Techniques for the Teaching of Vocabulary
After reviewing some course books I’ve used, I came up with a list of different types of procedure used for teaching vocabulary. Pre-Intermediate Level / Book: ‘New English File Pre-Intermediate‘, by Clive Oxenden, Christina Latham-Koenig, and Paul Seligson; Oxford, 2005. Matching: On page 145, personality adjectives are presented with brief definitions, which are straightforward and comprehensible for sts at this level. Sts match the adjectives and definitions (1a). In 1b the matching is done with the opposites of each adjectives, which enables sts to see a very useful relation among words (antonymy). This relation is further exploited in 2, where learners are once again presented with a set of opposite adjectives. These can be different words, but also words derived from the original one, by means of prefixes such as un- and im-. Sts are exposed to a strategy that will become of major use from this level onwards and which will enable them to increase their lexis even more: word formation.
On page 149, ex. 1, this time learners find the opposites of common verbs, once again developing their understanding of the relation of antonymy among words.
Another very common technique for the teaching of lexical meaning is matching words /phrases and pictures. On p. 150, sts will match the words to the pictures of items of clothing. Then, they will do the same with phrases and pictures of the actions being represented. Matching the clothes is quite straightforward and compares with teaching this kind of lexical set with using regalia - another useful technique in a case like this (there are always clothes in the classroom!). However, in the case of the actions shown by the pictures, it could lead to some misunderstanding. The authors have tried to solve this by putting the objects which appeared in each picture, e.g. wear (a black hat), take off (her boots). This should solve the inconvenience.
Intermediate Level / Book: ‘New English File Intermediate‘, by Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig; Oxford, 2006. Guessing from context: After reading for gist the text on p. 4, sts will match some highlighted words from it to the definitions (p. 5, ex. 1d). This presents great advantages: it trains learners in lexical inferencing, a strategy which becomes more and more critical as learners are exposed to longer and more complex texts. In real life, when face with authentic material in newspapers, magazines, online texts, learners will need to resort to this skill quite often, as they won’t be carrying dictionaries around or have someone there to explain or translate for them. In this case they will be using contextual clues, and prior knowledge of English and of the world. For example, in word # 1 sts are assisted in their guessing by the surrounding context ( ‘Not at home’; ’the food I cook is healthy… but when I eat out (when I don’t cook); and also the definition reinforces this idea), by their knowledge of English (the preposition ’out’ suggests not in your house, therefore outside, most probably at a restaurants); and their knowledge of the world (sts do know about places where they can eat: at home or in other places!). All this process, which seems so complex and detailed when we analyse it, is done quite fast and naturally by learners, and even more when the words are taken from a context which sts know about, can engage and interest them.
Matching words with synonyms: On p. 27, ex 6, learners work with ‘strong’ adjectives, that is the ‘extreme’ versions, or synonyms of the ‘normal’ ones. As Tricia Hedge puts it, ‘a synonym has the advantage of making learners of paradigmatic relations in the language and that a range of words exists from which a choice can be made.’ It also expands learners’ lexis and helps them to develop skills for rephrasing and using other words in similar contexts. Also, the connection with meaning can be quite instant (tiny: very small).
Word building: On p. 46, ex 4, students work on the skill of word formation with the suffixes -ed/-ing to form adjectives. The meaning which each ending conveys to the word seems to be assumed known by the learners, as no work on explaining is done. The picture in a and the sentences in b will elicit something already known by learners and d will expand this strategy with further examples, which, by the way, they will finally personalise by asking and answering the questions themselves.
Providing examples: When teaching lexical sets, we find it necessary to work on the relation of hyponymy. There is a super-ordinate term which includes other subordinate words. This is the case on p. 144, when learning types of food. For each super-ordinate students find a series of subordinate hyponyms (Meat: duck, sausages,… / Fish/Seafood: prawns, salmon,…). This way of presenting vocabulary greatly assists learners in expanding and organising their mental lexicon. By then including words of their own finding, the learning can become more memorable and efficient.
Post-Intermediate Level (B1+) / Book: ‘Upstream Level B1+’, by Virginia Evans and Jenny Dooley, Express Publishing, 2006. Word networks: As we organise words by meaning and words are part of semantic clusters or lexical sets, ´word networks’ can be used to establish and consolidate meaning. This technique proves quite useful when brainstorming ideas for writing, to help learners record and revise vocabulary in an organised way, or it can also make an entertaining and motivating gamelike activity which can show sts how much they already know! On pp. 86 & 87 with find two (more advanced) examples of word networks for the sets of ‘people’ (appearances, character, relation to others) and ‘animals’ (types and habitats). Learners are reviewing words they already have encountered, some new one for the level, and can also add some of their own, keeping them actively involved in thinking of words. With some courses, we could also create classroom posters or personalised ‘Glogsters’ or ‘Mindmaps’ online, which can be used for constant revision. A final word with this type of networks (or with all the above techniques, for that matter) should be to always bear in mind how much input can students process at any given time, and how much each learner will profit from it. Adding more and more words and phrase can at a point demotivate or tire some learners. That’s why we should also teach these techniques with a view to our learners’ personalising them in a way that is useful to them.