7 Steps toward a successful vocabulary teaching experience

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For many decades, the focus on vocabulary in language teaching was always minimal compared to grammar instruction; For language teachers, it was the norm to teach the rules & expect students to learn vocabulary through rote memorization or excessive reading by themselves. But the scientific researchers proved them to be wrong. Learners could learn and acquire much more vocabulary if they’re exposed to vocabulary in the classroom and supplied with sufficient clues for learning its multifaceted nature.

According to some scholars “ if language structure makes up the skeleton of language, then vocabulary provides the vital organs and the flesh”. Teaching language learners what goes on in this massive body of vocabulary may seem an impossible task, but if teachers know some tips and tricks of vocabulary teaching, they can help students develop a considerable vocabulary. Here are the steps toward a better teaching experience:

Step 1 –  Knowing the reasons behind the difficulty of teaching vocabulary

Due to some reasons, teaching vocabulary is a challenging activity. Knowing the reasons which make teaching vocabulary troublesome is the first step toward solving the problem and be a better teacher:

Choosing words to teach from a pool of vocabulary is so frustrating;
Even though we may know well how to teach words, selecting vocabulary to teach is still a challenge for most teachers.

The complexity of word knowledge makes teaching even more burdensome
Teachers may not know whether to teach form first then meaning or meaning first then form later, and teaching a word is not just supplying a definition and some example sentences. It’s far more complicated than that.
Learners have multiple proficiency levels in the same classroom due to differences in their socioeconomic level and also different learning abilities.

Step 2 –  Providing a risk-free and non-evaluative learning environment

Based on some scholars, having fun and an encouraging environment is the key to teaching vocabulary and the way they propose to induce excitement in students to learn words is creating a risk-free, safe and non-evaluative learning environment so that students could learn vocabulary effectively and easily.

Step 3 –  Selecting what to teach

Most studies argue that there’s no need to include unfamiliar words in the focus of classroom vocabulary instruction; they’ve developed a 3-tiered vocabulary model with instructional purposes and proposed that teachers’ focus should be mainly on second-tier vocabulary:the high-frequency words with utmost utility in academic settings. In deciding on what vocabulary should be taught the teachers should also consider their students’ proficiency levels and also the educational objectives; In a nutshell, there are a few tips in identifying the right words for teaching vocabulary that teachers should keep in mind:

  • Select the most common and high-frequency wordsoi
  • Avoid choosing rare vocabulary which is subject-specific
  • Try to include words and phrases that are strategic to students’ academic success
  • Choose a vocabulary textbook containing such words

Step 4 –  Deciding how to present words

When presenting the word, teachers should use techniques for teaching both form and meaning of the word in an engaging manner and based on factors such as time availability, the content of teaching materials, and its value for the learners. There are some strategies proposed in the field of vocabulary learning:

Techniques in presenting word form
  • Presentation of the graphic form
    Teachers should write the correct form of the word on the board, and also encourage students to highlight the words on the text and also create flashcards
  • Phonetic transcription
    Providing the IPA transcription of words is less necessary for younger students. It’s important that students hear the correct pronunciation of the word, they should also practice saying it aloud.
  • Drilling
  • Spelling the word
    Spelling the word can be a good trick to help students memorize words
Techniques in presenting word meaning
  • Translation
    Although it may not seem like a good idea, in some situations it’s a helpful way to display similarities and differences between two languages and also to check students’ comprehension.
  • Using real objects and illustrations
    Using realia, visual aids and real objects is the best way to stimulate learners’ senses especially to teach concrete vocabulary to young learners.
  • Definition
    Definitions engage learners cognitively and demand their full attention, but teachers should consider using simple English in supplying word definitions.
  • Active involvement
    Teachers should encourage learners to engage actively in guessing the meaning of words by elicitation and involve them in more productive activities.
  • Presentation through context
    The scholars believe that this technique is best to teach more abstract vocabulary and offer two ways to include context: giving an example situation & giving example sentences. In this case, learners have more opportunities to guess the words and also better memorize words.

Step 5 –  Practicing vocabulary

Even after learning the form and meaning of words, you may be disappointed to find your students struggling to remember those words. To move those words to long-term memory, you should supply your students with planned activities for re-activating those words. Some scholars state that students need time for new vocabulary to sink in. So take your time and don’t forget that “practice makes perfect”.

Step 6 –  Revising & Consolidation

The final step in teaching vocabulary successfully and efficiently is to make sure that your students truly comprehend the words and can use them productively in their writing or speaking experiences.

Step 7 – Switch to a flipped learning environment

Flipped learning is the opposite of traditional centralized classrooms. Technology plays an important part in a flipped learning classroom (cloud software, audiovisual devices, and portable devices are necessary). Flipped classrooms help to communicate, share and consolidate vocabulary knowledge.
In a flipped classroom, using technology-based tools and specialized vocabulary applications like WordUp is a helpful way to enhance the progress of vocabulary learning.

WordUp can help teachers in each step we covered in this post:

  • WordUp knows which words students need more
  • WordUp measures the vocabulary knowledge of each individual student & provide a personalized plan for each student WordUp
  • WordUp presents the most useful words of English vocabulary according to each student’s knowledge (proficiency level), making it easy for teachers to decide upon what words should be covered
  • WordUp presents the meaning & form in many different ways including interesting videos, visuals, and quotations from famous people that can be used in the classroom as the material
  • By WordUp students can practice each new word based on an optimal plan till they learn the word for life
  • If WordUp is used by every student in a class, their teachers can keep track of each student’s progress
  • Using smartphones in classrooms for developing vocabulary in group activities is a fun way that students will accept willingly

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