Teaching vocabulary is very important in English language classes. If students really need to know a word, you should teach it to them for either active use and production or for passive recognition and understanding.
The number of vocabulary items you should teach in a lesson depends on the level of your students. When their level is higher, it appears to be easier to teach more items. On the whole, seven items seem to be average.
When teaching vocabulary, there are four areas that teachers must consider so that their vocabulary teaching will be more effective. They, in sequence, are:
- Meaning: What is meant by the word? The thing the word intends to convey.
- Pronunciation: How the word sounds.
- Form: How the word is spelled.
- Usage: How to use the word.
Before illustrating the meaning of the word, you should answer these two questions:
- Does the word have more than one meaning? If so, what meaning you need to teach for the lesson.
- Is there an associated set of words that could help to understand the target item?
How Can You Show the Meaning?
You can illustrate the meaning by using:
- Real objects.
- Board drawings.
- Telling a story.
- Creating a situation.
- Putting it into an example.
- Giving a synonym or antonyms.
How Can Students Work out the Meaning?
You can encourage students to work out the meaning of the words by:
- Matching exercises.
- Guessing from context.
- Multiple-choice exercise.
- Using a dictionary.
When Presenting the Meaning avoid the Following:
- Asking students: Do you know this word? Do you understand? Okay?
- Giving a detailed explanation that is too difficult to understand.
- Providing more meanings than they need for that context and lesson.
- Teaching too many words.
When teaching pronunciation, you should consider:
- Are there particular sounds or a sequence of sounds that cause difficulty?
- How many syllables does the word consist of? Which one is stressed?
- Is the intonation important?
- What are the silent letters and the features of connected speech?
When teaching the word form, you should consider:
- The part of speech of the word.
- If it is a noun, is it countable or uncountable?
- The word position in a sentence.
- Does the word occur with other words?
- Is it a collocation?
- Is it irregular in any way?
- Does it have either a prefix or suffix?
- Is it plural or singular?
- The spelling rules the word follows.
- Are there varieties of this word?
- If the word is for active use, provide an opportunity for students to use it.
- If it is for passive recognition, present its meaning through the text or let students guess the meaning from the context.
An Example of Teaching a Vocabulary Item
- Say the word giving a clear and natural model.
- Introduce the meaning.
- Focus on the form features.
- Get the students to say it and correct them as necessary.
- Give Drills and practice on its usage.
Essential Principles on Vocabulary Teaching
- The target vocabulary items should be contextually related so that it will easier for students to understand and remember them.
- Always deal with meaning first, then pronunciation, form and then usage. There’s no point drilling a word students don’t understand.
- Eliciting the meaning of the words from students using visuals, prompts, context or matching exercises. It is far more engaging than spoon-feeding the words to them. Showing a picture of an umbrella and asking “What’s this in English?” is much more efficient and effective than asking “Who can tell me what an umbrella is?”
- Vocabulary learning at higher levels should be just “extending” or “checking” and should be very student-centered.