can start sleuthing. Great activity for painless reading practice.

9. The Game Gal

Here you can find plenty of simple, family-friendly games. I mostly use the Word Generator for charades, pictionary and other games. The great thing is I only need my laptop and I project the words on the whiteboard, so the students don’t need computers.

10. Scrabble Sprint

Scrabble needs no introduction, so I’ll only say that this one’s fast.

Recently I posted another article about fun and useful ESL/EFL websites and it got a lot of hits. You can read it here:

My 10 Favourite ESL/EFL Resource Websites.

Check out our communicative resources.

ESL Speaking Activity: Conversation Cards

This popular ESL One Minute Talk speaking activity is great for its variability. Check out the free sample below.

Level: Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate
Time: 5-30min
Skills: Speaking, Listening
Topic: Various( hobbies, movies, travel, food, fashion, etc.)
PDF: One-minute Speaking Activity

Fifteen page PDF vocabulary activity. 120 topics.

Free sample version: One-Minute Speaking Activity Sample


Click below to download a bundle of three speaking activities.

No-prep Speaking Activity: Warmer And Filler For ESL Classes

This is a quick no-prep activity that can be used as an ice breaker or a regular activity.

Students usually like to talk about themselves and maybe boast a little so this activity is quite popular.

At the beginning of the lesson, ask them to pull out their mobile phones and tell them to browse their image gallery for a picture they wouldn’t mind showing to their classmates. It should be a photo taken by them and it can be anything as long as it is appropriate.

When they are ready, put them in pairs or groups of four and tell them they will be describing their classmate’s photos and deducing as much information they can from the pictures. At the end, the student who took the photo will explain the photo to their classmates.


Bean Boozled in ESL Classroom: A Funny Way to Warm Up, Engage And Motivate Your Students.

Who doesn’t like jelly beans? Most kids love them. Why not use that love for them in your classroom?

I’m sure most of you know the naughty version of Jelly Beans- Bean Boozled. It is a game which features a spin wheel and 14 different flavours of the jelly beans. 7 of the flavours are weird and wild and quite disgusting, especially rotten egg or dog food, others are more or less harmless, like toothpaste and lawn clippings. The other 7 flavours are regular jelly beans: peach, coconut, lime, etc.

The fun thing is, the seven regular flavour look identical to the other seven disgusting flavours. Can you tell them apart? You spin the wheel, which shows you what colour you have to eat. Will it be tasty lime or lawn clippings?

So far, it sounds fun, but what can you do with this game at your ESL/EFL lessons?

Plenty of things. I used it for the first time as an icebreaker in September, during that first lesson when everyone feels awkward and uncomfortable. I prepared a set of quiz questions, mine was general knowledge but you can make it anything you want: tenses, vocabulary, spelling, etc.

I asked a student a question and when they didn’t answer correctly they had to spin the wheel and eat a jelly bean. It was exciting because they didn’t know what flavour they would get, so they tried to answer correctly as the game progressed, hence the motivation.

You can use it as an energizer when your students seem in need of a little excitement and fun. It can be used at the end of the lesson as a filler, or as a form of a reward after a difficult test. You can also hack the spin wheel and add different questions to each section. If the student answers correctly, they don’t have to eat the jelly (or they can, if they want to risk it). If they can’t answer the question correctly, they have to eat the jelly.

My favourite way how to use it is to let them write the questions, and I mostly use it for vocabulary revision. I prepare vocabulary cards on certain topic and each of the cards contains the word which they need to explain and colour of the jelly bean.

They spin the wheel, and if they can’t explain the word they have to eat the bean of the matching colour. Which can be delicious or quite sickening. Just make sure the kids are ok with this kind of game and have some tissues ready, some spitting may occur!

Other games and speaking activities:

28 Conversation Starters

Role plays- Travel



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