Out with the Old and in with the…Old (Again): Rethinking Vocabulary Studies

It’s probably common for language learners to think of vocabulary studies as the work done to acquire new words. However, students must learn the value of studying familiar words more in depth. The main objective of a review and expansion lesson is not to broaden students’ vocabulary, but to make their use of vocabulary more accurate and appropriate. What components could be used to build such a lesson?

1) Synonyms and subtle differences among them. In one video lesson, I limited a group of commonly confused words to three: advise, recommend, and suggest. I addressed their meanings, their collocations, and the grammar required by each verb. Similarities and differences were noted.

2) Controlled practice. In that same video lesson mentioned above, I included two brief exercises to check comprehension of the meanings, collocations, and grammar of each key word. A variety of sentences forces students to focus on linguistic context. They must learn to view their word choice at the sentence level and beyond.

3) Exposure to spoken and written discourse. While the content of my video lesson on advise, recommend, and suggest can stand alone, it certainly gains more value if coupled by material that creates a more tangible social context. The content in the video lesson is mostly limited to written examples. In contrast, Episode 3 of  The Jim & Jen Show places spoken discourse at the forefront of the lesson on giving advice. After viewing the show, students could be prompted to retell parts of the conversation while using key vocabulary:

  • When Jennifer told Jim about her computer problem, he first suggested that she…
  • Jim felt he was in a position to advise Jennifer on computers because…
  • Jim knew of alternatives to backing up files on disks. He recommended…

4) Communicative practice in new contexts.  Part of the challenge of learning vocabulary is using it in a variety of situations. TV and film are powerful tools that can help students apply vocabulary in new contexts. 2-3 well chosen clips from a sitcom or drama can generate original thoughts using key words. In the case of advise, suggest, and recommend, the excerpts below would work well:

  • Family Ties Episode “Speed Trap” Plot: The oldest child, Alex, convinces the elder daughter, Mallory, to help him get drugs so that he can maintain his academic performance. Questions: When Mallory wanted to take drugs before, did Alex advise against it or support her decision? If you were Mallory’s friend, what would you suggest that she do now that Alex wants her to help him get drugs?
  • Family Ties Episode “To Snatch a Keith”  Plot: Steven’s friend, Richard, kidnaps his young son to prevent his ex-wife from taking their son to the west coast. Questions: Does Steven recommend keeping Keith away from his mother? Why or why not? If you were Richard’s lawyer, what would you advise?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. azizk says:

    I have been reading your blog for the last 3 days and find so many interesting topics here. I’ve bookmarked your site hoping that I can take much more benefits from you. Thank you.

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      I’m glad to hear this. Sometimes, my ideas won’t necessarily be what you’re looking for, so you can either modify them or let them inspire entirely different activities.
      Best wishes!

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