My First Vocabulary Lesson

I remember the first time I had to teach vocabulary as a separate subject. I was offering a sample class as part of the hiring process at a private language school in Boston. After being handed a page out of a textbook on idioms, I was sent to a classroom to meet my students. As I walked there, at least a half dozen questions entered my mind: Was I familiar with all the idioms? Would I be able to explain them well? Was there enough material for a 50-minute class? What should I focus on? What kinds of activities could I come up with? What kind of lesson format were the students used to?

At that point I had no training for teaching vocabulary skills. I operated on instinct and followed the traditional approach of present, practice, and produce. I was able to put on my teacher’s face, keep my nervousness under control, and construct a lesson on the spot with relative competence. I must not have done too badly because I was offered the job. I’m certain, though, that if I were shown a video of that long-ago lesson, I’d now be able to critique it until I was blue in the face. (There’s an idiom to teach your students!)

In time, the vocabulary classroom became one of my favorites, and I learned that mastering new vocabulary means much more than understanding the meaning of the words and plugging them in cloze exercises. I discovered the importance of helping students learn:

·         the meaning(s) of a word;

·         the pronunciation(s) of a word;

·         the spelling(s) of a word;

·         the grammar dictated by a word;

·         collocations of a word;

·         and contexts in which the word is used.

In this blog, I hope to share many ideas for teaching vocabulary, and as part of my first posting, I’m going to offer a fun way to wrap up a lesson. If you follow these steps, you’ll target multiple vocabulary skills and give your students a sense of accomplishment.

(To Be Continued)

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