Vocabulary development and use is a consistent topic that ESL teachers and students must focus on. Vocabulary can sometimes be the most difficult aspect of language development since language rules tend to be general but vocabulary is always specific.
If you are in the position in which many teachers find themselves, you see your student using the same words time and time again. You can push your students from this habit by focusing on vocabulary development and challenging your students to use better words, words that are more specific and those richer in meaning. Try some of the following activities with your students and see if their vocabularies don’t proliferate.
Helping Your ESL Students Camouflage Common Words
Make a List of Boring Words
Even native speakers may have trouble knowing which words lack impact when they write. You can help raise your students’ awareness of boring words by putting together a list of words to avoid. If you already have a grasp as the words your students use over and over, compile them into a list and challenge your students to write without using any of those words. Another option is to compile the list with your students in either one brainstorming session or one word at a time as your class improves their language skills. By helping your students first become aware of the words they should try to replace, they will start the journey to improve their vocabularies.
A Thesaurus is Your Friend
One of the best tools for deepening vocabulary among your students is the thesaurus. It may be impossible to be an English teacher and not know that a vocabulary lists synonyms of common words. Once you and your class have put together your list of boring words, take some class time or assign a homework project to look up each of these words in the thesaurus. Ask your students to share definitions of the words that they recognize or know the meaning of so everyone in your class has some familiarity with new vocabulary. You may challenge your students to choose one or more words that they will make an effort to incorporate into their vocabularies in the coming days or weeks.
Distributing Word Lists
Though the thesaurus is an invaluable resource for any language learner, your students may find it intimidating or discouraging, especially if they are not accustomed to working with reference books. If you want to make the process less intimidating for your students, compile your own word lists for your students’ use. You may want to write these on your own or have your students participate in their creation. Either way, take one plain word such as good and ask your students to think of other words they could use in its place. You may include words such as beneficial, positive, preferential and any others that your students may come up with. Then turn to the thesaurus and add any words you have missed. Giving your students a copy of this list or encouraging them to copy the words into their notebooks will make the interesting vocabulary readily available to them and easy to use. Follow by making a list of words to use instead of said and then lists for each of the five senses. You may also want to include a list of words that can describe people. Then when your students write, either in class or for homework, encourage them to refer to their lists to keep their writing vibrant.
Create Your Own List of Interesting Words
If your students keep a vocabulary notebook or writer’s notebook, have them assign a page for new words that they like. Remind your students to add new words to their lists as they hear them spoken or as they read them. They may choose words that are appealing for their meaning or for their sound. In either case, you may want to have your students look up definitions of the words, preferably in an English only dictionary, and copy those definitions on the page.
In addition, challenge your students to keep a list of unfamiliar words that they either hear or read. Though there may be nothing particularly noteworthy about the words, just learning new vocabulary will help your students increase the variety in the words that they use. To go along with the new word lists, why not have a word of the day in your classroom. You may choose the new vocabulary strategically or randomly. In the morning, write the word on the board with its definition and award points to any student who can use the word in his or her conversation that day. If you keep a running tabulation, you can award one student the title Word Wizard of the Week. This will recognize the work that he or she did in the previous week as well as motivate other students to put some work in to their own vocabularies in the weeks to come!
The more exposure that your students have to new vocabulary, the more likely they are to use it.
If you start by making your students aware of the words they should seek to replace and then give them the tools to replace those boring words with more interesting vocabulary, they will improve their vocabularies. As their vocabularies increase, so will their confidence speaking and writing in English. By integrating these simple activities into your daily classroom routine, you can make a big difference in how your students use language and how they feel when they do!