Important Ideas to Consider when Teaching Vocabulary
In my personal opinion, vocabulary learning is the basic and most substantial part in any language learning. It’s like the bricks for building a house. Moreover, the process of vocabulary learning is the most difficult and time-consuming. It requires not only memorizing skills but also a good understanding of the word, and constant practice.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Dan W.
Problems for Chinese English learners
For most English learners in China, they often encounter the same problem when learning vocabulary, which is that they keep forgetting the meaning they've learned. One of the major reasons for this problem is that they only memorize the Chinese meaning for each word. They pay no attention to the word class and skip the context study in which the word appears.
In order to let the learners study vocabulary efficiently, a well-planned vocabulary class is definitely needed.
The importance of careful vocabulary selection
Firstly, vocabulary should be carefully selected. It should be appropriate for the students. For example, when teaching beginners, “many” is more likely to be remembered than “various” since “many” is more commonly used in basic and simple dialogues. Also, the teachability for each word is also important when choosing vocabulary. For instance, if you teach the class the word “mitochondria”，I believe the one who remembers it depends on his outstanding memory since there’s not much extension for the word itself and has less connection to the context.
Knowing what to teach
Secondly, when giving the lesson, all the items of the word should be explained to the students, this includes pronunciation, spelling, meaning, usage, part of speech and word grammar. When teaching pronunciation and spelling, phonics should be added. Phonics can help the students to divide the words in syllables in order to memorize the spelling of the word more easily. The meaning of the word is of great importance. But the best way to get to know a new vocabulary is to check the English meaning of it. This will help the students to differ some synonyms as well as to establish the English way of thinking. Of course, prefix and suffix are also conducive to understanding a new word. Last but not least, the usage of the word. Talking about the vocabulary usage, the teacher should help the students to be familiar with the word classes first, and then put them into sentences. After several sentences have been built with the newly learned vocabulary, let the students try to put them in a context. It can be a passage, a dialogue and so on.
Choosing an appropriate teaching method
Thirdly is the procedure in conducting the lesson. ESA teaching method can be adopted. For example, in the engage phase, make some flashcards for concrete words. Ask the students if they know what the picture means, guess which vocabulary we’re going to learn. For some abstract words, the students can have a discussion on the vocabularies first, then, give them a simple context that contains the word, and let them try to find out the meaning. As for the study section, the teacher can first provide some example sentences, and explain the word meaning to the students. Divide the word in syllables and lead the class to practice reading the word. After the students had a general understanding of the vocabularies, give them some matching or gap filling exercises to practice. Once they had the ability to put these words in use, set out some activities for them. These activities can be story building, role-play, etc. Usually, for below intermediate students, I would prefer the story building activity since it is more creative and fun.
All in all, vocabulary learning seems to be boring and difficult, but once you get to know the method of learning it, you will have a lot of fun with words. For English vocabularies, there are six kinds of word-formation, which includes Derivation, Compounding, Clipping, Blending and Acronym. The most frequently used are Derivation and Compounding. Take "man" and "kind" for example, you know the meaning for both words, put them together you get a new word "mankind"! So try to find the pattern in learning a new word and you will surely have a sense of accomplishment!
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