This unit is about how you can help your students to learn, use and remember English vocabulary. Many students struggle with the lessons in the textbook, even in Classes IX or X. They don’t understand many of the words, and even after they are translated, students can find it difficult to remember what they mean.
It has been found that students learn languages best when they experience it in context and use the language independently in speaking and writing. As the Position Paper of the National Focus Group on Teaching of English (National Council of Educational Research and Training, 2006) states:
Research has also shown us that greater gains accrue when language instruction moves away from the traditional approach of learning definitions of words (the dictionary approach) to an enriched approach, which encourages associations with other words and contexts (the encyclopaedia approach).
This means that translating a text word-for-word or memorising lists of words will not necessarily help students to learn new vocabulary that they can use when they speak and write in English. Students need to develop strategies to guess the meaning of new words when they encounter them. You can help them do this by:
However, learning a new word or phrase once does not mean that the student will remember it and be able to use it. That is why students also need support in learning how to record new vocabulary and repeatedly review it. If students improve their knowledge of vocabulary, they can understand their lessons more easily and will write and speak better in English, which can also lead to them performing better in exams.
The techniques in this unit help your students to become independent language learners who are able to understand, record and learn new vocabulary by themselves.
As you try the activities in this unit, remember that:
Make your classroom an encouraging place to be; a place where you and your students can try things out without fear of criticism.
Lessons in secondary English textbooks can be difficult for many students. One of the reasons for this is that they contain a lot of words and phrases that students don’t know. As a teacher, your role is to help your students understand these words without making them feel discouraged.
This is an activity for you to do on your own or with a colleague.
Read this paragraph from ‘A Visit to Cambridge’ (a chapter from the NCERT Class VIII textbook Honeydew):
Cambridge was my metaphor for England, and it was strange that when I left it had become altogether something else, because I had met Stephen Hawking there. It was on a walking tour through Cambridge that the guide mentioned Stephen Hawking, ‘poor man, who is quite disabled now, though he is a worthy successor to Issac Newton, whose Chair he has at the university.’ And I started, because I had quite forgotten that this most brilliant and completely paralysed astrophysicist, the author of A Brief History of Time, one of the biggest bestsellers ever, lived here.
Now answer the questions below. If you can, discuss them with a colleague:
This passage might be quite difficult for some secondary English students to read, as it includes some difficult vocabulary and complicated grammatical structures. Depending on your students’ levels, some students will know the word ‘disabled’ while others won’t. Some might not understand the phrase ‘worthy successor’ or ‘completely paralysed’.
A simple way to help your students come to understand unknown words is to translate them into your home language. This can be useful, but there are also some disadvantages to translating:
In Activity 2 you will look at how you can help your students deal with new vocabulary in their lessons. This technique will help your students to understand the readings in the textbook and develop strategies for learning new vocabulary. They will also help students to become more independent, so that they will be able to learn by themselves outside the classroom or in their future lives.
This is an activity for you to try in your classroom. It helps students to guess the meaning of new vocabulary in a text that they are reading. It also helps them decide which words they should spend more time actively learning. You can use this activity with any lesson, and with students from any class or any ability as they can choose and learn different words.
|Words you don’t know but you can guess||Words you don’t know and you can’t guess|
Pause for thought
Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.
Students will get better at guessing the meanings of unknown words with practice. You should:
It can also be useful to discuss what make words ‘useful’ with your class. Some words may be useful for exams, while others may be related to a topic or a subject that they are interested in.
You can find more ideas about how to help students guess the meaning of words from the context later in this unit. There are also additional vocabulary learning activities in Resource 1. Resource 2 includes examples of language that will help you do this kind of activity.
Sunreet is a Class VIII student at a government upper primary school. He finds English difficult, and can’t understand many of the words in a lesson. His teacher recently used a new approach and he found that it helped him.
I missed a lot of classes in primary school and I find the English lessons in Class VIII difficult – and many of my classmates do too. My teacher tries her best to help us by reading the lessons aloud and translating them. This does help me to understand the lesson, but I don’t really remember many of the new words from the lesson.
Recently our teacher did something different in our English class. We had to read a lesson about an English scientist, Stephen Hawking [see Resource 3]. The teacher told us about him and then she asked us to read the first four paragraphs of the lesson silently. I have to say that I didn’t understand very much of the lesson when I read it. Then she asked us some questions about the lesson. I listened to the answers and learnt that the writer was a disabled person from India. So that was what ‘disabled’ meant!
