In the last two posts, I looked at the …
“We teach you [X number of] words a day” syndrome.
I explained how the claim doesn’t make any sense, and is just a trick, which could well take your IELTS band score down. I proved this by using three questions:
Question 1: How do you really ‘know’ a word? where I showed how very complex just ‘knowing a word’ is.
Question 2: What is ‘teaching’ a word? where I made the point that handing out word lists is now teaching.
Question 3: How do you ‘learn’ a word? where I showed that it is not possible for learners to learn so many words a day.
This leads to the issue about how you actually do ‘learn’ words? And how do I teach words in my classes? Let me answer that now.
The answer is that you best learn new words as you hear or read them – that is, in context. Context means the situation in which you receive the word. It means who, when, why, and where, and all these stay better in your mind, and connect to that word, helping you to remember it.
My IELTS Reading Book (p.2) says, start reading an English newspaper or magazine. Use your dictionary at the same time, and learn vocabulary in context. That is how you remember it, and that gives you all the other important information that you need to know – the grammar of the word, the way it is used, and the sort of situation it is used in.
However, in class, I will teach lots of vocabulary, but I follow modern TEFL principles.
Principle 1: Context
I put the word in context – that is, a sentence.
When the man is put in prison, this will please the v……. of crime.
I usually put a picture alongside the word – since pictures can say so much. All this helps students know the meaning, and guess the word (see next principle).
Principle 2: Elicitation
The most basic principle is that I elicit the word. I show the first letter or letters on my PowerPoint, flash it, then let someone in the class tell me. This engages all the students in the class, and assumes they may have knowledge which can be shared with everyone in the class.
Principle 3: Concept Questions
I ask concept questions to help make the meaning clear.
Are victims happy or sad?
What happened to them or their loved ones?
How do they feel now?
Principle 4: Personalisation.
Sometimes, with a PowerPoint-led discussion, or direct 1-1 speaking, I ask students questions related to the vocabulary.
- Have you ever been a victim of crime?
- What happened?
- What crimes are common in this country?
This helps students engage and remember the word better.
Principle 5: Drill / Pronunciation.
When presented on the screen, I show the word stress using a small square above the stressed syllable (showing ‘phoTOGraphy’ not ‘photoGRAphy’) and any weak forms. I also drill the word – that is, say the word, and get everyone to repeat it just like me.
So, think very carefully when you hear a teacher or school say, “We teach you [X] words a day!” Do they really teach you using the previous five principles? Or just hand out word lists?
Don’t fall for that trick, okay?