Are you tired of reading lists of vocabulary words and their definitions to your class? Do you want a more interesting way to present new vocabulary? Try one of the following techniques to make new vocabulary more fun for both teachers and learners.
How To Introduce New Vocabulary
Teaching word roots can help your students learn not only current vocabulary but future vocabulary as well. When students understand the meanings of the building blocks, unfamiliar words can be dissected into familiar elements. You can sometimes find lists of word roots and their meanings in dictionaries or do a search for them online. Word roots can be divided into two categories. You can teach roots that supply content meaning like ant- (against such as antonym, antithesis), -phobia (fear of such as xenophobia, triskaidekaphobia), or mal- (bad such as malnutrition, malcontent). You can also teach word roots that give information as to the grammatical function of the word like –ly (adv. such as slowly, gracefully), -tion (n. such as administration, frustration), -or (n. person, such as professor, councilor) and –ful (adj. such as wonderful, beautiful). Along with educating your students on word roots, you may want to review the concept of prefix (a unit of meaning added to the beginning of a word that changes the meaning or grammatical function) and suffix (a unit of meaning added to the end of the word that changes the meaning or function).
As a teacher, you should also be aware that some languages contain infixes (a unit of meaning added to the middle of a word that changes the meaning or function) though English does not use infixes.
Words in Context
Another way to introduce new vocabulary is to give your students sentences or a short paragraph using the new vocabulary words. Then see if they can guess the part of speech and the meaning of the word based on the context. This is a strategy that even native speakers use unknowingly when encountering new words. You can also use the following technique to teach the skill of inference. Give students a paragraph that uses one word multiple times. When preparing the handout for them, replace that word with a symbol or XXXX or some other representation. Without the actual word, and without help from a dictionary, students will have to infer the meaning of the missing word. This is an important skill to learn in any language. Stress to your students that if they can learn to infer meaning they will be learning language more like a native speaker and will be more comfortable the next time they encounter unfamiliar vocabulary.
Matching to Definitions
After giving them some context and familiarity with the words, present the definitions. Give your students a blank crossword puzzle with the definitions as the clues. This is the first time your students will see definitions for the words they are learning. Your students will probably be able to match most of them to the correct definitions if you have already presented the word roots and the words in context. The advantage to using a crossword puzzle over a simple list of definitions is the added information about the correct answers. If students are unable to determine some of the correct matches for the supplied definitions, a crossword puzzle gives them additional clues: how many letters are in the target word and, after filling in some other answers, what some of the letters in the answer are. This will decrease anxiety and increase students’ sense of accomplishment and linguistic independence.
Match to Synonyms and Antonyms
Finally, provide your students with a random list of synonyms and antonyms for the vocabulary words. This activity is best saved for last because you want your students to develop an understanding of each word’s meaning rather than just matching it to a word they already know. (For more information on this see how the brain acquires language.) Teaching synonyms and antonyms also gives your students further vocabulary development and an idea of the relationships between words.
Vocabulary learning can be fun.
If you just use a little imagination and your students exercise their gray matter, students can do far more than just memorize a list of words and their definitions. Try one of these activities the next time you have a vocabulary unit to teach and it’s sure to please both you and your students.