Our teacher told us to write down words that we didn’t know and could guess, and words that we didn’t know and couldn’t guess. There were a lot of words that I didn’t know, like ‘metaphor’, ‘strange’ and ‘altogether’ – and I couldn’t guess very many. Then she told us to share our words in small groups, to see if we could help each other with the meanings. I felt a little embarrassed, because I had so many words, but my classmate helped me to understand some of them. And one of my friends showed me how he managed to guess the meaning of the word ‘bestseller’. He told me that the word described a book called A Brief History of Time, so it had to be a word related to the topic of books; and he realised that the word ‘seller’ came from the verb ‘to sell’. That made sense to me. I’d never really tried to guess a meaning of a word before.
After this, our teacher asked if there were any words that we didn’t know, and she explained them to us. She used lots of different ways to explain the words. For example, she tore a piece of paper into small bits to show us the meaning of the word ‘tear’. Then she told us to write down a list of ten words from the lesson to learn at home before the next class. I took them home and asked my older brother to help me. He’s in Class X and he tested me on the words. Next class, I could remember a lot of these words – especially ‘disabled’, ‘bestseller’ and ‘tear’ – and I felt proud.
There are many ways that you can help students to understand new words. You can translate words, and you can ask students to guess meanings. At first, students may find it difficult to guess the meanings of words. You can show them how to guess meanings by using their existing knowledge of English, their understanding of the other words in the lesson, and their knowledge of the world. Read this sentence from ‘A Visit to Cambridge’ (see Resource 3):
There was his assistant on the line and I told him I had come in a wheelchair from India (perhaps he thought I had propelled myself all the way) to write about my travels in Britain.
Students can guess the meaning of the word ‘wheelchair’ if they understand the words ‘wheel’ and ‘chair’, and by their knowledge of the world – they understand that a disabled person might use a wheelchair, and they may have seen one.
They can also make a good guess of the word ‘propelled’ once they understand the word ‘wheelchair’ and the topic of the lesson. They can see that it is a verb. It is used as part of the past perfect tense, and it has the ending ‘–ed’. When they know it is a verb, they can guess that it involves movement. By understanding how a person uses a wheelchair, they can guess the exact meaning of the word.
Pause for thought
Can you think of any other ways that you could help students to understand the words ‘wheelchair’ and ‘propel’? If you can, discuss them with a colleague and note your ideas.
Other ways that you can help students to understand new words include:
Remember that you don’t have to use all of these techniques each time your students need to know a new word! Different techniques suit different words; for example, it can be easy and quick to mime an action. See Resource 4, ‘Using questioning to promote thinking’, for more on using questions to involve students.
This is an activity for you to do in the classroom with your students.
Using a variety of techniques will help your students to understand new words, and it will also help them to remember them better. They might remember the picture that you drew on the board, or the enjoyable mime. Follow these steps and try some different techniques in your classroom:
Many students use word lists to record and remember words. Word lists are also known as glossaries and you can find these at the end of many textbooks. Students can also create their own personalised glossaries, which they can keep up to date at the end of their notebooks as they learn new vocabulary words. An example glossary from a Class X textbook is shown in Figure 1.
Lists and glossaries can be useful for learning vocabulary. However, there are some disadvantages. Sometimes, a word list gives only translations, and doesn’t give other information about words. Information that can be useful when learning vocabulary includes:
Also, some students may be able to memorise word lists, but others find it difficult. Even if students are able to remember the words from the list for a short while (for a test, for example), they may quickly forget them and probably won’t be able to use them in their own speaking and writing.
In order to develop their vocabulary so they can use it in their own speaking and writing, students need to see and hear words a number of times and have the opportunity to use the words. If students learn new words and then don’t see or use them again, they will soon forget them. Teachers need to include activities that give students the chance to review and use new words. You can find some ideas for other activities for developing students’ vocabulary in the additional resources section of this unit.
A useful way of helping students to record and remember words is by using a ‘vocabulary log’. This is a separate notebook where a student can:
Vocabulary logs are useful because they provide opportunities for students to review lessons and remember new words. Students can use vocabulary logs both inside and outside the classroom. By asking students to review their logs, or look at each other’s logs to see how much they remember, you are helping them to reflect on their own learning. This helps them to see the progress that they are making and to become independent learners.
