At every level of language learning, vocabulary acquisition is vitally important to success.
Obviously we cannot express ourselves unless we have the words to do so. In the beginning stages, sometimes it feels like the main focus is practicing vocabulary usage and gaining retention. In later stages, sometimes there are other goals that take precedence. Here are some prodigious stratagems for escalating vocabulary usage and understanding in any classroom.
Tips to Increasing Vocabulary
Consistently Introduce New Words and Phrases
Vocabulary must surface in the classroom in both organic and structured ways. Every lesson should have a segment designed to introduce any new language they will need to do an activity or any kind of practice. When they are reading, new words should get introduced first. Same goes for grammar points, games, listening activities, etc. When a word comes up out of nowhere that students don’t know, it is worth the time and effort to stop and explain it. You will need to develop your method of this introduction and practice. Set up consistent routines so that your students know what to do every time. That could be, any new words that are introduced go up on the board as explanations are given. They should write the words and definitions down for later homework or activities. Set the precedence early for your expectations so that you don’t have to give them the same directions repeatedly. Get students into good study habits with vocabulary from the beginning and you will see increased retention as time goes on.
Learn How to Give Definitions
One of the best skills you can develop as an ESL teacher is being adept at giving definitions both on the fly and prepared in advance. First always define the word in the most basic terms you can think of. This takes practice. Eliminate extra words or words that the students may not understand. Directly following the definition, give an example or two. After that you’ll want to ask a few comprehension questions. For example, how would you define the word lazy?
Lazy describes people who don’t like to work. You are lazy if you like to sleep, watch TV, and relax all day. Lazy people do not work hard. Lazy can also be an occasional trait. For example, sometimes I like to relax on the weekend. I don’t do any chores or work, and don’t do anything. I am lazy. My dog sleeps all day long—he is lazy. Are you lazy when you study English? Is your teacher feeling lazy today?
Your students will benefit from your simple and comprehensive definitions and you will often find yourself in the position of being put on the spot to explain new words and concepts. If you are struggling, rely on some concrete examples and then talk about the different ways a word may be used.
Develop Structured Practice for Vocabulary
It is important that the words don’t just get introduced, written down and then forgotten about. There needs to be an amount of natural practice in the classroom and in homework activities. One way to do that is to make sure you are using the new words when you speak to them. Ask them questions that could lead to using to newly practices words. You can do interactive fill-in-the- blank activities on the board or matching exercises as refreshers. Try to challenge them and correct them when they misuse a word.
Create Motivators to Use New Words
Students may need some encouragement and motivation to use words that are new to them. Create safe ways for them to do this often. During games and activities you can have them gain extra points if they use any of the words from X number of lessons. Formulate motivators that are fun, fit the level and age of the students, and that also challenge students to find new and interesting ways to remember vocabulary. One example of a quick exercise is to play Tic Tac Toe, and get it moving at a fast pace. You can give them definitions and they have to use the word in a sentence or vice versa. You can come up with lots of ways to make practice fun. Point out that they should not only use the word, but recognize it when it is spoken. One unique way to do this is tell them to go home and watch a favorite 30 minute program in English. See how many students can hear some of the new words, but also possibly new uses for them. I’ve always found that this is a great conversation starter!
Encouraging and influencing students to advance their vocabulary is essential in the ESL classroom.
Once students get in the habit of evolving their vocabulary, you will notice a significant rise in students’ abilities to grasp other concepts and put vocabulary together with grammar.
I am an ex-ESL teacher who has transitioned from that industry into the field of adult education. I have a long history of teaching ESL in numerous countries and varied classroom settings. I’ve also taught a variety of learners, but found I loved teaching teens and adults the best. I spent three years certifying and training want-to-be teachers in China and the Czech Republic. I am also a writer and editor interested in anything to do with education, travel, and lifelong learning.
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