Most ESL teachers find themselves teaching vocabulary daily. Increasing student’s English vocabulary is one of the best ways to improve their overall English proficiency. I have searched high and low for free resources to help me teach vocabulary. Below are my favorites. There are affiliate links attached, so if you decide to make a purchase, I will receive a bit of compensation.
Student-Made Bilingual Picture Dictionaries
These dictionaries allow students to have a vocabulary resource that is developed by them for them. Students create their own pictures and then write the corresponding English vocabulary words and the vocabulary words in their first language. These are particularly helpful for students who speak a less common language and have some basic literacy education in another language.
Vocabulary Foldable Books
Students enjoy foldable books. There are many versions available for download free on the internet. One of my favorites is this one I found on Pinterest I like to mix it up and try to find foldables related to the theme, story, or task that the students are studying. This is a great example of using a foldable to teach science vocabulary. I also recommend using a notebook to keep all of the vocabulary foldables together in one place. Students find this motivating as we go through the year and they track how many new words they are learning.
Picture flashcards are especially beneficial for students new to the country or who speak little or no English. These flashcards come in many varieties such as: foods, clothes, tools, etc. There are many internet resources. Here are a few I have used.
I have not used bilingual dictionaries very extensively so I will only note the two I have used, the Oxford Picture Dictionary and DK’s Visual Dictionary. These dictionaries are, of course, not free. I added free on-line dictionaries after the hard covers. I know free is good, but sometimes hard copies are so much better.
Quite honestly the best bilingual dictionaries I have used are from the Oxford Picture Dictionary line from Oxford University Press. They offer many different bilingual dictionaries with ELs in mind. Supplementary resources are also available such as the Oxford Picture Dictionary for the Content Areas. I have used all three items shown below and found them very helpful particularly for the Social Studies and Science content areas. You do need to have the actual dictionaries to benefit from the Content Areas book, so be sure to order the correct one if you are just trying one out. You can also order English only version of the dictionary.
This series get very good reviews as picture dictionaries for teen and adults. (Not intended for use with children.) It is much more comprehensive than the Oxford Picture Dictionary line of books with greater detail and more difficult Tier 2 and Tier 3 level vocabulary words included. Newcomers would do better with the other books, however, intermediate and advanced English learners from the teens and older could benefit from access to this line of dictionaries.
Free Online Dictionaries
This site offers exactly what it says-an extensive Spanish/English dictionary.
This site has nine out of ten of the most spoken languages in U.S. (Chinese, Vietnamese, French, German, etc.)
They do not have an English/Tagalog dictionary online.
Lingvo Soft has all ten of the most commonly spoken languages in the U. S. in bilingual dictionary form. They offer more than 40 online dictionaries.
This is a well-known site for learning languages. It also offers various bilingual dictionaries online.
Cognate Word Cards
These are language specific. There are many languages that have cognates that are the same or very similar to the English cognates. Here you can see a list of Spanish/English, German/ English, and French/English cognates. I make these into side by side companion cards with a picture below. Here is a sampling of the resources available on the internet.
This is an old favorite for elementary and middle school students. BINGO can be a very effective tool to promote vocabulary word recognition (reading and listening). BINGO boards can be adapted to any group of vocabulary students are learning. I have used the following type of BINGO boards with my ELs: Synonyms, Antonyms, Prepositions, Vowel Sounds, ABCs, Homophones, and more. 25 or more free Bingo Board downloads are available on the KST Pinterest Bingo Board. The number is always changing as we find more fun bingo boards for vocabulary development.
A final free tool for teaching vocabulary to ELs is the vocabulary graphic organizer. Research supports the use of these with ELs to help them retain the new vocabulary they are learning. There are literally hundreds of organizers available. Look here and here for hundreds of free graphic organizers across all subject areas.