The following blog post was written by Nilay Thomas, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.
Learning vocabulary efficiently requires repetitive exposure - theory says a minimum of seven times, along with grammatically and meaningfully accurate usage. Unlike grammar, which is mostly sets of rules to follow, vocabulary is a bottomless well in which ELL learners sometimes find themselves drowning in.
I have been implementing a vocabulary learning process in my classes (CLB 5 Academic) which I think has proved to be effective. I have this impression due to the learner feedback that I get at the end of each term. Learners have reflected that they are very proud because they learned a lot of vocabulary.
It is worth mentioning that at the beginning of the term we talk about vocabulary learning strategies in class so that learners know how to study vocabulary independently and effectively.
Here is the step by step process
- 14-16 words accumulated throughout the week from mostly listening, reading, and speaking lessons are compiled in a word bank every Thursday in class and posted on D2L.
- On the weekend, learners find the meanings, parts of speech, and word families connected to these words. They also use each word in a sentence. Using coloured paper for this is a good idea.
- On Monday, I present a PowerPoint that I prepared for them, which includes the same requirements as the vocabulary homework assignment. I also post the PPT on D2L. Students ask questions as needed.
- On Tuesday, I post the word list on Spelling City so that learners can practice the definitions and spelling of the vocabulary words on their own.
- On Wednesday, learners work in groups of 3-4 and make sentences with the words that are assigned to them from the word list of the week. They present their sentences to the class.
- On Thursday, I give a test on the words we have been studying. We mark certain parts of the test together which allows for immediate feedback and another learning opportunity for them. It definitely spikes learners’ interest visibly.
- On the same day, they get a new word list to repeat the same procedure.
- Once we have completed three word lists, learners have a spelling test.
Before midterm, I make the PPT of the word lists, but after midterm learners do this in groups and present to the class. Each group is assigned four words and creates a four slide PPT. Each slide contains the meaning, part of speech, and word family and a sample sentence along with an image.
At midterm and at the end of the term, I give learners a cumulative vocabulary test in which they are required to achieve 70%. Before the cumulative tests, we play games with our vocabulary.
Reflecting on the process
Yes, it is an arduous process, but teaching thematically also lends itself to a lot of opportunities for learners to see the words many times. Recycling and spiraling of the words occur naturally. Most of the words we choose are from the academic word list. This is very important as all of my learners are destined for English for Academic Purposes or academic upgrading.
This type of diversified and differentiated teaching covers every aspect of vocabulary including collocations, synonyms, and antonyms using technology through cooperative learning in context.
The important thing is that we need to know if the words we choose to teach are worth spending time on and what it is that we need to teach about the words.
In the end, the question we have to ask ourselves is - do we have enough time for all this? From experience, I’d say yes. And I think we should because through words we make meaning.