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Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Vocabulary learning strategies

Vocabulary learning strategies

Nick Michelioudakis has worked as a teacher, examiner and trainer for many years. He has given talks in numerous countries and he has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles in which he draws on insights from such disciplines as Marketing, Management and Social Psychology. He is particularly interested in student motivation and humour (he has his own YouTube channel – ‘Comedy for ELT’). You can visit his blog at www.michelioudakis.org.

It’s probably true to say that as teachers, we face the same problems the world over: 

  1. The students’ vocabulary is not what it should be;
  2. most students do note down vocabulary but fail to study it afterwards;
  3. most students record words like this ‘cast = ρίχνω’;
  4. when forced to study vocabulary, most students simply re-read their notes or rely on simple memorisation.

So how will this webinar help? Well, the idea is to offer some principles which will make vocabulary learning more effective. In addition, the talk will demonstrate ten very simple, very practical strategies which should help students practice on their own. Let me explain…

  • Principle 1: ‘Words are like Books’ (H. Puchta). This came as a revelation to me. Think: If you had 10,000 books in a pile on the floor, would you be able to find the one you wanted quickly and easily? The answer is of course, no.  So what do we do? We sort the books out on bookshelves of course – and these shelves are organised thematically.
  • Activity 1 – Grouping: You give your students 50 words (these could be 50 words from the students’ vocabulary notebooks!). You tell them to sort them out into different groups. How would they divide them up? What name would they give to each group? In doing so, students start to organise their vocabulary in mental ‘folders’, helping them to access the vocabulary quickly when they have to talk or write about a topic.
  • Principle 2: ‘Words are like Boats’ (H. Puchta). This is another striking metaphor. The idea is that if you have a boat and you just leave it there, it will just drift away. But of course, the same thing happens with words. Now, if we have a boat and we want it to stay put, we can tie it to a post; and if we have many boats we can just tie them all together. Ten or fifteen boats tied together will not drift away. Similarly, if we have a word and we want it to stay in our mind, we can ‘tie’ it to other words (or even to ideas).
  • Activity 2 – Linking: You give students some jumbled up words (preferably on the same topic) and you ask them to draw lines, literally linking words together. But they will also have to provide a justification (‘Lettuce goes with oil because you can find both of them in a salad’). Notice that in doing so, students also create a connection between these words and a third one (‘salad’).
  • Principle 3: ‘Words like being Married’. Perhaps the worst mistake our students make is that they record words in isolation. For instance they know what ‘test’ means, but when they try to use the word, they come up with things like ‘I wrote a test today’. This is why we need to encourage them to record collocations or whole phrases instead.
  • Activity 3 – Pairing: You give students some words and you ask them to find a partner for each. This is very important for verbs and adjectives. These particular words are desperate to ‘get married’. The reason is that they often do not mean much by themselves. It is crucial that students choose the right partners however; for me this means words which help convey the meaning of the original word. For instance, the right partner for the word ‘cast’ might be ‘a vote’; for the word ‘cunning’ it might be ‘Fox’.

Advantages: Did you notice something about these activities? That’s right. They are student and teacher friendly; i) they are extremely easy;  ii) they require no preparation;  iii) they require no extra materials;  iv) they can be adapted for all levels;  v) students can learn to do them on their own.

Not bad, all things considered… So there you have it: Three down, only seven to go! Hope to see you at the webinar.

For more info about the webinar, and to register, please click here!


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40 Years of Practical English Usage

The challenges of academic writing in ESLMichael Swan, author of Practical English Usage, joins us on the blog today to review his IATEFL talk this year all about the new, fourth edition of PEU and its new features and organisation. If you were unable to attend this year’s conference, we hope you enjoy this post!

The history

PEU started as a card index with explanations and examples of typical problem points, based on my experience of students’ difficulties. I created this primarily for new teachers at the school where I worked, who often had trouble dealing with their students’ mistakes and questions,  They found (as teachers still do) that systematic grammars are not always the best kind of reference material for clear and adequate explanations of single problems. The ‘one answer to one question’ formula which (up to a point) characterises usage guides is much more user-friendly.

Later I turned the card index, greatly expanded, into a book, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1980. Teachers and advanced students found it helpful, and a second edition followed in due course. This benefited considerably from feedback from users, from advice from British and American grammarians, and from my own continuing research.

By 2005 there had been enough developments in English to justify a third edition. The existence of better and more accessible corpus evidence for usage made possible a number of improvements, and I took the opportunity to add some more general ‘background’ entries on such matters as correctness and language variation.

Why a fourth edition?

English continues to develop and change, and a usage guide needs to keep pace. I had also built up a fair number of revision notes over the intervening ten years, and I was glad of the opportunity to make further clarifications, additions and corrections. (Nobody ever gets everything right the first time, or the second, or the third!) After consultation with users of the previous editions, I also decided it was time to make an important change in the book’s organisation.

Reorganisation

In the first three editions, the 600-odd numbered entries were arranged in alphabetical order of title. This dictionary-like formula works well in a native-speaker usage guide, which deal mostly with word problems. It is less satisfactory in a guide dealing with learners’ problems, since these are largely grammatical. Related topics get separated, so that while ‘countable and uncountable nouns’, for example, are listed under C, other noun problems are found under N. More seriously, only the major topics can be found by an alphabetical search; smaller topics (the majority) come inside entries that don’t begin with ‘their’ letter. (So, for instance, the use of singular and plural verbs with decimals and fractions, or the British-American difference in the meaning of ‘first floor’,  are covered in the entry on ‘numbers’, not under D or F.) This means that in practice people using the book generally locate the information they need by going to the very complete index at the back.

