Vocabulary Teaching and Learning

Objective: To clarify the various aspects of vocabulary, other than denotative meaning, that need to be considered in teaching vocabulary, as well as the classroom techniques.

Watch the following pre-class video, and then do the quiz. Please note the deadline for completing the pre-class Quiz.

Activity 1

Think about 2 Traditional Ways of Teaching Vocabulary

(a) Examine the bilingual word list mentioned in the pre-class video. Can you think of some limitations of bilingual word lists as a means of teaching vocabulary?

(b) Discuss the following in groups.
  • Think back to how the ‘teacher’ in the pre-class video taught the words concerned and pleased. What do you think of the teacher’s explanation?
  • Exchange thoughts on using translation (either the teacher doing it verbally in the classroom, or the teacher referring students to a bilingual word list) as a means of teaching vocabulary.
Pre-class Video Activity 2

What to Teach in Connection with a New Vocabulary Item?

We usually think of teaching/learning a new vocabulary item as teaching/learning its literal meaning only. For example, what is the meaning of sentimental? What is the meaning of meticulous?

But to fully ‘know’ a word, there are other aspects of it that we need to learn. What are these other aspects?

Now, take part in a Socrative quiz, which will sensitize you to other aspects of vocabulary. You can either respond at a student computer (http://socrative.com/), or via the mobile phone app “Socrative Student”. Once you are there, key in the Room Number 705594, and wait for the questions.

When you have finished, share with the class what you have found about other aspects of a vocabulary item (other than its literal meaning) that need to be addressed.
Activity 1 Activity 3

Function Words vs Lexical Words

In English, some words serve a grammatical function, i.e., they are required by grammar, for example to signal a tense, to refer to somebody, etc. These are called function words. They may have their own (lexical) meaning, but they primarily serve a grammatical purpose. For example, the word have in I have seen her before is required by the Present Perfect tense. In I do not like him, the word do is a function word- it is required when we put a verb in the Present Simple, and in the negative, when the subject is I. We can’t simply say I not like him. In contrast, lexical words are those that have their own meaning. In the two example sentences above, some of the lexical words are before, like, seen (from see). They each have their own meaning. The majority of words are lexical words. Some words may be both function words and lexical words, depending on how they are used in a sentence. Compare:

  1. I have seen her before. (have > function word)
  2. I have two brothers. (have > lexical word meaning ‘possess’)

  1. I do not like him. (do > function word)
  2. They do many things at the same time. (do > lexical word)

Before you present a new vocabulary item to students, check whether it is a function word or a lexical word. If it is a function word, then present it as a grammar item. For example, have as a function word above should be presented in a lesson on Present Perfect tense. Do as a function word above should be presented in a lesson on forming negative sentences in Present Simple.

Now, look at the 20 words in the following quiz. Decide whether each is a function word or a lexical word.

Activity 2 Activity 4

What Words to Teach in the Primary School?

(a) Skim through the following word list. For each word, decide whether it should be taught in KS1 (Lower Primary), or KS2 (Upper Secondary).

(b) Now, open the following Excel file, and check your guesses. This file shows the results of a survey, commissioned by EDB in 2007, of the words that appear in KS1 and KS2 coursebooks in HK respectively.

How many guesses have you got right? Do some of the results surprise you (in terms of KS1 vs KS2)?

Activity 3 Commentary 1

What Words to Teach

Deciding what words to teach, and when, has been a contentious issue. It can be approached from, among others, the following perspectives:
  • The more frequently a word is used, the earlier it is taught;
  • The more relevant a word is to schooling, the earlier it is taught;
  • Words selected for teaching should match students’ cognitive development.

But even if we have settled for one perspective, there are still problems. For example, what is meant by a word being used more frequently? In formal writing? Or in colloquial speech? In picture books? Or in newspapers?

Some education systems specify a word list for a particular stage of schooling (Primary; Secondary; Lower Primary; Upper Primary, etc.) A few education systems even specify words to teach at each grade level (i.e., P.1; P.2; etc.).

