The cornerstone of learning a language is knowing more words. The more vocabulary items your students know, the better their English will be, but committing words to memory is not always easy. These tips and activities will help your students learn and retain more vocabulary words.
1. Use a Notebook
Demand that your students have a notebook of some sort where they record the vocab that you (and they) want to learn. Set it up with the English word / the pronunciation (this could be written in their language) / and the translation. If you have upper intermediate or advanced students, ask them to paraphrase the words rather than translate them.
Students should look at their books often and test themselves on the words they have written. Learning vocab is as much their responsibility as yours. Occasionally ask to see teh books so you can check that words are being added.
2. Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check
It’s an old fashioned technique: write a word, say it aloud, cover it with your hand, and then write it again and check the spelling. This is a great way for students to remember words. Ask them to use this to remember five to ten words at the start of class. Then, near the end of class, give a quick spelling test to see what students remember.
3. Learn Words in Groups and Chunks
Organize the words students are expected to learn into groups or lexical sets. For example, you may give students a set of ten words with the names of vehicles or things in the kitchen. For more advanced students you can group adverbs or academic words togehter.
There are lots of sets of words that go together in English. Ask your students to learn them at the same time. They include:
- Verbs + dependant prepositions: good at / think about / sorry for / look at / work for / wait for / apologise for / agree with
- Adjectives + dependant prepositions: scared of / worried about / addicted to / proud of / interested in
- Common collocations: black and white / salt and pepper / up and down / good and bad /
4. Give Spelling Tests
Identify ten words in a lexical set that you want your students to learn. Explain that in the next session/week you will give them a spelling test on these words. Do it every week. Keep a record of student scores and explain that you will give a prize to the student who has the most points at the end of the semester/year. It doesn’t have to be a big prize. This will aid motivation. It will also give you an activity you can do for ten minutes in every session.
5. Write Sentences Using Target Words
As a homework or class activity, ask your students to write five sentences using their target vocab. If possible, go round and check student sentences before you ask them to share their ideas with a partner. Share any interesting sentences with the class and display them on the board or the walls of your classroom.
6. Play Games
Word games like hangman, bingo, and word tic tac toe will help your students learn vocabulary in a fun way. There are loads of great ideas right here on Busy Teacher, such as 10 Creative Games and Vocabulary Class Games. You can also make a word search or find a crossword to give as homework. Anything that forces students to use or see a word again will help them remember it.
7. Stick Words on the Wall
People remember things they see on wall, even unconsciously. For example, you might recall a poster from your own school days. Print off sets of words you want students to learn and display them. Stick up student work. Write words on sticky notes. Take over the space on your classroom walls. Refer to what you have put there and draw students' attention to it.
8. Repeat, Review, Recycle
We all forget things very quickly and research suggests that unless we review what we learned regularly, we will lose it. This is called the Forgetting Curve. Regularly check and test vocab either formally or informally. Give praise to your students who remember. Use strategies to motivate those who forget.
With all vocabulary instruction, be realistic with what you expect your students to learn. People can retain information in their short term memory, but without repetition and review, the information can easily be lost. Some people might be able to learn ten words a day for a week, but it’s unlikely they will remember these a month later. Set targets that your students can manage.
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