3 Helping your students to record and remember vocabulary

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.

Figure 1 An example of a glossary of words.

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:

  • pronunciation
  • grammar (such as the past participle of a verb, or whether it’s a noun, verb or adjective)
  • the words it is typically used with (for example, the verb ‘mention’ is often followed by ‘that’; the word ‘ashamed’ is often followed by ‘about’)
  • its formality (is it formal or informal?).

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:

  • record new words, noting down information about the word
  • note anything that would help them remember the word, for instance, where they first came across it
  • copy or paste a picture
  • add grammatical information about the word
  • describe the word’s pronunciation or usage (such as whether it is formal or informal)
  • note examples of the word used in a sentence (by copying it from the passage they read it in, for example)
  • note related words.

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.

Case Study 2: Mr Aparajeeta uses vocabulary logs with Class X to help students remember words

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!

Activity 4: Using vocabulary logs with your students

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.

  • Ask students to buy and bring in a cheap notebook to the next English class. Buy a few yourself in case some students are not able to buy a notebook.
  • Tell students that the notebook will be their vocabulary log. They will use it to record vocabulary.
  • Tell students to note down some words from this (or the last) lesson, and give some examples of what they can write in the notebook (such as a picture, an example sentence, grammatical information and so on). You could write the examples on the board.
  • Give students time each week to note words in their logs, and encourage them to add words at home too. As they complete their logs, walk around and help where necessary.
  • Take in different students’ logs from time to time and look through them. Make notes about the logs and use them as part of your continuous assessment of each student. You can also use the logs to plan your teaching: are there any areas of vocabulary that students are having problems with? Which students needs more help? How can you help them? (See the unit Supporting language learning through formative assessment for more information.)

Pause for thought

Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.

  • How do your students use their vocabulary logs? How can you help them to use the logs effectively?
  • How can you keep your students motivated to write in their logs regularly?

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.

2 Using different techniques to help students understand and learn new words

4 Using dictionaries effectively