The current Primary English Curriculum (2004) does not specify what words to teach, and at which grade level. Instead, the decision is made by publishers and course book writers, who would choose words that relate to the theme of each unit, on top of other considerations.
Activity 4 Activity 5

Finding More about the HK Situation

Do this individually. Skim through the following unit from a course book used in Hong Kong. Try to find out where, and how, new vocabulary is presented. Do you see any criteria used by the course book writer in selecting those new words?

Be prepared to share your observations with the whole class.

Commentary 1 Activity 6

Teaching English Vocabulary Through English Only?

Is it possible to teach English vocabulary through English only? Is it possible NOT to rely on translation?

The course instructor will play a video of a mini German lesson, taught by Professor Steven Krashen. Try to pick up as many of the German words as you can. At the same time, note down the techniques used by Professor Krashen in conveying the meaning.
Activity 5 Activity 7

Techniques for Presenting New Vocabulary Items

Read the following article, which is a summary of some common techniques for presenting new vocabulary items.

Activity 6 Activity 8

Putting Theory into Practice

Work in groups of four. Each student teacher in a group will be given 3 new words which they will present to the other 3 student teachers, who will be acting as students.

Step 1:
Preparation. Think of how you will present each of your 3 words.

Step 2:
Take turns to teach the words.

Step 3:
Reflection. Think back to the 12 words being presented (by you and your groupmates). Were the techniques effective? Were any of them problematic (e.g., the teacher using a word which is even more difficult than the target vocabulary item)?
Activity 7 Final Remarks

1. Timing for Presenting Vocabulary

Under today’s mainstream ELT methodology, new vocabulary is presented to support practice in the skill areas (listening, speaking, reading, writing). For example, the teacher may present some of the new words in a text that students are about to read, before they tackle the text themselves.

In other words, vocabulary is seldom taught for its own sake. For instance, we will not label one of the weekly English lessons as ‘Vocabulary’. Neither will we spend one whole lesson doing nothing but vocabulary teaching.

2. Planned vs Incidental Vocabulary Teaching

While in our daily lesson planning, we should watch out for new words to teach (Planned Vocabulary Teaching), there will be times in our day-to-day teaching when we unexpectedly come across a new word that needs to be explained to the students (Incidental Vocabulary Teaching). The latter points to the need for the teacher to arm herself with a repertoire of vocabulary teaching techniques, which she can apply on the spot.

3. Vocabulary Extension

Each coursebook unit will contain a number of new vocabulary items. Sometimes, some of these items may belong to certain semantic groups. On top of covering these target vocabulary items, it may be a good idea to follow up with introducing students to further vocabulary items that belong to the same semantic groups. For example, the coursebook unit may contain apples, oranges, and bananas. Later in the unit, the teacher can present further vocabulary items related to fruit, such as grapes, pineapples, and watermelons. Of course this shouldn’t take up too much class time, but given the original context and those items that students have already learnt, this is a handy way to extend students’ vocabulary.

4. Promoting Autonomous Vocabulary Learning

A large vocabulary is always useful to any L2 learner. Primary students in HK who enter English-medium secondary schools later are often hampered by a vocabulary size which is too restricted. Students’ vocabulary size will be small if their teacher is their only source of vocabulary input.

Encourage students to expand their vocabulary through extensive listening and reading. Train students in 2 important skills:
  • Using the dictionary
  • Noting down new words learnt. (Some schools require their students to keep a vocabulary notebook for students to record the new vocabulary they have learnt in class and from their own reading and/or listening.)
Activity 8 Post-module Quiz

Post-Module Quiz

Do the following post-module quiz:

Final Remarks To Explore Further

To Explore Further

Website: Enhancing English Vocabulary Learning and Teaching at Primary level (produced by EDB)
“This resource package provides teachers with theoretical underpinnings of vocabulary learning and teaching, teaching plans and materials, vocabulary games and activities, as well as other useful references on vocabulary learning and teaching.”

Nationality Vocabulary
This is a PPT produced by a student teacher, Connie Chan, for helping her students to extend their knowledge of words related to vocabulary.

Weekly Vocabulary Mindmap
This sample mindmap, produced by a P5 student, illustrates a vocabulary consolidation activity used by a teacher, Ms Janet Law. Students are required to produce a mind map, as homework, that captures the new words that they have learnt in the week.

Post-module Quiz