Teaching vocabulary can be really challenging, but students need to acquire a certain amount of new vocabulary items because when they can understand, decode and determine the meaning of new words, their reading comprehension improves quickly. Despite the importance of students using correct grammar and structures, the real carrier of meaning is the WORDS: the more they can handle properly and accurately, the better our pupils’ chances of understanding English and making themselves understood.
Here are some teaching strategies that include effective methods which can be used in the classroom:
- Students should be exposed to the same words many times, to support their learning process;
- The teacher must provide the definition of the word, explain it, pronounce it and then ask pupils to draw pictures or create charts to show how they can use it in a sentence, to check their power of comprehension;
- Visual elements should be used, such as flashcards, illustration and even real objects, sounds, tastes, and smells (realia), when possible;
- Technology must be brought into the classroom in order to use digital tools suited to every vocabulary lesson;
- Students should practice often, independently, or with a partner.
An excellent type of exercise, with countless possibilities in teaching vocabulary, is matching: children have to match a word with its definition, opposites, synonyms, or a word to a picture.
Another kind of drill, helpful for recognizing new vocabulary, is the fill in the blanks type, where students are provided with handouts containing the lyrics of a song, the description of a movie, a short story, with some blank spaces that need to be filled in with certain word from a list below.
If you want your students to produce instead of recognizing vocabulary, then give them a piece of written text, with no words provided for the blank spaces; to add a little help, you may give them some indications for each space, such as “adjective”, “adverb”, “noun”, “verb”.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so teachers must use meaningful visuals during the lesson. Give them a picture with a beautiful landscape, or with a building, city, or even a person, and ask students to describe it, using only adjectives, for example, this being a good way to check previously taught information. To increase the difficulty, teachers can provide multiple pictures, divide the pupils into small groups and ask them to choose a spokesperson to describe one of the pictures, thus transforming the activity into a fun contest.
Mind maps or brainstorming function well with students of all ages; they have to think about and write down words related to sports, travel, or clothes, for example. The teacher expects them to reply with previously taught words, and, if not, this will allow the teacher to discover whether there are gaps in their understanding or not.
There is always the risk of forgetting vocabulary for the students, but this can be prevented if we bring constantly back words they have already studied, use multiple types of exercises to keep them interested, and, most important of all, encourage students to read more!