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What Is Vocabulary?

“Without grammar something can be conveyed, without

vocabulary nothing can be conveyed.”

Broadly defined, vocabulary is knowledge of words and

word meanings. However, vocabulary is more complex than
this definition suggests. First, words come in two forms: oral
and print. Oral vocabulary includes those words that we
recognize and use in listening and speaking. Print vocabulary
includes those words that we recognize and use in reading
and writing. Second, word knowledge also comes in two
forms, receptive and productive. Receptive vocabulary
includes words that we recognize when we hear or see them.
Productive vocabulary includes words that we use when we
speak or write. Receptive vocabulary is typically larger than
productive vocabulary, and may include many words to
which we assign some meaning, even if we don’t know their
full definitions and connotations – or ever use them
ourselves as we speak and write.

A person's vocabulary is the set of words they are

familiar with in a language. A vocabulary usually grows and
evolves with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental
tool for communication and acquiring knowledge.

Types of Vocabulary:

There are two types of vocabulary;

 Active vocabulary
 Passive vocabulary

Active vocabulary:
Active vocabulary is vocabulary actually used.

Passive vocabulary:
Passive vocabulary is vocabulary understood.
Vocabulary is further divided into five categories; i.e,
 Single words
 Set phrases
 Variable phrases
 Phrasal verbs
 Idioms

Ways to make vocabulary learning interesting

Since students need to be motivated to learn

vocabulary constantly, it is important that vocabulary review
is as interesting as possible. Teachers can vary the types of
exercises, strategies and activities. The visual element is
equally important. Here are some of the activities we should
use in teaching vocabulary. They are, by no means

Stage 1: Noticing the word: the visual element

• Flashcards
• Pictures

Stage 2: Recognition

• True/false
• Categorize the words
• Matching. (this category is huge with both open and
closed types of exercises)Matching the word to its
definition, L1-L2, opposites, adjectives and nouns, verbs
and adverbs, word to the picture, match two words that
go together
• Multiple choice
• Drawing the word
• Circle the word you hear

Stage 3: Production

• Dictation
• Answering questions
• Picture description
• Miming
Final Words: Points to consider

• Try to have as many success oriented activities that are

geared to the age groups you teach.
• Gradually progress from one stage to another but vary
the activities within each stage.
• Consider appealing to the various multiple intelligences.
The visual element in learning is particular important
– for all age groups but particularly important for
younger children.

Instructions of teaching vocabulary:

 Step 1

Choose a list of words to focus on that's an integral part of

the students' existing curriculum. Include words that
students find in their everyday lives. Provide vocabulary
words that are age appropriate.

 Step 2

Motivate students by creating rewards, games, puzzles

and other fun activities. Mix a variety of activities
centered on vocabulary to reach a broader range of

 Step 3

Model proper use of vocabulary words. Use language

creatively and with gusto. Have fun with your own
vocabulary and students will want to have fun with theirs.

 Step 4

Create a word wall where students write new and

interesting vocabulary words. Refer to the wall often
during class so students become familiar with it and its
 Step 5

Quiz and test the students on their vocabulary words.

Disguise the purpose, learning vocabulary, of the quiz.
Explain that quizzes and tests only help the teacher know
how well the students have been taught.

 Step 6

Revisit old vocabulary words often. Bring them up casually

in class and on quizzes. Tell students that learning does
not end after the test. It is important for them to recall
vocabulary words.

Sources of teaching Vocabulary:

 Pictures
This is incredibly efficient for the reason that it facilitates
the process of learning for children. You can teach them
animals merely throughout showing them pictures of

 Context
Though challenging sometimes is in reality a good
technique particularly when it comes to abstract words
such as happiness or lucky or to go on a trip. Use the
words in a real environment or context. Do not forget to
help them find helpful strategies to memorize the words.
Give them some appropriate exercises according to their
capability of consolidating what they learn. At the same
time, try to motivate them and stimulate their interest.

