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Helping students to record vocabulary

Helping students to record vocabulary
Learning doesn't end when lessons do

On a CELTA course, we spend a long time looking at what happens in the lesson itself. How do we get the meaning of a word across to our students? How do we check understanding? How do we practise the new vocabulary in class? All of these are important questions, but it's also essential that a teacher remembers that learning needs to continue happening outside of the classroom too. If a student doesn't keep records or notes of new words they learn in class, it's very unlikely that they'll remember the words when they next come across. them.

The Teacher's Record

One area that has a real impact is how the teacher records new vocabulary. It's important to develop a system for this. If you're using a whiteboard, consider having a predictable place where you write new words - maybe a column on the left or right hand side of the board. You can then save the main part of the board for images or for grammar presentations and keep on ongoing record of new words on the side regardless of what else is going on in class.

Hopefully, it's stating the obvious to say that you need to be sure that what you're writing on the board is correct. If you're not sure about the spelling of a word, or the pronunciation information that you're giving, then don't put it on the board!

Finally, think about what you want to record about a word. As with all new language, we need to think about meaning, form and pronunciation. To help students with form, it can be helpful to record the part of speech in brackets after the word, so (n) in after a noun or (adj) after an adjective is a simple way of pointing this out. It's useful to really think about how a word is used in a sentence - if it's usually followed by a dependent preposition it can be handy to record that, so you might write 'to insist on' instead or just 'to insist' on the board and then students will know which preposition to use with the word. Similarly, if a word is usually used with an article, it can be useful to record this i.e. write 'the moon' instead of just 'moon'.

Similarly, think about how you'll show pronunciation. Because stress isn't as predictable in English pronunciation as it is in other languages, it can be very useful to highlight the stressed syllable in any multi-syllabic word. You should also think about how you'll highlight or transcribe silent letters or difficult sounds. If you've taught your students the phonemic alphabet, then you can record words in the IPA. Whatever the case, consider recording information about pronunciation and form in a different colour or font from the new word itself so that the distinction is clear for students.

Helping the students

Don't assume that students will automatically record new words. Students need to learn how to be learners and teachers can help them with that. If you are recording words for students, tell them to write it down or take a photo or a screenshot so that they have a record. Don't be afraid to discuss the purpose of this with students, encouraging them to have a vocabulary notebook, or a dedicated document or spreadsheet on their computer for vocabulary.

You can also check what students are writing down. Are they copying the information correctly? Are they including accurate translations or definitions of the words? Are they noting information about form and pronunciation (and any relevant examples etc) as well?

A vocabulary record is only useful if it is used. You can look with students at ways of using a vocabulary record. If it's a paper notebook, do they have the words on one side of the page and the definitions/translations on the other side, so they can cover one side and test themselves. If it's a digital record, you can look at flashcard apps and websites with them, like quizlet, where they can create tests for themselves.

Recording vocabulary is an essential skill for a student, but a teacher needs to be aware of how students can best record vocabulary and use this record in their learning.

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.

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