TESOL – 2010 – Vocabulary Highlights

I popped in at another Teaching Tip session last Saturday at the TESOL convention. Again, I felt the presenters did a good job sharing useful information within the terribly short period of 20 minutes. Rus Wilson and Jenia Ivanova of the University of Utah presented Five Energizing Activities to Boost Vocabulary Production and Retention.

In some cases, what I appreciated most was not the idea for an activity but rather the manner in which it was executed. For example, I’ve heard and read many variations on how to use fill-in-the-blank sentences in the classroom. Rus and Jenia gave simple and practical advice: Place students in small groups. Show one statement to the class and ask them to write the answer on a slip of paper. One member from each group must place the paper on a central desk. This competitive yet orderly process of submission ensures that the teacher won’t have to play referee and make a call about whose answer was given first, as is often the case when students raise their hands and/ or shout out the answer. (The writing also reinforces the spelling, I must add.)

I also liked the recommendation for using popular songs. Kudos to Jenia and Rus for finding a practical and effective way to conduct a very fun activity. They placed students in small groups and gave sufficient prompts and support for each group to write lyrics to a popular tune, from Happy Birthday to Yankee Doodle. The small groups then performed their songs for the class. The key was to provide topics with small sets of vocabulary words along with a choice of music. For example, under the heading Natural Disasters were the recommended words imminent, ominous, perish, and jeopardize. Allowing some freedom but limiting choices meant that students had room to be creative without getting lost in decision-making. The video clips of actual student performances proved how collaborative the project was and how meaningful and memorable the songs were.

Jenia and Rus are sharing their presentation on Slideshare.

Suggestion: You can find online recordings of folk songs on YouTube or in music archives, such as Popular Songs in American History and Boy Scout Songs.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Atman says:

    All that is interesting and helpful , thank you for publishing it .I ‘d like to consult you about this point .
    there are some moments when the teacher might encounter an unfamiliar word brought by one of his students .
    It’s likely to have these situations in the classroom ,as a matter of fact the teacher has prepared a lesson about ‘plane’s vocabulary’ meanwhile he had been narrowed as he just brought a small list about that topic but the students surprised him by a flood of words to explain which he ignored though.
    now , my question how could a teacher surpass such critical state in front of the class above good preparation

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      All of us get stumped from time to time. No teacher has all the answers or knows ever word listed in the dictionary. The important thing is to help our students find the answers. When I taught vocabulary in the classroom, I always had at least one dictionary on hand, if not two or three. I would answer to the best of my knowledge when asked about an unfamiliar word or phrase, and then consult a dictionary to confirm my explanation. When dictionaries failed me, I’d follow up by asking co-workers and possibly doing some research. Then I’d get back to the student.

      If a student is asking about a number of words you aren’t prepared to explain, ask the student to submit the list and promise to address those words at the next lesson. Then continue on with your original lesson plan. This way, you’ll have more time to do the necessary research and offer the best explanation you’re capable of.

  2. Monica V says:

    Yes, I think the important thing is helping the students to find the right answers — that’s more important than telling them yourself, anyway.

    When I was a student, I always had much more respect for teachers who could admit to not knowing something but who could then help me to find the right answer than I did for those teachers who pretended to know everything and gave vague, unsatisfying answers to my questions because of it.

    Monica

    1. Yes, as a teacher you can admit not having the answer in a way that still earns you the respect of the students. Thanks for commenting!

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