Examples of vocabulary logs are shown in Resource 5.
Mr Aparajeeta teaches English to Class X. He recently attended a teacher training session about teaching vocabulary. At the end of the session, teachers shared ideas about recording and remembering words, and one teacher mentioned ‘vocabulary logs’. Mr Aparajeeta decided to try this with his class.
I like the idea of the vocabulary logs very much. I kept one for a while myself when I was a student, and I found it very helpful. Of course, I am so busy nowadays and I’ve got out of the habit. But my students need to learn vocabulary for their exams, and they spend so much time memorising things … I wanted to see if keeping a vocabulary log would help them.
I asked each student to buy a small notebook and bring it to class. Some of the students didn’t bring a notebook so I gave them one (I bought a few before the class). I told the students that the notebooks were going to be their vocabulary logs – a place where they could note down new words. We discussed what they could include in the logs, and I put some examples on the board. At the end of the class, I asked them to look through the lesson and note down some words.
Now the class spends 20–30 minutes a week completing their vocabulary log. I tell students to look through the lessons and to write down new words that they need to or would like to remember. I let them work as they prefer. Some students like to work individually; others work in pairs or groups. They write down the words of their choice. I think it’s important for students to choose the words rather than me telling them which words to write down. If I choose the words, some of the students may already know them. And anyway, it encourages them to be responsible for their own learning, and this can only help them in the future when I’m not around.
I move around the room as they work to make sure that they are completing their vocabulary logs, but also to help and make suggestions. For instance, I give example sentences with the new words, or I give examples of related words or opposites, and I deal with any mistakes I see. It’s very interesting to see which words the students note down. It helps me to see which words the students know and don’t know, and which students need more or less help. I also take a few logs in to look at from time to time – not all of them, of course – there are just too many! This helps me to see the progress that my students are making in English, and I use this information as part of their assessment.
Every now and then I ask the students to take out their vocabulary logs and to test each other using the words. After all, there’s no point having a record of words if you don’t look at them! I know that some of the students look at them at home – and even add words – but others don’t, so I’m trying to find ways of encouraging them to look through the words. I know that it’s important to look at words again and again to remember them.
My students have now been keeping a vocabulary log for two months. I think they’re starting to lose enthusiasm, so I’ve decided that I’m going to have a competition at the end of term. I’m going to give a small prize to the student with the best vocabulary log. Hopefully, that will keep them more motivated!
This is an activity for you to try with your students.
In Case Study 2, Mr Aparajeeta used vocabulary logs with a group of Class X students. Vocabulary logs are useful for recording and remembering vocabulary. They can also be a project that students can carry out over a term, or even a school year. The books could be evaluated and form part of the overall assessment of each student. Students of any level can keep a vocabulary log.
Pause for thought
Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.
It is important to help students to stay enthusiastic about keeping vocabulary logs. Encourage students to complete their logs in and outside the classroom. Ask students to share their logs, and show students examples of logs that are more effective. Look at your students’ logs from time to time. You could even award a prize for the best logs, or the most words learned. Encourage students to use words from the logs in their own work, for example writing or speaking activities. Ask them to use some words from the log in different sentences. Remind students that learning words is more than knowing what they mean – they need to be able to use them too.
Dictionaries are a useful resource for both you and your students. As you read and listen to English, you will come across words that you don’t know, or that you can’t guess the meanings of – after all, it’s not possible to know every word in English! A dictionary helps you – and your students – to understand what a word means, and some dictionaries give you a lot more information about a word. Read this entry from Collins COBUILD Learner’s Illustrated Dictionary for the word ‘propel’:
Propel/ prəˈpel/ (propels, propelling, propelled)
Wordlink: pel = driving, forcing: compel, expel, propel
This entry tells you:
Not all dictionaries give this information. Nonetheless, they are still very useful, as they give an idea of what words mean, and possibly how they are used. If students have access to a dictionary in the school, classroom or at home, they will be able to find out the meanings of words themselves and will be less dependent on you. That means you will have time to do other things in your English classes.
Note down your answers to these questions. If possible, share your answers with a colleague.
How could you improve your use of dictionaries with your own students? Choose one of the activities above and try it yourself or with your class.
