Techniques Used in Teaching English Vocabulary

Without words, it is possible to know everything about the grammatical structure of a language, but, yet to be unable to make a single meaningful utterance. Our role as teachers is to help, to motivate and encourage (applying different techniques and media for presenting vocabulary, making vocabulary memorable), and even to inspire by encouraging in learners an appreciation of the origin, sound and beauty of words (Bowen and Marks, 1994: 106).

Considering the role of lexis in the classroom, Scrivener (1994:229) draws the following conclusions:
1. Lexis is important and needs to be dealt with systematically in its own right; it is not simply an add-on to grammar lessons.
2. Our job consists in helping students to practise, store, recall and use the items of the new lexis.
3. Training in the use of English-English dictionaries provides students with a vital tool for self-study.

Having used any of the vocabulary presentation techniques in class, we cannot really say that learners have learnt the new items.

Encountering a new vocabulary item once will not guarantee that it will be remembered. Learners need plenty of opportunities in order to acquire a new vocabulary item. In a vocabulary presentation lesson, the teacher should provide meaningful controlled practice for learners so that they could recognise, manipulate and use the new vocabulary items. Vocabulary practice should be regular, carefully planned and should not involve too many words at one time. Many simple vocabulary practice activities are based around the following ideas (J. Scrivener, Learning Teaching, 1994: 83):

  • discussions, communicative activities and role-play requiring use of the words
  • making use of the vocabulary in written tasks.

More specific exercise types:

  • matching pictures to words
  • matching parts of words to other parts, e.g. beginnings and endings
  • matching words to other words, e.g. collocations, synonyms, opposites, sets of related words, etc.
  • using prefixes and suffixes to build new words from given words
  • classifying items into lists
  • using given words to complete a specific task
  • filling in crosswords, grids or diagrams
  • filling in gaps in sentences
  • memory games.

The importance of recycling previously presented vocabulary is obvious. Revision activities can easily be incorporated into the lesson by way of five-minute activities or warmers. These activities can successfully aid students’ recall of the new words and develop their retrieval systems.

Vocabulary revision activities: listing or categorising items, vocabulary quizzes, crosses, brainstorming round an idea, guessing games, etc.

J.V. Aspatore (“But I don’t Know all the Words”, in J. C. Alderson and A. H. Urquhart Reading in a Foreign Language, 1984) describes a method of teaching reading skills in a second/foreign language that focuses on:

1. eliminating the students’ fear of giving a “wrong answer”: an important problem that students have with reading is that they are afraid. They are more concerned with getting the correct answer that than with the more important process of how to get the answer
2. discouraging overuse of a dictionary: they depend too much on the dictionary, and have problems making the transition from short readings to long ones.
3. teaching recognition of cognates, roots and the use of certain prefixes and suffixes: to help students overcome these problems, she suggests that teachers ask them to read and underline unknown words without looking up the meaning in the dictionary; to use contextual clues to guess the general meaning; to skip unknown words and to focus on cognates, roots, prefixes and suffixes.
4. using a variety of texts
5. utilizing skimming, scanning and decoding processes

F. Grellet (Developing Reading Skills: A Practical Guide to Reading Comprehension Exercises 1981) discuses useful reading practice techniques:

1. One technique is to have students work their way through comprehension problems by inferring the meaning through word formation and context. They should also learn to pick out the important words that form the core of each sentence, and they need to be aware of the use of referent and connecting words to establish relationships in and among sentences and paragraphs.
2. Another technique is to practise timed readings to improve reading speed.
3. A third technique is to learn to use scanning and skimming techniques to preview reading material, predict what the selection is about, and develop expectations about the content of the text.

St. Krashen and T. Terrell (The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom, 1983) outline the following communicative reading strategies:
1.  read for meaning
2.  don’t look up every word
3. predict meaning
4. use context.


prof. Mariana-Camelia Huciog

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