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Teaching English Vocabulary – 10 Fabulous Ways to Teach New Words

Did you know that a student needs to encounter a new word 10 to 16 times to effectively "learn" it according to recent research?
Considering the number of new words students have to learn per course, this means us teachers have our work cut out for us. We all know that although it is important for students to use correct grammar and structures, words are the main carriers of meaning. This means that the more words students are able to handle accurately, the better their chances of understanding English and making themselves understood. To effectively acquire new vocabulary, students must go through four essential stages:
   

first, they notice a new word with help; secondly, they recognize the word at first with help, then later on their own; and lastly, they are able to both recognize and produce the word.

It is essential that you, as the teacher, make use of activities that target each of these stages; more often than not, we make the mistake of merely introducing new vocabulary, and we don’t give students the opportunity to put these new words to use.
So, here are 10 great ways to teach English vocabulary, outlined for each of the stages of vocabulary acquisition:

Stage 1: Noticing and understanding new words
Introducing nouns, things, objects, animals, etc… Visual elements work best with concrete nouns, but try to go beyond flashcards and illustrations. Try to use real objects whenever possible, or even sounds, smells, and tastes. Appeal to all of your students’ senses! Introducing adjectives Opposites, like “big” and “small”, “long” and “short”, are usually illustrated with pictures, but here’s another case where realia will help you teach new adjectives; the use of real life objects is wonderful for words like “soft” and “rough”, adjectives that may take precious minutes of class time to explain. For more advanced adjectives, like “stunning”, “gorgeous”, “spectacular”, “huge”, or “immense”, bring in photos of famous sights from around the world like the Louvre, Egyptian pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, etc…then use these new adjectives to describe these places in ways that clearly illustrate their meaning. Introducing abstracts There are things you simply cannot teach with a flashcard. What works best in these cases are synonyms, definitions, substitutions, or simply placing students within a given context. Consider this simple example: To teach the difference between “early” and “late”,

or vice versa. make bingo cards with illustrations. Guess what I'm thinking Students take turns describing something. as well as a picture to a word. letter. Stage 2: Recognizing new words Bingo Bingo is one of the most versatile games employed by ESL teachers. there are countless things students can describe while putting new vocabulary to good use. like indicating that they have to use at least five adjectives in their description. You can adapt this to longer texts. very old. then state that those who arrive before this time are “early” while those that arrive after this time are “late”. like “chilly”.remind students what time class begins. you can make cards with the definition and call out the words. to even a short story) with blank spaces that must be filled in from a list of words. synonyms. “scorching”. It has stunning works of art. etc…to no guidance at all. Fill in the blanks (with options) Hand out a piece of written text (anything from a description. You can then read several out loud to compare the different words used to fill in each blank. “adjective” or “adverb”. This goes for both oral and written descriptions. stripes”. You may give them indications for each space. like “noun”. and call out each word. Mind maps or brainstorming Tell students they need to think of words they can use to describe the weather. but with a modern glass pyramid in the front. For those who can read.” Students choose to be as obvious or as cryptic as they like. etc…words. like a place: “I’m thinking of a place that is so huge it takes visitors hours to see all of it. It is a breathtaking building. Matching Another type of exercise with countless possibilities. summer. It has a very long neck and big brown spots.” Or simply state a series of words: “Africa. black and white. They should reply with previously taught words. Write every word supplied by students as “rays” that shoot out this circle. and also have longer word lists. or a word with its definition. Fill in the blanks (no options) Supply students with a piece of written text with blank spaces that have to be filled in with any word that fits. . You may even have sub-circles shooting off to the side for winter. Even little ones can do this with simple descriptions: “It's an animal. or five words related to sports. do the opposite. This works great for vocabulary review lessons. Write “weather” at the center of a blackboard or whiteboard and circle it. song. You may give them some guidance. or “mild”. make the cards with words. Students may be required to match opposites. then draw the flashcards from a bag. if they’re advanced students. For teens or adult learners. For younger learners. weather. Stage 3: Producing vocabulary Descriptions From a newspaper photo of a recent event to a personal account of a recent trip.

