How to teach yourself Vocabulary

Welcome to this lecture entitled
“Examples in the classroom”

So now that we’ve gone through phonetics and phonology,

it’s time to look at teaching vocabulary

Vocabulary can be difficult for learners because of:

pronunciation, spelling, length and
complexity,

grammar, meaning, range (which means how wide or narrow the range of use of the word is).

If the use is narrow, it’s harder to understand.

If you can use the word in a wider range, it’s supposedly easier for learners to remember words.

There’s also connotation. If there’s a negative or positive connotation to a word.

Finally there’s “idiomaticity” which means: Is the word extremely idiomatic?

Or is it more transparent? Is it easier for a learner to guess its meaning?

These different reasons can help you anticipate the types of mistakes your
learners are likely to make.

You can present vocabulary in chunks. It is what we call “lexical chunks”, whether as:

collocations, phrasal verbs, idioms, sentence frames, discourse markers…

You can present also new vocabulary:

verbally, in a situation, with pictures, with real things, with actions and gestures,
with a definition,

and sometimes with a translation.

Illustrating the meaning and explaining the meaning of words can be done in different ways,

as long as you involve the learners.

It is also important to test vocabulary from time to time, to measure word knowledge.

Feedback and appraisal can also be achieved using the same criteria used to mark someone’s speaking tasks in official EFL exams (EFL = English as a Foreign Language).

For example when someone goes to an IELTS exam, they have speaking tasks.

The examiner has a list of criteria used to gauge the learner’s level of fluency.

We’re looking at pronunciation.

We’re looking at accuracy versus fluency.

Are they speaking fast? But are they speaking well? Are they speaking correctly?

The use of grammar is also taken into account.

The use of vocabulary and discourse management are taken into account. This is the evidence that the learner can express ideas and opinions.

Finally we look at interactive communication.

Are they able to simply answer questions? Are they also able to use functional language and interact with the examiner?

This also goes back to lesson planning. When we revised lesson planning and basics of teaching, we saw that a lesson plan is composed of three P’s.

You have the introduction or the warmer.

Whether you decide to dedicate that to going over homework or just a warm-up exercise to get the class going, that’s followed by three P’s.

The first one is “presentation”. Here you can present the new vocabulary through:

transcripts, by using recordings, by focusing on selected language features, by using live listening,

and gap-filling exercises which are called “CLOSE” activities.

This is about presenting vocabulary, raising awareness through different activities so that they can already start to conceptualise.

Then you’ve got step two which is “practice”.

This is when they start to formulate, when they start to appropriate the vocabulary through activities.

The second P is “practice”. You can have your learners practice the newly discovered vocabulary,

with drilling (= repetition exercise), with reading exercises… They can read aloud for example, to start linking that vocabulary to its correct pronunciation.

You can get them to practise in writing. That way they can link it with spelling.

Linking each word with a broader context is recommended too. That is discovering how that word is actually used in a sentence.

You can also assist their performance. That’s called “scaffolding” (= guided conversation)

You would do an exercise with tasks that enable the learner to repeat while being guided.

This is thanks to communicative tasks.

Then we have the third P: we have the production phase which is where the use of vocabulary is becoming more automatic.

Learners are more independent at this point. They start to articulate more. They use that vocabulary with more confidence and more fluency.

This is the end of the lesson so it’s important to show the learners what they’ve learned.

This is not the time to incorporate new elements or new vocabulary.

This is when you simply say: “Okay, we’ve done all this. We’ve learnt all this vocabulary together.

You know how to use it in context. You know how to pronounce it.

Now here’s an exercise where you are expected to use that vocabulary.”

You can use old vocabulary and the new vocabulary.

That could be a guided conversation. It could be role play or a variety of speaking exercises.

How do I teach vocabulary, other than by level? You can teach vocabulary in two ways:

When you say: “So look: the focal point of this activity or this lesson is to assimilate this list of words”. That’s one way of approaching it.

Whilst your students are carrying out an activity such as a listening exercise or reading exercise,

they acquire the new vocabulary by highlighting those words together.

In context it is very often argued that there’s less pressure put on the students. It’s seen as more effective.

But both approaches are useful, whether it’s more active or more in context and more passive.

Depending on your priority (what you want to achieve), I think it’s important to do both:

you can approach learning vocabulary actively but also in context

Here’s a little checklist that you should have on you when you start teaching

but also when you’re doing your reflective Diaries, when you’re thinking about how to improve your teaching style

this is something you can also bring into a classroom when you’re doing a
peer observation yourself.

Here’s your checklist:

Are the aims and the objectives of my class clearly outlined?

Am I going to be able to promote and
maintain my students’ interest?

Do I have questions and a framework to stimulate thought?

Am I doing the summarisation?

Am I doing recapitulation?

Am I using a variety of teaching aids?

How is my speech? Am I audible?

And finally is my approach enthusiastic? Am I conveying the right kind of energy?

This is linked to how we encourage students, how we can maintain their motivation,

how we can encourage them to speak with more ease and more fluency.

This is a problem. This is something that you will always need to think about

because English is not phonetic.

Words are not always pronounced as they are written.

Getting each word’s pronunciation right can sometimes be frustrating for learners.

You just have to incorporate that when teaching vocabulary, at all times: pronunciation and spelling.

It’s not “say it as it is spelt” – that would be the motto when learning Spanish.

“Say it as it is spelt” = it’s written that way means that it’s pronounced that way. It’s not like in English

By level: when teaching vocabulary we have to teach it by level and through practice.

