Students need to be able to do so much more than reel off lists of vocabulary. They need to be able to manipulate the language so that it can support their communicative needs. Below are 5 ways to help students really learn vocabulary; to help them write, speak and communicate confidently and correctly.
1) Repeat little and often
It’s alarming how quickly students can forget vocabulary. Encouraging students to focus on new vocabulary daily is the best way to make it stick. It doesn’t have to involve sitting down for hours; little and often will help get vocabulary into students long term memory. If you can get students to commit to just 15 minutes a day of focussed vocabulary practice, they’ll soon have a solid vocabulary base. Mobile apps and short online activities are great for this, as students can log on instantly and test themselves at any point of the day – it’s really not difficult to integrate learning into their daily routine this way. Encourage students to be systematic about studying and review new words at least once every couple of weeks.
Idea for your class: Ask students to create their own system for reviewing new vocabulary and trial it for a month. Students then give feedback to the class by preparing a presentation of how it worked.
2) Learn vocabulary in chunks
We all know that learning vocabulary in chunks is useful and improves accuracy and fluency. If we can allow students to also see how much time can be saved by learning this way, they are more likely to pick this up as something they do automatically. Words used out of context can destroy the understanding of a sentence. The moment the sentence is pre-formed, a range of vocabulary can be inserted, giving students the added confidence that their structure is correct.
Idea for your class: At the end of the week, students write down three sentences (using new lexical chunks), two of which are true for themselves and one which is false. They practice using this language by reading the sentences to their classmates, who need to guess which is the false sentence.
3) Range of contexts
We need to build a real context for students to use new vocabulary in. By this, I’m not only talking about personalisation, but also taking the vocabulary out of the classroom. Make it real! Listen to the news, read some novels or focus on the vocabulary of student’s favourite music. The more that language is seen in different contexts, the more students will be extrinsically motivated as they’ll want to know more. The focus is then taken off the language and onto the topic. This is much more interesting for students (and teachers).
Idea for your class: Each week a different student is in charge of ‘culture watch’ and needs to spend an hour or so researching online. This student then reports back to the class on what is happening in the world of British news, music or literature.
4) Use a dictionary
Good learner dictionaries give students so much help with getting a grasp on vocabulary. If they are taught how to use them properly they will increase their depth of understanding. With correct usage of a good dictionary, such as the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, students will know how vocabulary is pronounced. They’ll also be able to identify which words are from the academic word list, learn synonyms and antonyms etc.
Idea for your class: Make sure all students not only invest in a good dictionary but also do all the dictionary activities, to familiarise themselves with it. The section in the middle of the Oxford Student’s Dictionary is useful, as is the Oxford Wordpower trainer which accompanies the Wordpower dictionary.
5) Extensive reading
It is better if your students read small amounts regularly, rather than large texts infrequently. (In an ideal world they would read a lot frequently)They shouldn’t use a dictionary. This means they need to be reading at the right level and understanding about 95% of the text. They will be extrinsically motivated if they are interested in the topic, so they should be choosing what they read themselves. The more they read, the more they will be reviewing vocabulary and that increased exposure will help the vocabulary get stored into the students long term memory. This in turn will enable better spoken and written production.
Idea for your class: Bring a selection of different readers into the classroom and scatter them around the class. Tell students to circulate the room and simply discuss with each other which readers they like and which they don’t. They should just look at the cover and the blurb on the back. Based on this, they choose the reader they’d like to read.
Do you have any top tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!