Envelope System for Expanding Vocabulary

Vocabulary is obviously one of the most important facets of your language development. It is well-known that one needs repeated exposure to a word before it becomes a part of their vocabulary. You can ensure your improvement in vocabulary, and overall in your English, by using a system that gives you the exposure you need. If you need help choosing words for your cards, see the links at the bottom of this post.

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1. You will need 7-11 envelopes (depending on how many times you want to review the words), index cards (as many as the number of words you want to learn), and a pen. Number the envelopes.

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2. Write the words on the front of the card and definitions on the back.

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3. Place the cards in envelope 1.

4. Practice the cards. When you are successful in recalling the definition, move the card to envelope 2.

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5. Practice the cards again the next day. Move the cards to the next envelope as you are successful in recalling the definition. Continue this process each day until you have moved all the cards to the last envelope.

6. Move the cards back to the first envelope. Study the cards again, but this time, start with the definition and try to recall the word. Remember to start using the new words in your writing and conversations!

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The Envelope System Challenge

Start your card system today!

For help in choosing words for your cards, choose an appropriate list for your level or your goals.

For beginners:

Here is a good list of the 2000 most frequently used words in spoken English at talkenglish.com


For intermediate:

Here is a list of the 3000 most frequently used words in English. Each word is followed by a W or an S, which shows how frequently the word is used in Writing (W) or in Speaking (S). The number following the letter lets you know if the word is in the top 1000 (1), 2000 (2), or 3000 (3) words.


For advanced:

Here is the Academic Word List divided into sublists and with different variations of each word.



About the Author
Lori Michele Kelley

Lori has Master’s degree in TESL and has taught English and Intercultural Communication in the United States, Turkey, South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand. She also develops and conducts teacher development workshops for both pre- and in-service teachers. Riding pillion on backroads with her husband Michael Kelley in the tropics and wherever else there are good roadside coffee shops is one of her favorite things to do. She’s also quite fond of the water and made her husband promise they could live on a houseboat someday.

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