In the fourth edition, the entries are still separate, dealing as far as possible with single problems or small groups of problems.

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However, the entries are now arranged by topic. The grammatical entries have been brought together into 28 main Sections, which together constitute a complete students’ grammar:

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Each Section is introduced by general notes on the topic and a list of typical learners’ problems:

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Word-formation and vocabulary are dealt with separately in three more Sections, including an A–Z list of nearly 380 word problems:

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Now online

Practical English Usage is now also available online, along with the new edition of the accompanying Diagnostic Tests, which help learners and their teachers to see which parts of PEU need to be studied.

 


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Valentine’s Day Resources for your #EFL classroom

shutterstock_163977566With Valentine’s Day fast-approaching, we here at Oxford University Press thought we’d ‘share the love’ and create some activities and worksheets for your language learning classroom. Once again, our former contributors Vanessa Esteves, Julietta Schoenmann, and Christopher Graham have come up with a range of activities and tasks for young learners and secondary level learners through to adult learners that we hope you’ll enjoy.

Young Learner Resources:

Lesson plan

Handout

Secondary Resources: 

Lesson plan

Handout

Adult Resources:

Lesson plan

Handout


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Back to School EFL Teaching resources and lesson plans

Back to school EFL

Back to school EFL

The new academic year is upon us! Are you ready? If you’re struggling for lesson plan ideas, we’ve got you covered.

To welcome you and your students back to class, we asked three of our former contributors Vanessa Esteves, Christopher Graham, and Julietta Schoenmann to devise a series of lesson plans and activity worksheets for your EFL classrooms. From adult through to primary, we hope you can find these resources useful in the year ahead.

Have a great year, from all of us at the Oxford University Press.

 

Primary Level

Lesson Plan

Activity Worksheet

Secondary Level

Lesson Plan

Activity Worksheet

Tertiary/Adult Level

Lesson Plan

Activity Worksheet


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Bringing Grammar to Life

Word grammar spelt in scrabble lettersBriony Beaven is an ELT consultant, teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher. She is a NILE Associate Teacher Trainer and teaches Classroom Language to trainee teachers at the Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich. Today, she joins us to discuss bringing grammar to life in the EFL classroom ahead of her upcoming webinar, Bringing Grammar to Life.

The big problem with teaching grammar

The big problem with grammar, familiar to all English teachers, is that many ways of teaching grammar produce learners who KNOW ABOUT grammar; for example, they can tell you the rules for using the present perfect. But they often don’t KNOW HOW because when they speak or write these supposedly ‘known’ rules do not seem to be operating. In other words, the learners fail to make use of the rule they know so well in the language they actually produce. What can we do about this?

Approaches to grammar teaching

Three main ways of introducing new grammar are the deductive, the inductive and the guided discovery approaches. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and in the webinar we will consider how these might play out in your context.

In deductive grammar teaching the teacher explains or gives the rules for the target language items and then provides practice for the learners. In inductive grammar teaching the teacher provides some examples of the target language in a realistic context and lets the learners ‘notice’ the rules. The third approach, guided discovery, is a modified version of inductive teaching. In this approach the teacher provides some examples of the target language in context and supports the learners in ‘noticing’ the rules.

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Support, scaffolding, mediation

To say that you are going to ‘support’ the learners is easy. To provide genuinely useful support needs a bit more thought. In the webinar we will consider the relationship of ‘support’ to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and the related concepts of ‘scaffolding’ and ‘mediation’.

In guided discovery grammar teaching we can support, for example, by ensuring that learners meet the new grammar item in a lively, engaging and lifelike context. We can also support them by questioning and monitoring while learners try to ‘notice’ the target rules. What kinds of questions are helpful to ensure learners internalise and can use grammar rules? Good concept questions and focused questions about timelines can work a kind of magic. Finally, in our efforts to support our learners, we need to take care that the rules are summarised by the teacher so that learners know if their suppositions were right or not. That is, we offer feedback, another key component of ‘support’.

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Use of the learners’ first language

For a long time we neglected a wonderful resource in the teaching of grammar in a foreign language, namely the learners’ mother tongue.

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In their L1 learners have learnt to think, to communicate, to speak and use their voice. They have acquired an intuitive understanding of grammar, become aware of some finer points of language and have acquired the skills of reading and writing. These days a number of experts suggest that if a class is monolingual we can beneficially make use of their first language. What do you think about this?

Practice

Learners can produce new grammar items only after plenty of practice. This practice needs to be engaging and lively, but also challenging and likely to lead to long-term learning. ‘Three times practice’ (Scrivener 2014) is one way to do this.

Well, all in all it seems we need to do more than ‘cover material’ if most of our learners are to ‘know how’ to use the grammar we teach them, not just ‘know about’ it. No one approach will succeed with all of the learners all of the time because different learners understand in different ways. We will need to make use of different approaches and techniques both for introducing new grammar and for practising it effectively.

Join me for my webinar where I will suggest some engaging ways to help students learn ‘how’ to use grammar to communicate successfully.

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References:

Butzkamm, W. 2003. We only learn language once. The role of the mother tongue in FL classrooms: death of a dogma. Language Learning Journal, 28, 29-39.

Scrivener, J. 2014. Demand-high teaching. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 3(2), 47-58.

Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Wood, D., Bruner, J. and Ross, G. 1976. The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving. Journal of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 17, 89–100.