With beginner learners you have to teach them the basic rules and practise them together.

Beginners will tend to mimic you. Exaggerating the position of your tongue, teeth and mouth are key.

After several attempts you’ll notice that learners should be able to repeat the sounds.

Whereas with intermediate to advanced students, the rules are generally already known to them.

It’s a matter of prompting them to the right pronunciation.

Explaining the actual rules here can be beneficial.

Getting the learners to not only repeat but to take a more active role (writing things down) is recommended.

Retaining new words is supposedly easier if the pronunciation to the learner is clear.

Why is learning vocabulary an objective for many learners? Why do they want more words?

They want more words to be more confident and to be understood.

They want to also have a good accent.

They want to master enough day-to-day vocabulary (used by natives) to express themselves.

You have to go back to “learning types”.

We saw in previous lectures that there were different learning styles, different ways of memorising.

Some people are more visual. Using posters and incorporating flashcards and repetition can be beneficial.

Please go back to that lesson and ask yourself: What is the most effective way of teaching vocabulary?

What is suitable for this particular learner or this group of learners?

Students will also ask you how they can improve their vocabulary outside the classroom.

You can encourage your students to watch films or series with or without subtitles. It is something that they might enjoy.

They might enjoy listening to songs or the radio.

Getting them to keep a list of vocabulary is quite effective (writing down words that they hear a lot).

Let’s say they’re watching a series and this series covers a variety of topics.

The main topics are relationships, politics and travel.

It would be beneficial, in this case, to write down those keywords by lexical field:

words related to politics

words related to relationships

words related to travel

As they watch the different episodes of that series, they feel that they are understanding more

and that is not just because they are reading the subtitles.

Some learners will enjoy reading also.

Writing: why not keep a diary in English? It is not just about taking notes or creating lists of words.

Why not write a diary?

And just say to your students that mixing all four skills is always more beneficial.

Trying to incorporate listening, speaking, reading, and writing, will make the vocabulary stick.

Setting realistic goals is also very important.

Lots of learners think: “Oh my god! I need to master 5000 words in order to speak fluently!”

Giving your students a focus by telling them: “Look, don’t learn all the phrasal verbs in one go. It’s impossible.

There are over ten thousand of them in the dictionary”

Learning words with a synonym and an antonym each time is a good way to get started.

Getting your students to learn prefixes and suffixes is also a good way of helping them broaden their vocabulary

because if they can understand the meaning of that element at the beginning of the word,

they can understand how that adjusts the meaning of the word.

This inflection (the prefix in this case) could be “UN-“, “IN-” “DIS-“…

This little element can help them already learn more vocabulary

and then suffixes will help them understand what a word is.

Does it belong to this word class or another?

Is it an adjective? Is it more likely to be a verb? So suffixes are useful in that sense.

Going back to how you will incorporate this in the classroom, the techniques that we’ve covered:

Some of the techniques you can use in the classroom are (just to do a little recap here):

you can keep a list of words

you can also “DRILL” (repetition exercise)

you can translate

you can use the occasional tongue twister, if you want to introduce repetition but in a more fun and engaging way

you can do scaffolding (= guided conversation)

you can do eliciting (= bringing out an answer)

you can use etymology…

If you want to start preparing your teacher’s kit..

I’ve already talked about this before but as a newbie to teaching, it’s always nice to have lots of handouts that you have on you at all times.

Although we talk about lesson planning and the PPP, the different sections and the different stages of a lesson, if it doesn’t work out sometimes, it’s nice to have a back-up plan.

This means: handouts, handouts that you can have or just a memo so that you can then transcribe that onto a whiteboard.

You would have for example a list of commonly mispronounced words,

a list of commonly misspelled words, your list of irregular verbs

Words which are adopted = words from a foreign language which we use in English…

And then you can refer to that when you feel that it’s relevant.

If a mistake has come up and it’s not on your lesson plan,

You can say: “okay, we’re having a five-minute break. We’re going to look at this together.”

You will feel more at ease and more in control.

Vocabulary is important but it’s difficult for learners to always know the exact word

There are different communication strategies which they will use and you can encourage them to use them until they feel comfortable using more vocabulary.

With the beginner levels, you will often see that they use an all-purpose word.

They’ll say things like: “stuff”, “thing”, “make”, “do” rather than say the exact word.

That is quite common for learners to use an all-purpose word.

You have “language switch”. Very often beginners will just use a word or an expression from their language.

They will just throw in the word from their language, hoping that it’s transparent enough for you to understand.

That’s quite common and quite cute at times!

Then you have all the nonverbal communication.

This is what we call “paralinguistics”. People use mime and gesture to try and convey the intended meaning.

That’s something learners and teachers alike use a lot in the classroom.

Another thing you’ll notice amongst your learners is that they will ask for help but not explicitly.

They won’t say: “help me teacher”.

But what they will do is that they will start a sentence and then they will leave part of that sentence incomplete. They will say:

“As…. as you know….” Then your learner will simply expect you to complete that utterance.

There are lots of different communication strategies that learners use when they don’t know the word.

Here’s a little list that you can refer to if you want to write that down.

I don’t want to saturate you with loads and loads of theory.

I think that knowing that your students have these strategies

and that’s how they survive with basic vocabulary. That is enough.

As you progress as a teacher and you gain more and more experience in the
classroom, you can refer to this list and say: “okay, I see what’s going on here. I see what this learner is doing.”