Teaching Vocabulary Workshop


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Penny Ur
This session will begin with a summary of some interesting insights from the research and their implications for teaching. We shall then look at some practical ways in which we can help students acquire, consolidate and widen their vocabulary in order to communicate and read texts successfully in English.

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Teaching Vocabulary Workshop

  1. 1. 1 TEACHING VOCABULARY WORKSHOP FACTS AND FIGURES Vocabulary: a definition Words and ‘chunks’ → ‘lexical items’ Grammatical vs lexical items ‘Knowing’ vocabulary Form, meaning, use Form: pronunciation, spelling, grammar (receptive and productive) Meaning: denotation, connotation Use: collocations (how it ‘goes with’ another word), appropriateness (formality level, domain, context) Most important: pronunciation, spelling, meaning Receptive before productive Connotation, collocation, appropriateness – later. The number of items a learner needs to know Fact 1: For advanced reading: about 8000 word families. For informal spoken discourse: 6,000 – 7,000 Fact 2: In order to understand a text: you need to know about 98% of the words in advance. Extract from a speech by Obama, with 15% of the items not known: That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we renewed  our focus on the  __________  who __________  our nation. We have made substantial __________  in our  homeland __________  and  disrupted  _________ that threatened to take American  ____________.  • What about ‘inferencing’? Guessing from context? • Pre-teaching difficult items? Conclusion: our students need to learn A LOT of vocabulary! Selection 700 most common words make up 70% of any (unsimplified) text: mostly grammatical items 1500 most common words → 76% 2500 most common words → 80% Most important to teach the commonest words, to enable students to cope with and produce meaningful language as soon as possible. Look at http://www.lextutor.ca/freq/lists_download/ to find basic frequency lists. Other considerations: items we’ll teach because they are: • useful for the classroom • easy to learn (e.g. cognates, easy to hear and spell, ‘memorable’) • relevant to students’ lives • easy to teach? • interesting to students
  2. 2. 2 How is vocabulary best taught? Should you let students pick up vocabulary on their own through reading/listening, or have deliberate vocabulary-teaching activities? Krashen’s (2003) position vs Laufer (2005), Nation (2000), and others Bottom line: you need both, but certainly extensive reading is not enough. Because: need for selection; need for re-encounter (Zahar et al., 2001, Cobb, 2007) PRACTICAL TEACHING ISSUES 1. How do I select which items to teach from a text? Textbook lists? But these may not select most frequent / useful items, may neglect ‘chunks’ So you need to check through yourself. A useful tool: http://www.lextutor.ca/vp/bnc/. One problem with travelling is not knowing about local customs. If you’ve travelled a lot you probably  have lots of stories about having said or done the wrong thing when you met someone. So, in case you  don’t want to risk offending the locals, we’ve collected some tips on greetings from around the world:  Kissing is very popular here, between men as well as between women, and often when you say goodbye  as well as hello. (Alessandro, Italy)  Bowing your head is the normal way to greet others. (Michiko, Japan)  Hugging is common between men. But if you don’t fancy being hugged, shaking hands is fine too! (Luis,  Brazil)  The normal greeting is saying Namaste (‘I bow to you’), after touching hands with the other person.  (Krishnan, India)  When you want to greet people here, I suggest nodding your head, although shaking hands is common  as well these days. (Ming, China)  We usually give each other a kiss on the right cheek, but the kissing can be complicated near the border  with the Netherlands – kissing three times is quite common there! (Elise, Belgium)  Shaking hands is very important and we don’t mind spending ages on greetings. In fact, not greeting  everyone in the room personally is very rude. (Kinoro, Kenya)  We greet people by putting our hands together in front of our chest. This is a sign of respect for the  other person. (Chenda, Cambodia)  So, greeting people around the world is obviously more complicated than many people think! I don’t  know about you, but I’m looking forward to trying some of these greetings myself the next time I travel  somewhere new!  2. How many new items should I teach in a lesson?
  3. 3. 3 3. What items might I teach other than those that appear in the textbook? • Ones that ‘happen to come up’ • Classroom language Textbook, or classroom, instructions  Complete the sentences   Circle the correct word /  Delete…  Correct the sentences  option  Match…  Complete the table  Complete the table  Answer the questions  Use the words…  …in brackets  True or false  Underline the correct word /  Read the text  …in your notebook  option  Turn … into  …means the same as …  Put the words in order  Add…  more than one answer is  Write sentences   possible   Useful teacher items for students to understand  Listen / Read / Write / Talk  Are you ready?  Work on your own  about … Raise your hands  Write in your notebooks  Repeat …  Open your books at page …  Do you have a problem?  Do exercise …  Sit down  Can I help you?  Right / wrong  Work with a friend   Shall I say that again?   Do you understand?  Get into pairs / groups  Useful interactive items for pupils to be able to say themselves: I don’t understand How do you say …. in (L1)?  Wait a minute, please!  Please say it again  I don’t have (a pencil, a  What’s another word for…?  What’s the meaning of…  notebook, a book..)  How do you spell…?  What page?  I have a problem ..  • Ones deriving from vocabulary expansion activities: 1. ‘Word of the day’ 2. Show and tell 3. How do you say… in English? 4. Other meanings mean  branch  close  act  bear  root  current  5. What other words with associated meanings? (thesaurus, or ‘Word’)? think  idea  child  ask  6. Greek-Latin roots anthro  homo  form  sense  auto  medi  sequ, secut  graph  cosm  mono  man, manu  log  dic, dict  pathy  pan  audio  duc, duct  scrib, script  soci  plen  geo  trans  fer  leg‐ lect 
