Internalizing and Practicing Vocabulary

There are words that students will use and other words (a lot of idioms, for example) that students need to understand but may in fact never need to use – especially if they use English primarily to speak with other non-native speakers.    This is an important distinction to make when we decide whether to focus on students’ ability to fluently use the vocabulary or whether to focus on recognition and understanding of the words.

Either way, for students to internalize new vocabulary, it’s important that they encounter the vocabulary in different contexts – at least nine times, according to research.   To do this, it’s important for the students to encounter vocabulary over several lessons and for you to have lots of practice activities.  Some ideas for practicing vocabulary include:

a)      Student type the expressions into Google and find two or three more sentences using each one.

b)       Give the students (in scrambled order) a set of sentences using synonymous expressions. They have to pair the sentences with the target expressions.

c)       Gapped sentences – what’s the missing word (with or without the words provided in scrambled order.)

d)      Students write words on flashcards.  They then fan out their collection – their partner points to a word at random and the holder uses word in a sentence.

e)      Students write words on flashcards.  They then arrange them in categories, and then explain to classmate(s) why they sorted them in this way (typical categories might be colors, furniture, types of business, types of transactions, words I need to study more etc)

f)       Students write sentences using vocabulary on pieces of paper.  The teacher collects them, and then gives them back out randomly.  The students write their new sentences on the white board (to preserve anonymity).  Then you go over them, clarifying how to use the new word correctly.  The student can correct the sentences they wrote on their own cards or can write new sentences.

g)      Vocabulary house: students draw plan of house/ apartment that has a lot of memories for them.  Then they put new words in a room in their house, based on associations or memories they have with the house.  If they are comfortable, they can explain to partner(s) why they put them there.  They can add to house over time. (d-h Laurel Pollard, TESOL Convention 2011)

h)      Write a list of words to be reviewed.  Circle 2 unrelated words.  The students work in pairs to create one sentence using both words.  The teacher calls on one student in each pair randomly to share the sentence.  The other students decide if it’s an accurate sentence.  You can give a point to first pair with correct sentence. (d-h Laurel Pollard, TESOL Convention 2011)

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