Six ways of remembering new words

Photo by Kevin Rosseel taken from Morguefile.comHere’s a useful list for learners. I usually go through a list like this with a class at the beginning of a new course and ask them to suggest other ways. Then, as homework, you can give them a list of words and ask them to experiment with a different way of trying to remember them than what they are used to.

1. Make a list with translations. The most traditional way, the way that most learners will do anyway. Many teachers and people who write about teaching criticize this way. So did I, until I took a German class a few years back and guess what, I found myself making lists of new words and their translations. Still, it is only one way and there are others.

2. Make a mindmap. Great way to present a vocabulary set, it’s best to plan the outline of one of these before and then get students to help you complete the rest. There are computer tools now that make good mindmaps – one I’ve used recently is I’ve made a partial mindmap with this tool and then given it to students to complete in pairs. I’m planning on assigning students homework making their own mindmaps with it.

3. Write the words in a sentence. A good way to contextualise new vocabulary. Encourage the students to make meaningful and memorable sentences. For people that aren’t very creative, making personalised sentences with the new words is a good option.

4. Record the words in phrases, collocations etc. The lexical approach and new developments in corpus research have shown us that words do not exist in a vacuum. It’s good to get students in the habit of recording words with frequent collocates and common phrases. The teacher can set the example by including useful/frequent phrases with new words as they come up and writing these on the board.

5. Make a story including the words. This is an interesting option for higher level students. It does make the words more memorable, I think, but can be very difficult for uncreative people. Maybe a collaborative story by students in groups would be an alternative.

6. Do a drawing or some kind of memory trigger. Great for artistic students, get them to show the others. You could make a “gallery of new words” section of the class wall or bulletin board. Another memory trigger could be based on a translation. I had a great book called Spanish by Association that worked like that. Here is one example: The word for Spanish is arroz. Imagine a hail of arrows flying towards your bowl of rice. Silly, but I’ve never forgotten it.

Does anyone else want to suggest a good way of remembering new words? Post your comments below.

Published in: on February 7, 2009 at 11:11 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a great post. These are some excellent suggestions. One more suggestion: have a review session with students from time to time, when you go over words that appeared in previous lessons.

    I wrote an article on memory skills that appeared in Language Magazine and It’s for Teachers last year:

  2. Another comment: #5 is often known as the story method, where you put items you want to remember into a story. I find it works much better with low-level, concrete words (dog, swim, man) than with high-level, abstract words (ambiguity, neurotransmitter, hierarchy).

    The BBC website has an article on this subject:

  3. Comics are a great way to engage and motivate students to remember new words. If you’re interested in creating comics online, check out

    You can design every aspect of your character, and move it into any pose you want. All you have to do is click-and-drag to change or reposition any part of it – the creative and artistic possibilities are endless!

    Try it out and let us know what you think, sign-up is free


    Creator of Pixton – Interactive Web Comics

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