 Mime and Pantomime

It may be done with the help of gestures and facial
expressions and also through actions.

 Playing
If your beginners are kindergarten children, try to teach
them throughout playing. Use numerous educational
games popular today with children. Try to make your
lesson lively and interesting with the help of showing the
children some pictures, telling them easy and interesting
stories, and so on.

 Start with Irregular Verbs

Make your students memorize much needed words,
starting with irregular verbs then nouns, adjectives and so
on. Everyday learnt with them 3 to 5 words. When they
had memorized enough words made a test. Remind and
test them at every chance.

 Last Pages
Suggest that they use the last pages of their notebooks to
create their own glossary, using just the words that are
interesting for them or the ones that they actually want to
include in their everyday vocabulary. It gives them
autonomy to choose and to be more active in the process
of learning.

Principles of teaching Vocabulary:

While teaching vocabulary to the students we should

keep in mind some useful Principles which help teaching
Some of the principles are given below;
 Keep teaching simple and clear. No complicated
 Relate the present teaching to past knowledge by
showing a pattern.
 Use both oral and written presentations. Write it on the
board while explaining.
 Give most attention to words that are already partly
 Tell the learners if it is a high frequency word that they
should remember.
 Don’t bring in other unknown or little-known related
words (like synonyms or opposites.)
 Recycling:
New vocabulary must be regularly
recycled/revised for students to remember it.

 Motivation
 Evaluation and assessment
 Communication:
In order to communicate clearly and effectively a
good range of vocabulary is needed.


Here some techniques are given which should be

used in teaching vocabulary;
 Say the word clearly and write it on the board.
 Get the class to repeat the word in chorus.
 Translate the word, or ask the students to translate.
 Draw a picture to show what the word means.
 Give an English example.
 Ask questions using the new word.
 Say an opposite word.
 Use visual aid.

Vocabulary Strategies:

3 effective ways for a student to learn vocabulary

 Guessing unknown words from context.
 Learning the meanings of unknown words.
 Studying word parts and mnemonic devices.
Content and Structural words:

Words are of two kinds:

 1 content words.
 2 Structural words.

Content words:
Content words are those that stand for:

 Things, ideas and entities. They are called nouns.

 Actions. They are called verbs.
 Qualities. They are called Adjectives and adverbs.
So content words comprise nouns, verbs, adjectives and

Structural Words:
Structural words are those which have little or no
meaning in themselves, but they bind together other words
to make phrases, clauses and sentences.

The following is the list of structural words:

 All the pronouns: I, you, he, her, etc.
 All the prepositions: on, under, with, behind, etc.
 All the auxiliary verbs: do, does, did, shall, will,
 All the conjunctions: and, but, or, lest, etc.
 All the relatives: whose, which, where,
 Some structural adjectives: this, that, some,
any, etc.
 Some structural adverbs: ago, again, even, more,
Structural words are also called function words as they
are so important for the functioning of the language.
Structural words are about 300 in number; the rest of
the dictionary consists of content words.
Structural words are more difficult to teach than
content words.
Gradation of Vocabulary:

The words selected for the school stage have to be

taught in five, six years. So we have to grade them for the
different years according to certain principles. The following
are the principles of gradation:
 Usefulness: some words are more useful for the child
at a particular stage than others. For example, in first
years of teaching English, the following vocabulary
items are very useful.
a) Words for the things the child uses, e.g., book, pen.
b) Words for the common relationships e.g., father,
c) Words for environmental areas, e.g., school, home.
d) Words for everyday actions, e.g., sit, stand, go.
e) Certain quality words, e.g., good, bad.
 Structural value: Even the structural words are
graded. For example, the prepositions on and in are
taught earlier than at.
 Teachability: Some words are easier to teach than
others. For example, the word Table is easier to teach
than Honesty. The teacher can show a table, but he will
have to create a verbal situation to give the mother
tongue equivalent to teach Honesty. For the same
reason it is easier to teach Open than to Kill.
 Simplicity: The simplicity of a word depends on its
spelling and pronunciation. For example, Strange is
simple than Mysterious.

