Did you know there are over 250,00 words in the English language? Seems like a lot, huh. Well, that’s because it is. Even though we really only utilize a little over half of them today, new words keep getting added every year. The number of words constantly continues to grow.
For non-native English speakers, think about how intimidating this would be. I give students a whole lot of credit for taking English classes because there is nothing easy about the process. Teaching vocabulary, in particular, is tricky because there’s no specific formula to do so. When you teach grammar, there’s a certain formula to use and ways that students can remember when and how to use the grammar point. With vocabulary, there’s a whole lot of memorization. There are certain methods and techniques that will help your students learn and retain the meanings of vocabulary words.
It’s important to note that no two students are the same. Your students’ learning styles will vary greatly. Some students are visual learners while other excel more through audible methods. Many students need kinesthetic ways of learning in order to retain the most information. And, for most of us, we need a combination of these methods for the best results. So remember, something that works for one student, may not work for the next. That’s why it’s always a good idea to have several tips and tricks in your back pocket. You’ll want to try to accommodate as many students as you can. After all, their success is a direct correlation to your teaching methods and style. The more advice you offer, the more likely they are to do well.
So, what are some tricks of the trade that can help your students learn English vocabulary? Here are a few techniques that have helped my students over the years.
Vocabulary and flashcards go together like peanut butter and jelly, in my opinion. Good, old-fashioned flashcards – they worked for me when I was learning a new language and they work well for many students. You get a list of words, write the word on the front and the definition on the back. This is a great start to vocabulary learning, but this alone won’t help students master English vocabulary. How would it? They need to actually put those words into practice. Use them with other words – the way a native or fluent speaker would.
Keep an ongoing and constant list of new words. I tell my students to reserve the back 3-5 pages of their notebook for their vocabulary word list. Any new words that they encounter, they write down. They may have heard it on the radio, TV, passing by another conversation, etc. Once a week, we go over our word lists and I tell them the meaning of the new words they have encountered. As an incentive, you can offer extra credit for every 20 words they get.
This encourages students to always be on the lookout for English. Keeping their ears always open, they’ll be able to grasp onto the language more quickly than if they turn off their English brains right when the class bell rings.
Technology offers some negatives to the TEFL classroom, (like when students’ phones ring all class long), but it also has some positive aspects. Today, you can find so many apps that help students learn vocabulary in a more efficient way. Duolingo, Quizlet, Magoosh, online Thesauruses, etc. I don’t think these are great to rely on, but face it, students love using their phone, so why not encourage them to use it to help with their English studies?
Post-it notes are a great tool for English students to keep on hand. They’re small enough to keep in a bag and be able to use them at any time. I find them helpful to use at anytime. Students can post reminders on their laptops, notebooks or desks, in order to help them remember new vocabulary words.
Methods of role play are another great way to put vocabulary words into practice. Think of scenarios where you have to utilize specific vocabulary words. For example, if you are doing a unit on Classroom vocabulary, create a dialogue that incorporates all of the words into it. By running through this, your students are using the words in real-life situations. They’ll then be able to understand how and when words are used. After the role play, they’ll feel confident enough to take their new skills out in public.
Actually Use the Words
It’s important to let your students know that they should not solely rely on flashcards, word lists or apps to learn vocab. Those are all excellent means of helping the learning process, however, if they study the words in isolation, they will memorize the definition and (probably) pronunciation, but will most likely never be able to properly use the words in conversation or in writing.
Encourage your students to practice the vocabulary in conversation as much as possible. Ask them the question: “Why are you learning English?” For some, the answer will be in order to get a better job or as a requirement from their current job, for others, the answer will be related to schooling or getting into school, and for some, the answer will simply be because it will add value to their life.
You can then respond to them and explain that language learning is about communication and you don’t communicate through isolated words. Rather, it’s the knowledge of combined words that offers us good communication. Motivate them to practice their vocabulary words with each other, parents, friends or anyone else who speaks the language. By actually putting the words into use, they will learn them and will become more affluent English speakers.
Lastly, as most of us teachers know, confidence is key in language learning. You can help your students gain the confidence they need through teaching them different methods to learn vocabulary. Techniques such as the use of flashcards and word lists, as well as different role-play scenarios, will help them build their confidence. Once a student gains some confidence, there’s no going back – they will continue to strive for more and more….And when this happens, it means you’re doing a really great job as a teacher.