Teaching vocabulary to teens and adults

brilliant tennis player and drummer
20 May Shelley Vernon 6 Comments

*Hello ESL and EFL teachers. This blog has ideas to teach:


  • keen on
  • interested in
  • bored with
  • good at, and,
  • brilliant at.



Compare the two phrases keen on and interested in. Keen on is one step further than interested in. Explain bored with.

Check comprehension: Pete is interested in video games. Phil is keen on video games. Who prefers video games?


Appeal to your kinaesthetic learners and make the meaning tangible

Put the class into groups of 3 or 4. Tell students to prepare each of these three concepts using mime only. Allow 1 minute to prepare each phrase.

Now bring three groups to the front. One group is to act keen on. The other is to act interested in, and the third, bored with. All groups act simultaneously and when you say FREEZE, everyone freezes in position and can't move. Now the class look at the frozen pictures and vote as to which is which. Vote for bored with first - everyone will get that right. Now vote to choose between keen on and interested in. Those who vote group one is keen on stand up. Those who vote group two is keen on sit down. That way you can easily tell them who was right. From the winners pick another two groups and have them repeat the idea.

Please be bold and try these ideas. Noreen Lobo says: 

I love all your ideas and use so many. Last week I used the whole team “cleaning windows” or “making a snowman” and then – FREEZE. Hilarious positions and other team loved guessing , then having their turn. Also often use interviewing others and walking round the class, e.g. on topic of musical tastes. You are right up my street; I constantly pick up your book and have another look for a new idea.

I really like this one for “interested in” etc. Thanks again! 


Appeal to auditory learners

Change activity and have the class interview each other to find someone who is interested in, for example, politics and someone who is keen on video games. Let students pick their own topics. Students circulate in class asking each other, and taking notes.

Have students read out their results. Tell the class to listen and memorize as much as possible. For example, Sarah is interested in classical music but she is keen on hip-hop.

A student writes this sentence on the board. Continue until there are six sentences on the board.


Appeal to visual learners and challenge students' memory

Now play this memory game, using the sentences you have written on the board:



  • You want to rub out the key terms ‘interested in, keen on, bored with’ rather than the names of the people, since that way you’ll force students to concentrate on those and memorize them.

  • Since this is a drill game, be absolutely draconian with accuracy. You don’t want students to drill the wrong thing, such as ‘interested at and keen in’, or they will make mistakes for life.


Next, introduce and compare good at and brilliant at.

Check comprehension. Jeff is good at golf. Sarah is brilliant at golf. Who is better?


Learn something new

Play a memory game where each class member says, "I'm good at...." or I'm brilliant at....". All students note these down. Put the class in teams. Give students a minute to memorize what they can, before turning their papers face down. Do a quiz. For round one work with class members. For one point, who is brilliant at maths? Award points and keep score. 

For round two of the quiz, give students two minutes to write some general knowledge questions of their own. For example :

van gogh sunflowers to teach vocabulary

  • Who is brilliant at maths? Answer: Albert Einstein.

  • Who is brilliant at tennis? Answer: Roger Federer.

  • Who was brilliant at impressionist painting? Answer: Van Gogh

  • Who is brilliant at playing the guitar? Answer: Dave Grohl (or whoever students know)


Students ask their questions to the opposite team and keep score. If your students are numerous, divide them into several teams that play simultaneously.


All these ideas are in my fun book of ESL / EFL activities for teens and adults. Get them here in download or paperback.




I think it's also a great idea to work with student's own reality, I mean, as a good teacher observer I would previously check sort of things my students are good at, brilliant at, keen on and things they get bored with - that could be used as an alternative to teach those vocabulary.
Hello Luciano, thanks for your point, yes, excellent point. I have students interview each other to find out what their interests are. and play a memory game using the data. All the best Shelley
Hi Shelley I work one on one with a refugee woman who is a complete beginner and not literate in her own language. Any good resources u are aware of? Thanks!
Hello there Sherry, have you got my teen/adult games book? There are language drills in there for complete beginners. Also there are games for understanding and speaking as well as reading and writing. If you have the book, use the step one and step two games first, to teach vocabulary and basic grammar. You can teach the alphabet and phonemes using those games too. You might want to get a textbook, like Headway, as well, but before that, I'd use my drill games to get some basics down, and the alphabet - since a textbook will be no good for someone who can't read.
Find out what this lady's priorities are. Does she need to be able to communicate urgently - if so, concentrate on speaking to start out with, and perhaps teach one or two phonemes per lesson as well as vocabulary and useful phrases.
This blog might help: https://www.teachingenglishgames.com/teaching-english-to-refugees

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