It should be noted that only one meaning of a word be

taught at a time. That meaning should be simple one.
Look at the following three meanings of the word
Have. These meanings have to be taught in the order
mentioned in accordance wit the principle of simplicity,

1) (showing permanent possession). I have
two hands.
2) (as helping verb). They have gone.
3) (followed by infinitive).They have to work.

Active and Passive Vocabulary:

There are two kinds of vocabulary:

 Active Vocabulary
 Passive Vocabulary

 Active Vocabulary: the active vocabulary of a person

consists of those words that he can use correctly in his
own speech and writing. He fully understands the
meaning of those words.
Active vocabulary is also called working or functional
vocabulary. Whatever words are taught to the students in
the first three years should form a part of their active
vocabulary. In other words the student should master those
words at the productive level.
 Passive Vocabulary: the passive vocabulary of a
person consists of those words which he recognizes
when he meets in print or in the speech of others. He
can make out the meanings of those words, for
example, while reading an editorial in the newspaper.
But he has not sufficient mastery ever those words. So
he cannot use them in his own speech or writings.
Passive vocabulary is also called recognition vocabulary.
In senior classes students are required to learn certain
words which form a part of their passive vocabulary only.
It should be noted that a word which forms a part of a
student’s passive vocabulary next year.
A person’s passive vocabulary is always larger than his
active vocabulary because the former also includes the

Structure versus content words

English words fall into two broad types: those that belong in the
dictionary like ‘storm’ and ‘confabulate’, called content words, and
those that belong in the grammar like ‘of’ and ‘the’, called structure

Here are some of the main differences between structure and content

Content Words Structure Words

- are best explained and listed in the - are best explained in the grammar, i.e. in
dictionary, like ‘book’, ‘teddy bear’ or terms of how they fit into sentences: ‘the’
‘encapsulate’ is a definite article goes with nouns
- exist in large numbers, tens or - are very limited in number, consisting of
hundreds of thousands, as seen in any 220 or so in English
- vary in frequency from common words - are mostly very high frequency, for
like ‘beer’ to very rare like ‘adduction’ example all the top ten for English and 45%
(6 times in a 100 million words) of the top 100 are structure words
- are used more in written language - are used more in spoken language
- are more likely to be preceded by a - are less likely to be preceded by a pause
pause in speech ‘I like … bananas’, in speech ‘I hate …the referee’, perhaps
perhaps because there are more to because there are less of them to choose
choose from from
- consist of Nouns (‘glass’), Verbs - consist of Prepositions (‘to’), Articles
(‘move’), Adjectives (‘glossy’) etc (‘the’), Auxiliaries (‘can’) etc
- are always pronounced and spelled in
- vary in pronunciation for emphasis etc;
essentially the same way; ‘tree’ is
‘have’ can be said as /hQv/, as /h‚v/ with a
always said with the same consonants
change of vowel and as /v/ (‘ve)
and vowels
- usually have a fixed stress or stresses; - are usually unstressed but given stress for
‘theatre’ is always ‘theatre’ /'Ti‚t‚/) emphasis etc; ‘I’ve done it/I have done it/I
never ‘theatre’ /Ti‚'t‚:/ have done it’
- usually have more than two letters, as - can consist of one or two letters, as in ‘I’,
in ‘eye’, ‘two’, ‘inn’ ‘to’, ‘in’
- starting in ‘th’ are pronounced with a - starting in ‘th’ are pronounced with a
voiceless ‘th’ /T/ ‘think’, ‘theme’ voiced ‘th’ /D/ ‘this’, ‘them’, ‘there’
- can always be invented – I heard - can never be invented, apart from
‘vagueity’ on the radio this morning. changes over time. One attempt was ‘per’
Virtually all the new words coming for ‘he/she’, which has never caught on.
into the language say ‘cyberpunk’,
are content words.