Before we delve into strategies, let's ponder why teaching vocabulary in isolation may not be effective. Consider the case of Nigel Richards, a New Zealander who won the 2015 French-language Scrabble World Championship despite not speaking French beyond “Bonjour” and counting his Scrabble score. He achieved this feat by memorizing the French Scrabble dictionary. This example highlights the limitations of learning vocabulary without context – it doesn't facilitate meaningful communication.
To further illustrate, let's take the word "job." When asked to define it, responses would be something like "the type of work you do." However, when we add the word "good" to it, "good job" can take on multiple meanings, from "a job well done" to "a well-paying occupation." The context in which a word is used greatly influences its interpretation.
So, what do these examples teach us about vocabulary learning? Context matters! Learning vocabulary within sentences and scenarios helps students understand word meanings and retain them longer.
Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary in Context
Let's look at some strategies to present and practice vocabulary within context.
Eliciting involves conveying word meanings without translation. Here are various techniques:
Questioning involves teachers using a series of questions to deepen understanding and for students to hear the words repeatedly in an engaging way after establishing meaning of the word. Questioning techniques also allow teachers to constantly gauge students' comprehension to adapt their comprehensible input. There are three types of questions used, going from simple yes/no to open-ended.
These tiered questions engage students at different proficiency levels, ensuring everyone can participate.
After presenting the new vocabulary and using questioning strategies, you can ask students personalized questions related to the vocabulary. For example, for "coat," you could ask about the color of their coats, when they wear them, or their favorite brands. Personalized questions allow for personalization of vocabulary and build classroom community as we learn more about each other.
Humans love stories. Crafting stories that incorporate target vocabulary and phrases is another powerful strategy for presenting and interacting with new vocabulary. Use storytelling techniques like repetition of key vocabulary and phrases, pausing, gestures, using visuals and your tone of voice aid comprehension and add interest. A simple story format is:
Adding an element of humor can make the story (and vocabulary) more memorable. And don’t forget to add cultural elements as well!
Picture talk is another strategy to present vocabulary. The teacher selects images that prompt discussion related to the new vocabulary and encourage students to describe and discuss the pictures using the target words. For instance, we could use a picture of a person packing for a beach vacation to elicit vocabulary related to clothing and travel. It is a fantastic way to recycle previously learned vocabulary and new words and phrases.
After introducing vocabulary in context, students need to process and use the vocabulary in communicative contexts. Here are a few ideas:
Incorporating these strategies into your language instruction will enhance vocabulary acquisition and empower students to use language more effectively in real-life contexts. Remember, teaching vocabulary in isolation may limit students' ability to communicate effectively, so embrace the power of context in language learning!