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Automatic English For The People

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Vocab Workshop

by AJ

Attended a workshop today called "Fun and Effective Activities to Teach Vocabulary"... presented by Laurel Pollard.

A sampling of interesting ideas and good stuff:

* Presenting new vocabulary in semantic sets does NOT facilitate acquisition.
Pollard presented research that shows that students are likely to be confused if they learn closely-related semantic sets at the same time. By "semantic sets" she means sets of words that belong to a closely related category of meaning.

For example, the semantic set of "fruit" includes, apple, orange, banana, etc.
Many textbooks present vocabulary in exactly this way. One chapter, you learn food vocabulary. Next chapter, you learn about family (aunt, uncle, neice,...). Well, this isnt a very efficient way to do it, as it turns out (no suprise to me).

What does work, according to the research Pollard presented, is teaching vocabulary related to a given story or theme. For example, students learn a story about a vacation: "The Martin family traveled to France on a bright silver jet. This was their first time traveling......." From this story, you might teach the students "silver" and "first" (assuming these are new for them). But you would not go on to teach them "gold", "red", "bronze"... and other colors. Those words would be learned at another time... from a context in which they are not isolated.

*Students need frequent, spaced exposures to words in multiple contexts.
In other words, lots and lots of review spaced over days and weeks... but each review should be brief. The "multiple contexts" point is important too. Its not just a matter of reviewing the word and its definitions or synonyms. Students need to encounter the word in different contexts (speech, movie, various readings) and need to practice the word in different contexts.

*Cool Activity: Four Corners Vocab (from SIOP)
Rather than encouraging students to use a standard textbook or make their own word+definition notebook... Pollard recommended the four corners activity. Each new word is put on a card... which is divided into four sections. In section one, they put the word. In section two, they draw a picture to represent the word (which can be literal or abstract). In section three they write the word in a sentence. In section four, they write their own definition for the word.

In this way, they create multiple associations for the word, rather than the usual single synonym/definition. Im gonna try this with Spanish.

*Use Vocab (Flash) Cards In Class
Again, rather than using a notebook... encourage students to use flashcards for new words. On one side they put the word. On the other they put the four corners info.... plus any other associations that help them remember the word (including translations into their native language).

Pollard recommends reviewing these regularly.... by having students quiz themselves independently during class. When quizzing each other, they should give the words meaning and also use it in a sentence correctly.

All of Pollards suggestions mesh quite nicely with my teaching methods. I had already decided that textbooks were a piss-poor source for vocab... and now draw vocab exclusively from authentic materials.

However, Ive been wracking my brain lately for ways to make this new vocab "stick". This week I put butcher paper on one wall of my classroom. Each time we discover a new word or phrase (I tend to emphasize phrases rather than individual words)... I write it on the paper. I then use this paper for review each morning.

But that still isnt quite enough. So I will definitely be trying the flashcards & four corners idea. I imagine the following routine: First thing in the morning, review the vocab wall... quiz students or have them quiz each other on the phrases. Next, launch into the days new material (usually a book or movie or both)... discover new words/phrases from these and add them to the wall. While I add them to the wall, the students will create flashcards for them. Then, at the end of the day, they'll spend time reviewing all of their flashcards.

By repeating this process every day, they should gain much better retention of the vocabulary.... enabling them to acquire 10-20 new words per day (which is my basic goal for them).

San Francisco, CA

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