How to teach vocabulary online

Teaching vocabulary can be both exciting and challenging.

It’s exciting because you get a lot of flexibility regarding the techniques and methods that can be used. It’s challenging because learning vocabulary is not a one-off task. You cannot just explain some core concepts and be done with it. Learning new vocabulary and practising its usage is a 24/7 endeavour. Therefore, you must lead your students towards independent learning.

The online medium is great for teaching vocabulary. You can motivate students to keep practising and exploring various digital tools to expand their vocabulary.

Since students these days spend a lot of time online anyways, it’s an added incentive.

While teaching vocabulary online, the trick is to strike the right balance between technology usage and offline teaching methods. Your students shouldn’t get too overwhelmed by the technology aspect.  The lessons should be fun, interactive, and creatively stimulating for the students. Here are some tips for teaching vocabulary online effectively and creatively.

1. Use Google Slides

Using Google Slides is a great way to make your online vocabulary lessons engaging.

google slides
Google Slides is a useful tool for teaching vocabulary online.

Make students learn visually by incorporating the visual representation of the word in your slides. For example, you could have the word and its definition and a photo representing the word as the background. You could also create a storyboard around a few words (that your students must learn) and depict the story using Google Slides. The use of background narration and perhaps a bit of music will add to the dramatic effect, helping the students to remember the words without even noticing that they are studying.

Google Slides is a great strategy for encouraging asynchronous online learning among your students. It would be easier for them to remember new words and use those in real-life contexts since you are explaining them through visuals and narrative. They won’t have to memorise the vocabulary.

You could also teach your students to create simple Google Slides and give them the task of creating one to represent a word. It will enable them to understand the words better by creating the contexts and visualisation themselves.

2. Test them with Google Form quizzes

Simple quizzes created using Google Forms can be a great resource for teaching vocabulary online.

Google Forms is free to use, which makes it a great online resource for educators. You could give your students a short quiz to complete at the end of each live teaching session. Quizzes are a great strategy for assessing the vocabulary level of students and making them apply whatever they’ve learned conceptually.

One of the perks of using Google Forms is that they are easy to grade. In fact, it is basically automated. If you have many students using the same form, you can even see what questions were most difficult.

You could also teach students to create their own self-grading quizzes using Google Forms and test each other in their spare time.

You can also point your students to this guide on how to deal with difficult vocabulary.

3. Teach them through online vocabulary games

Let your students have fun with digital learning by giving them access to online vocabulary games.

You don’t even necessarily need to make new quizzes because you can often find ones that have been pre-made online and are hosted on certain vocabulary websites. You can choose from games such as picture-word matches, word scrambles, crossword puzzles, and word-creation challenges (to create as many words as possible from a certain number of letters). A good idea is to inform students about these sites in your live teaching sessions and bookmark these for their independent practice.

You can also create your own vocabulary games and make the students play those in your online teaching sessions through Zoom or Google Hangouts. These would be the same games you would use in a classroom setting. Having students learn this way in an online setting would make them feel like they are in a vibrant offline environment.

You can easily play these games by sharing your screen with the students. For example, you can play a game where you give the students instructions to grab an object. You can give specific instructions like asking them to grab something solid and opaque. This would make students have a lot of fun as they get away from the screen and go around their homes grabbing objects! In the process, they get to learn new vocabulary. It’s a good idea to schedule this game at the end of the class, or else your students may be too distracted to do anything else.

4. Encourage them to use online word reference tools

Learning vocabulary doesn’t just happen in the classroom. Your students encounter new vocabulary all the time. They are probably reading loads of text on their phone – checking out social media feeds, reading general interest articles, checking out news, etc.

It’s not possible to always keep a print dictionary handy, so you need to teach them how to find out the meaning of a word in the most effective way.

You must give your students access to a broad spectrum of online word referencing tools. Online resources like Merriam-Webster and are quite popular and can be used for free. You could bookmark several other useful online dictionaries for your students.

Here’s a Twitter thread that I made of great online dictionaries.

However, it is also important to teach students the use of these online word reference tools, especially young learners. Many of these online tools offer visual dictionaries as well so your students need to understand how to make the best use of these resources.

5. Encourage students to use digital media to practise their vocabulary

Students are typically heavy digital media users; they probably know even more about many online tools and applications than you do.

Leverage their tech-savvy attitude to teach them vocabulary online. Give them fun assignments to express their vocabulary knowledge by creating videos, podcasts, digital stories, social media posts, Instagram reels, photo essays, etc. When they get an avenue to showcase their vocabulary skills digitally, your students will leave no stone unturned in improving their vocabulary and polishing those rough edges.

Give them incentives for showcasing their vocabulary knowledge digitally. Showcase their works on a student blog, or create a YouTube channel for your students where they can regularly upload content. You could also make them have live vocabulary brainstorming sessions via zoom. You don’t have to be present during these sessions. Have the students record the material so that you can have a look later and give them feedback.

They could create fun social media posts and memes showcasing their vocabulary using tools like Canva. The possibilities for students to use digital media to express their vocabulary knowledge are endless. You just have to lead them in that direction.

6. Make students learn vocabulary through digital text

It is important to read widely and deeply to develop one’s vocabulary. Your students already read a lot of material in print. But it would be useful to encourage them to read a wide variety of digital text to make your online classes more productive.
You could set aside one online class per week for having students tell you about what new stuff they’ve read on the internet, and what additions it has made to their word bank. Have them read a wide variety of digital texts including news and current affairs, articles related to their hobbies and interests, e-books, etc. Make them highlight complex words and bring the queries to your live teaching sessions.
Expanding one’s vocabulary is all about maximum expression and exposure through reading and writing. Your task as a teacher is to help your students tap into the benefits of digital media to practise and hone their vocabulary skills.