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!

How Can We Volunteer While On Holiday. ESL Group Work: Volunteer Holidays.

Level: Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate
Time: 30-45min
Skills: Speaking, Listening, Writing
Topic: Environment, Tourism, Volunteering
FREE PDF: Volunteer Holidays

A quick and easy ESL group activity on volunteering. It can be used as an additional resource when discussing the environment, tourism, volunteering.

  1. You can start this activity with some warm-up discussion questions.
  2. After that, put the students into groups of three(pairs also work) and let them plan the volunteer holidays.
  3. When they are ready, they present their ideas either in bigger groups or for the whole class.

Warm-up Questions

  1. What is voluntourism?
  2. Have you ever done any volunteer work?
  3. Why do people volunteer?
  4. What kinds of volunteer activities could you do in your home country or abroad?

Our communicative and vocabulary activities:







TED Talk ESL Video Lesson Plan: How To Grow New Brain Cells.

This TedTalk ESL video lesson is based on a  talk by Sandrine Thuret. In her talk she is asking two questions:

  1. How can we help our healthy brains create new nerve cells throughout our lives, through diet and behavior changes?
  2. How can we study the effects of diseases such as depression and Alzheimer’s on our brains’ ability to grow?

Level: Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate

Time: 45min.(video 11min.)

Skills: speaking, listening, reading

Topic: science, the human body

Ted Talk Lesson Brain Cells SW Ted Talk Lesson Brain Cells TN

Ted Talk Lesson Brain Cells SW




  1. What part of your body would you like to improve?

  2. If it was possible, would you rather enhance your body or mind?

  3. How can we improve our mental and physical abilities?


Read the sentences and try to work out the meaning of the underlined words/phrases.

  1. And this is especially new and true for spatial recognition –so like, how you navigate your way in the city.

  2. And they will have been helpful to add time to our memory and they will help differentiate very similar memories.

  3. But moreover, if you just block neurogenesis, then you block the efficacy of the antidepressant.

  4. “Sandrine, this is puzzling. Some of my patients that have been told they are cured of their cancer still develop symptoms of depression.”

  5. ………………..too much sex leading to sleep deprivation.

  6. Intermittent fasting — spacing the time between your meals –will increase neurogenesis.

  7. So Japanese groups are fascinated with food textures, and they have shown that actually, soft diet impairs neurogenesis, as opposed to food that requires mastication.

  8. Calorie restriction will improve memory capacity, whereas a high-fat diet will exacerbate symptoms of depression –as opposed to omega-3 fatty acids, which increase neurogenesis, and also help to decrease the symptoms of depression.

Match the words/phrases (1-8) to their explanations.

  1. spatial recognition

  2. differentiate

  3. efficacy

  4. puzzling

  5. deprivation

  6. intermittent fasting

  7. mastication

  8. exacerbate

  1. difficult to explain or understand

  2. chewing

  3. period of eating and not eating over a defined period

  4. to show or find the difference between things that are compared

  5. the lack or denial of something considered to be a necessity

  6. make something that is bad even worse

  7. understanding where things are in relation to other things

  8. the ability to produce the desired result


Watch the video and answer the questions.

  1. How do we call the phenomenon when adults grow new nerve cells?

  2. How many neurons does an average person produce per day?

  3. Why did patients who were cured of their cancer still develop symptoms of depression?

  4. Does learning increase or decrease the growth of new neurons?

  5. What type of food and drinks should we consume if we want to increase the growth of our neurons?

Click on the picture below to buy our communicative activities.

I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You a Thousand Times, Resist Hyperbole.

You’ve probably come across a couple of articles that shared
some funny grammar rules  such as:

“Verbs has to agree with their subjects.”


“Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!”

I found the original list written by William Safir and published
in 1979 in the New York Times.

Years later they were shared on the internet and became a sort of a meme.
The rules are funny and brilliant, and I think they can be used in any
ESL/EFL class as perfect examples of common grammar mistakes.

So here’s a little activity that you can do with your higher level students.

Download the worksheet>>>Funny Grammar Rules Activity

Other resources:

ESL Communication Activity: Science Role Plays

ESL Game Compound Nouns Dominoes: Town and Countryside

ESL Pair Work Activity: Teenager Issues

ESL Speaking Activity Worksheet: Business Plan

ESL Speaking Activity: Conditional Discussion Questions

ESL Pair Work Activity: Teenager Issues

This speaking activity deals with the everyday teenager issues.

Warm-up (10-15m)

Put the students in pairs and let them brainstorm the problems and conflicts young people might have. When they are finished, put them into groups of four and let them discuss the problems in more detail. What causes these problems? What advice would you give to people struggling with them? Do they have any personal experience that they are willing to share? Circle and monitor.

Activity (15m)

After that, tell the original pair to chose two conflict situations from their brainstorming sessions. They are going to role-play the first conflict and try to find a solution. Then they swap roles and play out the second conflict. Circle and monitor.

Problems: failing a subject, alcohol abuse, no money for new mobile phone/sneakers, etc.

Conflicts: with my dad because he grounded me for nothing, with my mom because she forces me to play the piano but I hate it, with my math teacher because….., etc.

Debrief (5m)

What advice did the students come up with?

Was it easier to play the role of a child or of a parent? Why?

How did they solve their conflicts?

Download the PDF version here: Teenager Issues

Other role plays:

Ridiculous Holiday Complaints: Reading And Speaking(Role-play) ESL Lesson Plan

ESL Communication Activity: Science Role Plays

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity: Role Play Debate

ESL Speaking Activity Worksheet: Business Plan

My students loved this speaking activity. It is fun, it is competitive and it kept the students engaged for a loooong time. It is easy to use, just print the worksheet and you are ready to go.

Download the FREE PDF Worksheet>>>>>>Business Plan Worksheet

Try also some other activities and worksheets:

ESL Role Play Worksheet: Travel/Holidays

At The Restaurant: ESL Pair Work and Role Play Lesson.

28 ESL/EFL Conversation Starters to Spark Conversation

Business English Vocabulary Card Game | Forbidden Words

Speaking Resources for ESL/EFL Teachers: Picture Prompts

Speaking Resource for ESL/EFL Teachers: Creative Storytelling

32 Inspirational And Creative Job Interview Questions For ESL/Business English Students.

Picture Based Speaking Activity For ESL/EFL Classes

ESL Speaking Activity: Conditional Discussion Questions

Media/Entertainment Vocabulary Card Game Based on Taboo.


As I mentioned in one of my previous posts 3 Board Games You Can Use In The Classroom, I love using games with my students and Taboo style cards are one of my favourite ways of revising vocabulary.

The last downloadable pdf worksheet covered Travel&Holidays for Intermediate and Upper Intermediate students. This time I needed some media and movie vocabulary cards to use with my younger students as part of a pre-test revision. I created a downloadable, easy to use PDFworksheet. Just download, print, cut and you are ready to go!

Every word has 3 forbidden words and if it is too difficult to explain the word without using those, you can allow your students to use one or more of the forbidden words. Download the PDF version of the game for free here:

Media Card Game


At The Restaurant: ESL Pair Work and Role Play Lesson.


Not everyone can cook, but we all love food. It is a perfect conversation topic and even the shy students usually come out of their shells (seafood pun) when you ask them about their favourite food.

Food is everywhere now, popular TV shows made home cooking fashionable, food blogs with amazing photos will make you drool, social networks such as Instagram are filled with snaps of people’s breakfasts and tasting menus from five-star restaurants, artisan ice-cream and hipster baristas are everywhere, I’m starting to feel hungry just writing about it! Make sure to use this worksheet before lunch; otherwise, your students will eat you alive!

I used this activity many times with different age groups and levels. It works great with teenagers and adults, pre-intermediate, intermediate and upper intermediate levels. Just make sure to pre-teach the relevant vocabulary and some basic at the restaurant phrases. Your students will create their own restaurant menus and practice waiter/customer dialogues.

Download the free worksheet with Teacher’s notes here: Restaurant Menu Pair Work

ESL Role Play Worksheet: Travel/Holidays

There is no such thing as enough role play activities and worksheets! I’ve recently gone over Travel vocabulary with my Intermediate and Upper Intermediate students and I love doing these speaking activities at the end of the lesson.

