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Excellent Ways to Help Students Build Good Vocabulary (in any language!)

One major hurdle faced by many teachers of a language is that of vocabulary. Grammar can be reinforced using drills, writing is sheer consistency and speaking is learned through role-plays and immersive activities. What to do about vocabulary, though? It discourages students from expressing themselves and the lack of words expands exponentially too, unfortunately.

It's important to start early and instill good learning practices in your students when it comes to vocabulary. The very first strategy is that of 'Acclimatization' or what I like to call, 'Teaching Without Teaching' (TWT)

TWT (no hashtag exists, because I made it up ;) ) is the art of introducing vocabulary in sneaky ways. For example, when I was a student of French, my teachers at the Alliance Française would always make it a point to ask us about our weekend on Mondays and our plans for the upcoming one on Fridays. This made us look for words to describe our favorite activities or places, thereby improving our vocabulary without us even realizing it!

Vocabulary can be incorporated anywhere you choose: in multiple-choice questions on grammar, or in a speaking activity. Here's an example of how you can add new vocabulary/ reinforce existing knowledge using a grammar question.

Choose the correct form of the verb:

  • A teacher help/helps grasp new ideas.

While the correct answer is not too difficult to arrive at, there's a new word for 'learn' in the form of 'grasp'. Thus, not only is grammar reinforced, but a new word has been learned too! It is important to not dumb down your grammar/comprehension questions for this very reason. Adding visuals and sounds to this enhances the learning experience as well. Vocabulary is one thing that you should drench your students with, regardless of their level. The more you expose them to new words and expressions, the better. Even if you cannot explain a word right away, it will still be a part of their subconscious, making it easier to learn later.

Another effective strategy is Rephrasing. It can be used for all levels, from beginners to advanced learners. You will ask your students to replace a word in a sentence or a paragraph with a synonym. A simple yet impactful exercise, the results multiply when done in groups, as there can be so many answers.

For example, in the example sentence above, you can ask for synonyms for the word 'grasp' or 'new'. Make it a competition and you can have so much fun too!

Finally, never forget to Contextualize! As teachers, we often rely on vocabulary lists and commonly used words. Vocabulary building is turned into a chore of 'must-knows' and 'shoulds'. It is challenging to remember new words without context. Providing a story and a backdrop where these new words are strewn about carelessly is the best way to go.

If you want to teach your students the names of animals, ask yourself why.

Do you want them to talk about their favorite animal? Then it's better to teach the names of animals and adjectives together. Do you want them to understand a text on wildlife better? A good idea, in that case, would be to give an illustrated page with the names of animals that the student can refer to. They need not learn the names by heart immediately. By referring to the page many times, memorization will happen automatically.

I found this article particularly interesting on how context influences language processing.

Now that you have this beautiful ARC to walk upon on your journey to a better vocabulary, teaching new words needn't be a chore.

What are the strategies in your arc? I would love to read and implement those too, so feel free to share!

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