Teaching VocabularyIt is often said that in terms of language, grammar is like the trunk of a tree, while vocabulary and functions are the leaves which add beauty, variety and elegance. However, it must always be remembered that none of these elements can stand alone as the most important if the student wishes to be proficient in a new language. Vocabulary, though, is typically one of the very first things students are eager to learn, especially as students are most eager and motivated to be able to communicate in the new language. Vocabulary is often a great starting point for students, allowing them to feel confident in their own learning and understanding, especially as their repertoire of usable words increases.
When dealing with vocabulary, there are two categories of words that a teacher must be aware of. First, students have what are called receptive words. These are words the student knows but does not use. Second, there are productive words, which are words the student knows and uses. Students very often understand more words than they can actively use. Essentially, a student’s receptive vocabulary is typically much larger than his or her productive vocabulary.
A large number of factors come into play when a teacher attempts to determine how easy or difficult a vocabulary item will be for a student. It is important to consider how similar or different the vocabulary item is from vocabulary items in the students’ own language, and whether or not the vocabulary item is similar to english
words that the student already knows. Also, it is important to consider the spelling, pronunciation, and appropriacy of the vocabulary item.
When selecting appropriate vocabulary items to teach to students of a specific language level, one must consider a few important points. First, the teacher must consider the appropriacy of the vocabulary item to the students and to the task. Also, the teacher must determine the frequency and coverage of the vocabulary item (for instance, how often are the students likely to use the piece of language or come across it in conversation or reading, and can the student apply the vocabulary item to a variety of different situations). Lastly, the teacher must consider the teachability of the vocabulary item (for example, beginner students will require very clear and visual language). In determining how to teach vocabulary items, it is important that a teacher utilizes the same thought-process used to determine which grammatical structures should be taught to certain levels of students. It is also beneficial that the teacher makes use of course books and other resources available to him or her in order to adequately determine how and what vocabulary items to teach.
There are many things about vocabulary items that teachers must effectively communicate to students. A student must know what the vocabulary item means, how it is generally used and when it is appropriate to use it, where it belongs in a sentence (grammatically speaking), how it interacts and affects the other words in a sentence, how it is spelled, and how it is pronounced. It is important for teachers to ensure students understand each of these aspects when learning about vocabulary items, and to include proper activities and study sessions that focus on each.
There are many activities that can be employed by the teacher when teaching vocabulary items to students. These activities include, but are not limited to, discussions, role-plays, story building activities, gap-fill exercises, pronunciation exercises such as drilling, and material production tasks (such as posters, articles and advertisements). Regardless of the activity employed by the teacher, he or she must ensure that the activity is fun, engaging, interesting and relates back and adds value to the focus of the lesson.