in other words. they have to spontaneously recall the words. Keyword Method Like pre-teaching. However. or puzzles. In this method. it is important that those working with young readers help foster their development of a large “word bank” and effective vocabulary learning strategies. but also to discuss its meaning. the child(ren) should read the text. an illustrative example or an image that the reader connects to the word to make it easier to remember the meaning when reading it in context. Adults (either alone or with the child(ren)) should preview reading materials to determine which words are unfamiliar. remember to cater to different learning styles or multiple intelligences. Explicit Vocabulary Instruction Pre-teaching Vocabulary Words One of the most effective methods of helping children learn new vocabulary words is to teach unfamiliar words used in a text prior to the reading experience. It is important for the adult to not only tell the child(ren) what the word means. real life objects. the adult (either alone or with the child(ren)) should preview reading materials to . Like the other explicit instructional methods. For students to effectively and accurately produce vocabulary. discussion provides the adult with feedback about how well the child(ren) understands the word. Remember the difference between recognizing and producing words: to practice recognition the words have to be supplied by YOU. This allows the child(ren) to develop an understanding of the word’s connotations as well as its denotation. teach highly descriptive adjectives when the lesson is about travel. Word Maps The word map is an excellent method for scaffolding a child’s vocabulary learning. Adults often forget a person (especially a child) needs to hear and use a word several times before it truly becomes a part of her vocabulary. unfamiliar words are introduced prior to reading. Repeated Exposure to Words It may seem common sense that the more times we are exposed to a word.It’s better to teach vocabulary in context. There are several effective explicit (intentional. the keyword method occurs before a child reads a particular text. planned instruction) and implicit (spontaneous instruction as a child comes to new words in a text) strategies that adults can employ with readers of any age. Never teach a list of words just because. Also. The idea behind the keyword method is to create an easy cognitive link to the word’s meaning that the reader can access efficiently during a reading experience. the adult teaches him a “word clue” to help him understand it. or students won’t have a chance to practice this new vocabulary. repeated exposure to new vocabulary words is often ignored. then students use them to fill in blanks or match them. the stronger our understanding becomes. rather than encouraging the child to remember a definition for a new word. However. This “word clue” or keyword might be a part of the definition. but the more you mix the better. Use songs and music. Effective Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary Because vocabulary knowledge is critical to reading comprehension. On a final note. Then these words should be defined and discussed. Or clothes and accessories when you’re talking about shopping. Providing multiple opportunities to use a new word in its written and spoken form helps children solidify their understanding of it. After pre-teaching vocabulary words.

Vocabulary footnotes (definitions provided at the bottom of the page) can be added for particularly challenging words so that the reader can easily “look up” the word while still reading the text. Adults should model this sort of incidental vocabulary learning for children to help them develop their own skills. many times you can determine its meaning based on what the rest of the sentence focuses on.determine which words are unfamiliar. Context Skills Context skills are the strategies that a reader uses for incidental vocabulary learning. Children should then be given practice analyzing words to determine their roots and definitions. Word maps help readers develop complete understandings of words. Sometimes grade level materials are inaccessible to readers because there are too many unfamiliar words in them. illustrations and titles provide readers with information about the text that they can use to determine the meanings of unfamiliar words. Adults should focus on teaching children the most commonly occurring roots. . When a reader is able to break down unfamiliar words into their prefixes. As each is taught examples of its use in common word should be shared and examined. Other words in a sentence or paragraph. Using prior knowledge the child fills in each of these three categories. captions. Many of the words in the English language are derived from Latin or Greek roots. suffixes and roots they can begin to determine their meanings. Branching off of the word are three categories: classification (what class or group does the word belong to). These features are often referred to as “context clues” because they are contained within the context of the piece of writing rather than outside it. qualities (what is the word like) and examples. Based on the way a word is used in a text we are able to determine its meaning. the ultimate goal is for readers to use this strategy independently. prefixes and suffixes. Implicit Vocabulary Instruction Incidental Learning Incidental vocabulary learning occurs all of the time when we read. This strategy is best used with children in grades 3-12. At the top or center of the organizer is the vocabulary word. A portion of the difficult words can be replaced with “easier” synonyms to help the reader understand the overall text. Restructuring Reading Materials This strategy is particularly effective for helping struggling readers improve their vocabularies. For each of these new vocabulary words the child (with the support of the adult) creates a graphic organizer for the word. An accompanying vocabulary guide can be provided for the text. While you may not know what a specific word means. Adult modeling and practice are key for helping children develop this important reading skill. Root Analysis While root analysis is taught explicitly. Texts are full of “clues” about the meanings of words. They either contain a “core” root (the primary component of the word) or use prefixes or suffixes that hold meaning. Young readers should be taught to find and use context clues for learning new vocabulary words. Adults can restructure the materials in several different ways to help readers comprehend them more easily. The reader should see how the root helps her understand the word’s definition. Words that are included in the guide should be highlighted or printed in bold text to direct the reader to check the vocabulary guide if the word or its meaning is unfamiliar.