Thursday, February 11, 2010

Best Practice: Modeling and Demonstrating New Vocabulary

Everyone loves vocabulary and it is a very important part of language learning, but it is easy to get carried away and teach too many new words in one lesson or confuse students with spontaneous explanations. Read on to learn more about best practices for teaching vocabulary.

How do you choose vocabulary to teach to students? Start with good activity and lesson objectives. Let the objectives guide your choices.

How do you explain the words? Concrete words can usually be explained by using props, realia, drawings, or a picture dictionary. Plan ahead so that you have the materials you need. Abstract words are more easily presented by giving examples. Good examples help students to infer meaning.

Let’s take, as an example, the word appropriate, a word that might be encountered in the intermediate level. Here are some examples that should help students infer meaning:
1) Ask students about movies they’ve seen. Then ask: Is this movie appropriate for children? Why or why not?
2) Is it appropriate to wear blue jeans to a job interview?
3) Is it appropriate to talk on your cell phone during class?
Now elicit examples from the group. If the students use the word correctly, you’ll know they understand it.

As part of your lesson planning

  • think about the specific language (key words) that you want the learners to produce

  • practice explaining those words in level-appropriate language

  • gather visuals and props that show meaning

  • think of examples that will help demonstrate meaning

  • try to limit the number of new words to 10 (memory can only hold 6 to 10 new items).

What about additional words that students ask about during class? If the word isn’t relevant to the topic, you might decide to write it down and talk to the individual student about it later. If the word is useful to the whole group and relevant to the topic, think before you speak. Keep your examples simple. Use visuals if possible, or act it out. If you need to look it up in a student dictionary, take the time to do that. It’s better to wait and be clear, than provide an immediate and confusing answer!

For example, let’s say that the students ask you about the word scientist. It isn’t related to today’s lesson. You could answer that a scientist is a job.

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