Effective learning of vocabulary is essential to language learning. Reading and listening comprehension depends upon the meaning we give words, and the more words students know, the better they are able to comprehend. Being able to recognize and recall these words or phrases quickly is the key not only to efficient reading and listening, but also to successful communication in writing and speaking.
We can ask our students to memorize vocabulary using a range of techniques, but the big question is how we get students to recall vocabulary with sufficient speed and automaticity to be effective in their comprehension and use of language.
The key is for the students to check and process vocabulary regularly throughout the lesson. This means integrating vocabulary into the whole lesson through the use of a number of instructional strategies such as identifying word form; paraphrasing; providing synonyms and antonyms; and relating words to one's own life.
The following are examples of how we build vocabulary through integration into our lessons. For these to work, we recommend using a different interaction pattern for each new task.
At the beginning of the lesson
Students use their vocabulary lists and ask each other questions related to form, such as
How do you spell ‘action’? How do you spell it backwards?
What is the adjective of action? What is the verb?
How do you pronounce this word?
At this stage we are not asking about meaning as we want students to use context to decide on the meaning of a word.
During the lesson
As the lesson continues, set tasks clarifying the language in questions, such as
Look at question 2. Please tell your number 3 partner how to rephrase it.
This requires close processing of meaning and encourages recall of passive vocabulary. It also promotes better outcomes as students who are clear on the meaning of the question are more likely to get the right answer.
In reading or listening practice, set tasks such as
Look at question 3. Please translate it for your number 4 partners.
The discussion on translation deepens processing and raises chances for L1 interference factors to be addressed.
After reading or listening
Once answers to comprehension questions have been checked, set tasks for students to improve their understanding of meaning in context recognition and recall of vocabulary. With new partners, students ask and answer in pairs or groups, using the list of questions below.
In this story / context…
What is a word or phrase with a similar / opposite meaning to…?
Student A has already chosen a word or phrase which they think has a synonym in the text. Student B must scan to find it.
Is this word or phrase a noun, verb, adjective or adverb?
Student A points to a word or phrase. Student B must look at context and word form clues to determine part of speech.
What does ‘this’ or ‘that’ (or this phrase) refer to?
Student A points to word or phrase. Student B reads to find referent.
Can you find a kind of (e.g. emotion)?
Student A has chosen a word (e.g. malcontent) and student B scans to find this emotion.
Make a sentence about yourself or your family using this word.
Student A points to a word or phrase. Student B makes a personalized example.
By consistently encouraging processing of vocabulary in our lessons, we will achieve greater clarity in tasks; deeper comprehension of meaning; and increased speed with which our students recall vocabulary – simply because they practice more often.