How to Teach Vocabulary To ESL and EFL Students
EFL Students Performing A Role Play
Traditional Teaching Methods
Have you ever taught reading to EFL or ESL students? For six years I was tasked with developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills for lower middle school students in Thailand. Vocabulary has always been a concern for all teachers when conducting reading classes. The concern, of course, is how will the children understand the reading text if they don't know the vocabulary. Many teachers agree that vocabulary must be pre-taught before the students read an article. Traditionally, the reading text or teacher has presented the kids with a list of the new English words along with translations of the words in the students' native language. When teaching, many teachers have had the students read and repeat the words after the teacher. Some teachers might even have offered a few examples of how the words are used in sentences. Most teachers then have probably told the kids to memorize the words and meanings for a test the next day. That's it! Nothing else has been done to teach the new vocabulary.
An Inductive Approach To Teaching Vocabulary to ESL Students And EFL Learners
Vocabulary cannot be learned by looking at words, writing them down, and then writing the translations of words. I have never been able to learn new foreign vocabulary that way and my students haven't either. Most reading experts agree that a person must see and use a new word at least 50-60 times before one can remember and use the word correctly in sentences. That's fine, but how can we do this in reading lessons? I propose an inductive approach to learning vocabulary which includes the following steps:
1. Strategies Before Reading: At the beginning of the reading lesson, the students are presented with pictures of the words that are appearing in the article. Next, the teacher discusses the pictures with the students, trying to activate any pre-knowledge the students might have of the words and ideas expressed in the pictures. The teacher then presents orally any of the new keywords which he or she could not elicit from the students.
2. Grouping Related Words Into Categories: After the students look at the pictures of the reading article again, the teacher guides the students into putting related words into different categories. For example, if the reading is about playing a baseball game, the students look at a picture of a baseball team playing a game on a diamond. The teacher guides the students by pointing to various players on the diamond and saying that they are all playing positions such as pitcher, catcher, shortstop, etc. The teacher might then point to players batting, pitching, and fielding, pointing out that these are activities of the game.
3. Seeing the Vocabulary In Sentences In The Article: The teacher next has the students look and listen while he or she reads the article to the students. The students will then read the article in unison, repeating it after the teacher. Finally, the teacher asks the students for any new words which they might see in the article.
4. Educated Guessing From Sentence Context: After the teacher writes the students' new words on the board, he or she asks the students to guess the meanings of new words from the context of sentences or the nature of the whole article. The teacher might ask if a new word is related to any other words in the article. He or she could also ask if the new word is being used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, or another part of speech. The teacher could also ask the students to guess the meaning of the word from any knowledge they have of the prefix, suffix, or stem of vocabulary not previously learned or seen.
5. Explain Vocabulary Through Examples of Synonyms and Antonyms: Next, the teacher explains the meaning of any new words which the student can not guess. The teacher can do this by using words that have the same meaning or opposite meaning of the new vocabulary. For example, a huge house can be explained as a big house which is not small. The teacher might also explain the meaning of "lost" in the sentence "She lost the key ." this way: The key is gone and she doesn't have the key now.
6. Ask Questions Using the New Words: The teacher asks the students questions using the new vocabulary. After the teacher models this activity, students ask each other questions using the new words. A creative teacher can make a game doing this.
7. Dictation of New Vocabulary: Dictation has always been one of my best activities in measuring a student's listening comprehension of new words as well as correct use of the words in sentences. In this activity, the teacher can dictate short sentences and a paragraph that has a new vocabulary in the lesson. If the student can spell the words correctly and write them down correctly, the student has taken one of the first steps in learning the vocabulary.
8. Exercises on Reading Comprehension: The final step will be for the student to answer reading comprehension questions based on the classroom text which has the new vocabulary. Traditional reading methods that employ a list of new vocabulary along with their translations have been used too long without any real benefit to the student. If used effectively, the steps outlined in suggested approaches will aid the student in learning new vocabulary and improving reading comprehension.
How to Teach Vocabulary to ESL Students
Other Hubs Related to Teaching Vocabulary
- Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs for ESL Students
The wise ESL and EFL teacher should spend extra time making sure that his or her students understand common words used as homonyms, homophones, and homographs. This can only be done through practice.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn