EFL / ESL Teaching Tip: Acquiring Vocabulary Part 2

This video, featuring James Stakenburg the Head of Teacher Training, builds on the video Acquiring Vocabulary Part 1. James discusses a few more key concepts related to helping your students remember the new words you are teaching them.


James: So today I wanted to talk about teaching vocabulary and a concept about helping students remember vocabulary. And this concept is that it’s the number of word retrievals that students have that can really help them store vocabulary in their long term memory. By retrievals, I kind of think about it as moments that your brain ‘touches’ a word. Rather than the number of deep meaningful encounters they have, if their brain is “touching” and thinking about a word then that’s another time that they’re associating a word and strengthening the neural pathways. So, for example a really basic…like if you have a list of say 12 words on the board, something really basic would be like, “Oh, what does X mean?” This is kind of a very lazy way of teaching; maybe you do it when you first start teaching. A little bit more, you know, cognitive, is like, “Oh, what/which word means when you blah blah blah…?” But that’s still just focusing on one word. There’s other kind of words that require students to think about all of the words on that list. For example, “Which of these things are living or alive?” In order to answer that question, the students need to think about every single word, so their brain is touching every single word to be able to answer the question. Maybe, “Which word is the longest?” Again, you’re not associating with meaning, but you’re looking at every single word and thinking about every single word to answer the question. Other things: “Which word comes last in the dictionary?”; “Which ones are people?” If the they say, “Oh, these four could be people.” “Which ones could be over 100 years old?” Again, they are touching each of those words. “Which one is the hardest for YOU to pronounce?” This is kind of personalizing it, but also students are then thinking about the pronunciation of every single word and the difficult ones they’re like, kind of going over and over and over in their minds. “Which one is the hardest for you to spell?” “Which one do you think you’ll forget by lunch time or by the end of the day?” Students are kind of really then more likely to remember that word because their like, “Oh! I’ve identified this word as a difficult word to remember.” And they’re making the effort to try and remember it. And just as a final thing, your students may or may not respond well to this, but if you let them know why you are doing it… But rather than saying “Yes, that’s right!” or “No, that’s wrong.” when they answer the question, maybe ask a question, “Are you sure?” or “only 3?” Because then again they are going through every single word, their mind is touching that word; they’re retrieving that information again a second time to be able to answer the question. So, try to think of opportunities for your students to kind of mentally touch or retrieve a word as many times as possible.


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