In my previous article, I included my own version of the Taboo card game on the topic of Travel/Holidays. This ESL role play worksheet  contains 5 role-playing dialogues dealing with various issues you may experience during your holiday. Just cut the cards and you are ready to go.

ESL Role-play Worksheet: Travel

A1: You are a receptionist of a 5* hotel. You are very polite and you can deal with annoyed guests. Try to calm down the guest and solve any issues they have. Try to avoid calling the manager.

B1: You are a wealthy businessman staying at a 5* hotel. You are used to quality service and luxury, but this hotel doesn’t offer it. The room is too small, staff is rude, AC is noisy. You want to talk to the manager.

A2: You rent out a flat on Airbnb, and you have been a very popular host so far. Now you have guests who are unhappy about many things. They want to leave and a refund. Persuade them to stay.

B2: You have used Airbnb before and you never experienced any problems. This time you are very unhappy. The flat is far from the sea, far from the centre, it doesn’t have a balcony and hot water isn’t working.You want to leave and a full refund.

A3: You work in a travel agency. Help your clients to chose an ideal holiday. Ask about their budget, preferences, and expectations. Offer advice, suggest different options. Try to persuade them to try an active, adventurous holiday.

B3: You are planning a holiday. Visit a travel agency and ask for help. Describe your ideal holiday, express your wishes, and ask about all the details. You want to relax, sunbathe and read books.

A4: You are a waiter in a local restaurant in an exotic destination. You serve traditional food which your customers don’t know. Explain what the food contains, talk about the ingredients, preparation, texture, etc.

B4: You are on a holiday in an exotic destination. You want to try some traditional food in a local restaurant, but the menu is not in English. Ask the waiter for advice. Find as much about the food as you can.

A5: You sell traditional handmade products on a local market. Praise your products, explain how they are made, if they have any functions or serve only as a decoration. Set your price high and try to sell at best price.

B5: You are visiting a local market, looking for gifts for you and your family. You like handmade, eco-friendly products. Ask a lot of questions and haggle the price down.

Download the PDF>>>>>Role plays- Travel

3 Board Games You Can Use In The Classroom.

I love playing games. My students love playing games. You can learn a lot by playing games and it is so much fun. It is a total win-win and what is best, it doesn’t require any preparation. You just grab the game and off you go, revising vocabulary, improving communication skills, fostering team spirit and mostly, enjoying it. What’s not to like?

Here are some board games I use with my students and I also included a PDF worksheet of my own game that my students love to play. You will find it at the end of this article and you can download it for free. You’re welcome!

1. Scrabble

The classic which never fails. Best played in groups of four, kids, teenagers, adults love this game. Simple rules, competitiveness and lots of words! You can also find Scrabble app on the App Store or  Google Play.

2. OrganATTACK

This is a new medical-themed card game which was created by Nick Seluk, the author of my favourite The Awkward Yeti webcomic. I liked the game so much that I even backed it on Kickstarter! It looks great, the organ cards are super cute and hilarious, the game itself is fun and easy to learn. Your aim is to remove your opponent’s organ before they remove yours. It is perfect for learning and revising medical-related vocabulary.

3. Taboo

Taboo is an excellent card game to learn and revise vocabulary, to practise speaking, train your brain to think fast and to be creative. The aim of the game is to explain given words, but without those words that you would most likely use because those are taboo – that means, you can’t use them. The simplicity of this game allows for endless variations and you can use it to teach any vocabulary you wish.

My version of the game covers Travel/Holidays, for Intermediate and Upper Intermediate students. Every word has 4 or 5 forbidden words and if it is too difficult to explain the word without using those, you can allow your students to use one or more of the forbidden words. Download the PDF version of the game for free here: Forbidden Words! Game. You can also try other topics such as:

Media/Entertainment Vocabulary Card Game Based on Taboo.

Business English Vocabulary Card Game | Forbidden Words

ESL Vocabulary Activity Based on Taboo: Food

ESL Vocabulary Activity. Forbidden Words: Health

Have fun!

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