The lessons in English textbooks typically have many words that students don’t know. Translating the words is one technique that you can use, but there are some disadvantages to this. It is more useful to teach students techniques that will help them to understand the words themselves. In this unit you explored some ways to help your students work out the meaning of words and remember them. These are techniques that you can use with all the textbook lessons to help your students become more independent, confident learners.
If you would like some ideas for improving your own vocabulary in English and for phrases you can use to teach vocabulary, see Resource 2. If you would like to read more about teaching vocabulary, look at the additional resources section.
Here is some language you can use when teaching voacbulary:
Here are some tips for developing your own vocabulary in English:
Here are some links to sites that are useful for developing vocabulary:
Cambridge was my metaphor for England, and it was strange that when I left it had become altogether something else, because I had met Stephen Hawking there.
It was on a walking tour through Cambridge that the guide mentioned Stephen Hawking, ‘poor man, who is quite disabled now, though he is a worthy successor to Issac Newton, whose Chair he has at the university.’ And I started, because I had quite forgotten that this most brilliant and completely paralysed astrophysicist, the author of A Brief History of Time, one of the biggest bestsellers ever, lived here.
When the walking tour was done, I rushed to a phone booth and, almost tearing the cord so it could reach me outside, phoned Stephen Hawking’s house. There was his assistant on the line and I told him I had come in a wheelchair from India (perhaps he thought I had propelled myself all the way) to write about my travels in Britain. I had to see Professor Hawking — even ten minutes would do. ‘Half an hour,’ he said. ‘From three-thirty to four.’
And suddenly I felt weak all over. Growing up disabled, you get fed up with people asking you to be brave, as if you have a courage account on which you are too lazy to draw a cheque. The only thing that makes you stronger is seeing somebody like you, achieving something huge. Then you know how much is possible and you reach out further than you ever thought you could.
Teachers question their students all the time; questions mean that teachers can help their students to learn, and learn more. On average, a teacher spends one-third of their time questioning students in one study (Hastings, 2003). Of the questions posed, 60 per cent recalled facts and 20 per cent were procedural (Hattie, 2012), with most answers being either right or wrong. But does simply asking questions that are either right or wrong promote learning?
There are many different types of questions that students can be asked. The responses and outcomes that the teacher wants dictates the type of question that the teacher should utilise. Teachers generally ask students questions in order to:
Questioning is generally used to find out what students know, so it is important in assessing their progress. Questions can also be used to inspire, extend students’ thinking skills and develop enquiring minds. They can be divided into two broad categories:
Open-ended questions encourage students to think beyond textbook-based, literal answers, thus eliciting a range of responses. They also help the teacher to assess the students’ understanding of content.
Many teachers allow less than one second before requiring a response to a question and therefore often answer the question themselves or rephrase the question (Hastings, 2003). The students only have time to react – they do not have time to think! If you wait for a few seconds before expecting answers, the students will have time to think. This has a positive effect on students’ achievement. By waiting after posing a question, there is an increase in:
The more positively you receive all answers that are given, the more students will continue to think and try. There are many ways to ensure that wrong answers and misconceptions are corrected, and if one student has the wrong idea, you can be sure that many more have as well. You could try the following:
Value all responses by listening carefully and asking the student to explain further. If you ask for further explanation for all answers, right or wrong, students will often correct any mistakes for themselves, you will develop a thinking classroom and you will really knowwhat learning your students have done and how to proceed. If wrong answers result in humiliation or punishment, then your students will stop trying for fear of further embarrassment or ridicule.
It is important that you try to adopt a sequence of questioning that doesn’t end with the right answer. Right answers should be rewarded with follow-up questions that extend the knowledge and provide students with an opportunity to engage with the teacher. You can do this by asking for:
Helping students to think more deeply about (and therefore improve the quality of) their answer is a crucial part of your role. The following skills will help students achieve more:
As a teacher, you need to ask questions that inspire and challenge if you are to generate interesting and inventive answers from your students. You need to give them time to think and you will be amazed how much your students know and how well you can help them progress their learning.
Remember, questioning is not about what the teacher knows, but about what the students know. It is important to remember that you should never answer your own questions! After all, if the students know you will give them the answers after a few seconds of silence, what is their incentive to answer?
Some articles and activities about vocabulary:
Some online dictionaries:
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