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Automatic English For The People

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Vocabulary: Don't Pre-Teach

by AJ

Ive experimented with two approaches to introducing vocabulary. One is the traditional pre-teaching method. New words are introduced to the students, they are defined & explained, and then the students practice them a bit. Finally, students read an article or passage that contains the words. The idea is that they will understand the article better because they pre-learned the vocab.

The other method Ive tried is to read an article first..... let the students encounter the new vocabulary as they read... and then discuss/explain it as we work through the story. As we do this, I write the words on the board. Once we finish the article, we return to the words on the board and practice them using TPRS.

Ive found the second method to be far superior to the traditional one. Why?

When the vocabulary is pre-taught... it may eventually help students comprehend the article. But unfortunately, pre-teaching also bores them. The words are introduced in isolation... out of context and with no compelling reason to learn them. Even when we switch to practicing them with TPR Storytelling... the words seem to come out of limbo. Students therefore seem far less interested and the words dont "stick" as well.

When they encounter the words first in an authentic article.... the students have more motivation to learn them. If the article is at all interesting.. they want to understand it. They now have a compelling reason to understand the new words... and the words are encountered in a meaningful context. When we move on to practice using TPR Storytelling, the students remember the words from the article and thus undedrstand why we are continuing to work with them. TPRS builds on their understanding... by playing with the words in slightly varied contexts the students gain a more nuanced understanding of each one.

My best advice in regards to vocabulary is to avoid pre-teaching. Forget the textbook generated vocab lists. Rather, start with authentic materials (real articles, stories, TV clips, whatever). Let students encounter new words in a meaningful context. Let THEM choose which words they want to know. Write these words as they come up..... then work with them after the article is over.

In this way, students learn vocabulary by connecting with useful and interesting content... they'll be less bored. And they will remember the vocabulary more easily.

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