  4. 4. 4 7. Prefixes/suffixes Prefixes   auto  ex  micro  over‐  out‐    semi‐  co‐  dis‐  in‐ (il / im  mini  post‐  tele‐  cyber  / ir) mis‐ un‐  mis‐  pre‐, ante‐  trans‐  de‐  a‐    mono  pro‐  under‐  sub‐  e  inter‐  non    re‐  e, ex  mega  out‐  self    Suffixes – making adjectives  ‐able  ‐ful  ‐ive  ‐ous  ‐al  ‐ic  ‐less  ‐y  ‐en  ‐ish  ‐like    Suffixes: changing nouns or adjectives into verbs  ‐ate  ‐en  ‐ify  ‐ise    Suffixes: making a new noun  ant   ent  ess  hood  ist  phobia  ar   er   or  ful  ism    ology  8. Word-family tables Noun  Adjective  Verb  Adverb    exact  ‐        grow  ‐        finally  9. Can you find one word for…? back up  blow up  bring about  bring back  bring up  fill in  get across  give back  give out  give up  let down  look up to  make up  pay back  put off  ring up  set up  take apart  take away  take in  think over  throw away  try out  work out  10. Google it! 4. How can I present the meaning of new vocabulary? pictures mime examples realia translation used in context gesture definition hints Task: How would you teach the following items: yoghurt, cream, butter, milk; dog, animal, mammal; furniture, chair, wood, sit? Question: What about using the dictionary?
  5. 5. 5 5. Is it a good idea to present items in semantic sets, like parts of the body, or colours? No. Nor in any set of easily-confused items: synonyms (big/large/great) , antonyms (fast/slow), homonyms (bear/bear), homophones (accept/except) or homographs (lead [lεd] /lead [lI:d]). But it may be useful to practice them using such associations. For example: 1. Classify. Divide these words into groups: agree, hero, believe, blame, cartoon, cause, channel, comedian, computer, effects, expert, movie, play,  protect, solve, subject, program, violence, wife, respect, director, camera  2. Find opposites. Which of the above words have opposites? What are they? 3. Put in order. radio, laptop, cellphone, Ipod, television: expensive, useful, pleasure-giving, 4. Odd one out. potato, tomato, apple, grape, lemon, pomegranate, banana Which is the odd one out? Can you find a reason for each? 6. What are some good vocabulary-learning strategies I can teach my students? • Vocabulary notebooks. • Word Cards: new words or expressions on one side and the L1 translation on the other. • Keywords. When learning a new word, try to find a word or name in your own language that sounds similar and invent a reason to connect the two. • Ten minutes a day. • Use a dictionary while you’re reading (paper or online). 7. Can I use translation when teaching vocabulary? Yes. Not just ‘can’ but rather ‘should’! For presentation of meanings of new words, translation is at least as accurate as most other ways of explaining meanings, and much quicker. Translation is also a useful means of testing students’ knowledge of the basic form and meaning of new items: if they can translate a mother-tongue item into English, or vice-versa, that’s a good indication that they know it. It is also something that students feel comfortable doing, and may enjoy. The phrase ‘a born teacher’ is not usually meant to be taken literally. People who use it do not  seriously  mean that someone is born with a certain teaching DNA configuration in their genes.  They are, rather,  referring to stable personality characteristics, resulting from a combination of innate and environmental  influences, that the teacher brings to their professional practice and that produce something that looks  like a natural bent for teaching.  8. What are some ways of reviewing previously-taught vocabulary? In principle: review activities provide students with lots of opportunities to encounter and use the target items successfully. They do not ‘test’. So usually start off any review activity by reminding them of the new items! Some quick techniques: • Just write up the items on the board; ask students if there are any whose meaning they don’t remember, and tell them. • Give students five minutes during class time to look through their notebooks / vocabulary cards and review recently-learnt items
  6. 6. 6 • Dictate the items in L1, ask students to say the English equivalents; or vice versa. • Ask each student to say one word or expression they’ve recently learnt, round the class. (It’s often not necessary even to demand the meaning: the fact that they’ve remembered it is a good indication that they also know what it means – we rarely remember meaningless noises!) More extended activities • fill in the vowels: e.g. r_sp_ns_bl_  • connect two words • make up a story with words • complete ‘personalized’ sentences: e.g. I respect people who… I laughed when …  • cloze using the target words, but with missing grammatical items: e.g. I work in a restaurant.  I am ___ waitress, and I am responsible ____ special guests ….  • Quick Bingo • Recall and share • Guess it … References and further reading Cobb, T. (2007). Computing the vocabulary demands of L2 Reading. Language Learning and Technology, 11 (3), 38-63. Coady, J & T. Huckin. (1997). Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ellis, R. (2005). Principles of instructed language learning. System, 33(2), 209-224. Krashen, S. (2003). Free voluntary reading: Still a very good idea. In Explorations in language acquisition and use: the Taipei lectures (pp.15-29). London: Heinemann. Laufer, B. (2005). Focus on form in second language vocabulary learning. EUROSLA Yearbook, 5, 223- 250. Long, M. H. & Robinson, P. (1998). Focus on form: Theory, research and practice. In Doughty, C. & Williams, J. (Eds.), Focus on form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition (pp.15-41). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Nation, I. S. P. (2000). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schmitt, N. (2008). Instructed second language vocabulary learning. Language Teaching Research, 12(3), 329-363. Zahar, R, T. Cobb & N. Spada. ( 2001). Acquiring vocabulary through reading: effects of frequency and contextual richness. Canadian Modern Language Review , 57(4), 544-72.