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Approaches to Teaching English Vocabulary to ESL Students

Approaches to Teaching English Vocabulary to ESL Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Learning new vocabulary is considered as an integral part of learning a new language. Even children who learn their mother tongues learn isolated phrases and words before making complex sentences. Similarly, in second language learning, teaching new words and phrases plays an important role in helping learners’ communication. Based on David Wilkins “without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed”. If learners spend their time on learning grammar, their English will not improve greatly. However, if they learn more words, phrases, and expressions, they can express almost anything (Thornberry, 2002; Watkin, 2005).

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Malak A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Theoretical Basis

Teaching approaches such as Direct Method and audio-bilingualism place great emphasis on teaching grammatical structures. They only taught vocabulary that fitted into grammatical structures. In 1970, the communicative approach recognized the value of communicative and core vocabularies and they designed and developed course books to include activities targeted vocabulary (Thornbury, 2002).

Nevertheless, still, most English language course books are organized around grammatical syllabuses since they believe that if students learn grammar rules they can generate numerous new sentences. Two approaches appeared later and they challenged the organization of course books which focused on grammar. The lexical syllabus is based on teaching words with a high degree of frequency in spoken and written English (Cutting Edge course book). They also emphasized teaching lexical chunks in acquiring language (Thornbury, 2002).

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How to teach vocabulary?

When it comes to vocabulary teaching, teachers must teach how the word is formed, its meanings, and its pronunciation. These three components of teaching vocabularies play an important role in learning and retaining new vocabulary (Watkins, 2005). There also other factors for knowing a vocabulary as it follows: * recognizing the spoken and written forms. * knowing part of speech [e.g. a noun, a verb, adjective] * being able to use it correctly within a sentence in an appropriate grammatical form * being able to recognize British/American English e.g. boot/trunk, lift/elevator

Moreover, teachers should be aware of the fact that teaching vocabulary is a complex phenomenon because:

  • Words have various functions, some words mainly carry grammatical meaning, whereas others have more informational load
  • One word might have a range of forms
  • words can group to form units that behave as if they were single words
  • many words frequently co-occur with other words
  • words might sound the same; however, they have different meanings · one word might have a range of overlapping meanings
  • diverse words might share the same meanings or may have opposite meanings There are numerous words in the English language and it is impossible for teachers to teach all words; hence, they have to teach the most commonly used words. Teachers can teach new words and phrases using a range of techniques since some techniques usually work better with particular types of words than others. In this essay, I am going to look at ways of presenting and teaching vocabulary.

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Teaching vocabulary to low-level students

Showing different pictures to low-level students would be helpful to elicit language from learners. Elicitation methods tend to involve the learners actively, maximizing speaking opportunities, to keep students’ interests and attentive, to check the learners’ understanding. Elicitation acts as a useful diagnostic tool. It is particularly useful for low-level students since the pictures communicate meaning. Teachers can also bring physical and real things into the classroom and also use mime and gestures to facilitate vocabulary learning.

Teaching a combination of words

The teacher draws a table on the board and asks students to tick whether they think the words go along with doing or make. This activity teaches students how words combine (collocation) rather than individual words in isolation.

Connotation/denotation meaning

The teacher prepares a pair of vocabularies on the cards and distributes them among students. For instance, one student has to stare while another student has a glare. The learners should look at each others’ words and try to find their partner and stick the synonym cards on the board. Then the teacher asks the student what is the difference between stare and glare? What is the difference between hearing and listening?

Students will learn the difference between denotation or dictionary meaning and connotation which refers to implied meaning. For instance, self-confidence refers to good quality, whereas arrogance has a negative connotation. This activity is suitable for intermediate and higher-level students who know some words. The teacher also can teach synonym and antonyms in this activityю

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Teaching vocabulary through Mind-map

Words are stored in our minds which resemble a type of network or net. Our minds store words in a greatly organized and interconnected way which is called mental lexicon. The following mind-map shows the mind-map for “swerve” (Thornbury, 2002).

The teacher uses the word in the context and the students try to work out the meaning. For instance, the teacher says” “The boy ran into the road and the driver had to swerve to miss him” The teacher should check that learners understood the meaning of swerving. He/she can ask these questions to elicit the word “swerve”; did the driver stop? (No), Did they drive in a controlled way? (No) Does ‘Swerve” involve the brake or the steering wheel? (steering wheel).

Teaching thematically linked words

The teacher gives a list of words to the learners; these words are all related to one theme, for instance, restaurant; appetizer, dessert, main course, grill, toast, fried, crispy, and so on. The teacher provides a list of definitions and learners try to match the words to the definitions. Learners also could match pictures to words. It would help recall the meaning since words are stored in mind in a related set.

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