The Best Way to Teach Grammar and Vocabulary in an ESL Class
Students from many different backgrounds with various skillsets, native languages, cultures, and experiences daily enter my Level 3 Low-Intermediatlow-intermediate Some students come having been exposed to English from a young age watching American television or listening to popular songs. Some of these students feel comfortable speaking in simple, broken sentences but communicating, nonetheless. Others step into the ESL classroom timid and insecure. They’ve just recently learned the Roman alphabet and have difficulty understanding simple directions or piecing words together. Regardless of where students come from and their prior experience with the English language, there are some useful tools teachers can utilize when planning lessons and teaching that can help students better grasp the language and lesson in front of them. Specifically, teachers should employ four principles when they teach a new language --particularly with grammar and vocabulary. Teachers should first expose the students to the new word or grammar structure; they must help students understand the meaning of the new word or structure; they must teach students how to understand the construction of the word or grammatical structure; and finally, they must encourage students to employ and master what they’ve been taught.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jenny K. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Exposure to the continent
The first thing all teachers must do when teaching a new vocabulary word or grammar rule is to first expose students to it. One technique for introducing a new vocabulary word is to have pictures of the word ready to show students. Showing them an image helps them associate meaning to the word they’ve learned and can help them make those connections faster. Furthermore, teachers can act out the words presented before the students, particularly if the word is a verb. Other recommended methods are asking students questions to extend what they see in the picture. For example, if the vocabulary word is “delicacy”, one can show a student a picture of fine steak (or a typical delicacy from a student’s home country). Once the meaning of the word is explained, the teacher can extend and ask the students about other delicacies from their home countries. Similarly, when initially engaging students with a new grammatical structure, teachers can show students pictures and then use the grammatical structure to explain the picture. Asking students questions using the new grammar structure and giving students a prompt to answer those questions is another way to carry on early discussion and get students to feel comfortable with the new content.
Once students are introduced to the new vocabulary word or grammatical structure through engagement utilizing pictures or questions and answers, teachers can move on to steps two and three: teaching how to identify and use newly taught vocabulary and grammar structures. For newly taught vocabulary words, a teacher can give students various example sentences. Students can be asked to practice the pronunciation of the word and can be drilled using choral repetition to ensure they feel comfortable saying the new word and making sure they are pronouncing the word correctly. Other ways to study new vocabulary include doing gap-fill exercises, word searches, or matching exercises during which a teacher can reiterate the meaning of the words and ensure students are spelling the words correctly as well. For a grammar lesson, a teacher might do something similar: he or she might demonstrate how the sentence is constructed and use gap-fill exercises. A teacher may also give students a text and have them identify the newly taught grammatical structure within the text. For example, if the lesson was on the present perfect tense, a teacher may have students work in pairs to identify all the present perfect tense sentence structures they can find in the text. The “study” phase of teaching language is to help students strengthen their confidence in the meaning and formation of a grammar structure or the mechanics and utilization of a new vocabulary word.
The final step in teaching new language content in an ESL classroom is to get students to actively use what they’ve just learned. For a vocabulary lesson, a teacher might choose to have students participate in a role-playing or story-building exercise where they are required to use the class taught vocabulary words in the proper context. During this time, a teacher can have students working in pairs or small groups and can monitor conversation from a distance. If students make mistakes, such as using the new word out of context, a teacher can make a note of what he or she heard and after the activity is over, he or she can review the proper use of the word to the whole class. For a grammar lesson, a teacher might utilize communication games where students are required to talk and incorporate the newly taught grammar structure. Depending on the students’ level, a teacher may choose to have an in-class discussion or debate over a specific topic employing the newly taught grammatical structure.
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There is nothing worse than being an ESL student coming into a classroom and seeing a bunch of exercises on the whiteboard or a worksheet containing new words or grammar that you just don’t know. If a teacher does not adequately prepare to first engage students in a disarming manner, any new language content thrown at the students can be intimidating and confusing for ESL students, regardless of their language ability. It’s imperative that teachers first engage students with the new content, then help them understand the meaning of the new word or structure, understand the construction and finally encourage students to put what they’ve learned to use.
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