Posted tagged ‘practical vocabulary’

Practice with Practical Vocabulary

June 14, 2010

I’ve written in the past about the value of teaching everyday vocabulary and the need to find an appropriate balance between general and academic words. To support students’ efforts to learn both, I’m creating two new series of videos. The first is up and running on my website. Please encourage students to visit my page for Everyday Vocabulary.

Here are three classroom ideas to do post-viewing. Choose the communicative activity that suits your students best.

  • Partner Recap: Assign two different videos to be watched before class. In class, ask students to recall the information learned by describing a how-to process to a partner. For example, Student A must explain how to brew a cup of tea (Video: Drinking Tea). Student B must explain what is needed in order to mail a letter by regular mail (Video: Mailing a Letter). Once each partner has recapped his or her assigned video, they can do so again for the class. A volunteer in the role of Student A will provide a short recap. Others in the role of Student A can volunteer additional information or clarification. Repeat the process for the role of Student B.
  • Q & A Recall: Assign two different videos to be watched before class. Divide students into two teams. Team A must answer questions about Video 1. Team B must answers questions about Video 2. If a team answers correctly, they get two points. If a team cannot answer a question, the other team may try to answer in order to earn one point. Sample questions: (Video topic: Drinking Team) 1. Is a tea kettle exactly the same as a teapot? 2. What does it mean to “steep” tea? 3. In what two forms can you find tea? 4. Name three condiments people like with tea.
  • Sort and Say: Assign two different videos to be watched before class. Create word cards for each video. Create approximately the same number of words per topic. On the board write the two topics. Show one card at a time and ask the class to identify which topic it belongs to. Tape the card to the board under the appropriate topic. Once all the cards have been sorted, divide the class into two groups (or smaller groups if the class is large). Each group must use the words for their assigned topic to compose a text. The text can be a how-to description or a narrative (about someone in the group or a fictitious person).


Model: (Mailing a Letter)

Marvin doesn’t like to use computers, so he sends letters to friends and family by snail mail. Every month he goes to the post office to buy postage stamps. He thinks it’s interesting for people to see beautiful stamps on an envelope. He also likes to use nice stationery. When he’s done writing a letter, he seals it, writes the return address and mailing address, and the puts it in the mailbox.

Practical Vocabulary: Teaching Words for Everyday Situations

December 16, 2009

I firmly believe in the value of learning academic vocabulary. Such words prove to be useful both in academic and professional settings. Also, for any ELL who aspires to express abstract thoughts and engage in thought-provoking discussions, knowledge of high-level vocabulary is a must.

That said, there is also a need to learn practical vocabulary. I empathize with intermediate and advanced students who complain to me that they often lack the words to comfortably manage communication during common activities, such as shopping, driving, cleaning, or playing with a child. I encountered the same frustration while learning Russian. When I shared the cooking with a Russian speaker, for example, I couldn’t say exactly what I wanted: Let the pot soak a bit.  Instead, I managed in a roundabout way that sounded something like: It won’t be easy to wash the pot right now. Let’s put water in it and wait.

An effective way to present and/ or review practical vocabulary is to have students perform short tasks that demand specific words. Here’s one idea for teaching vocabulary related to hand movements: grip, grasp, twist, squeeze, etc.

STEP 1 – Bring in a half a dozen or so household items that require manipulation of the hands. Examples:  a jar, a childproof medicine bottle, some thread and a needle, a pair of sneakers, salt and pepper shakers, a letter and envelope, a plastic storage bag, and a pair of pliers.

STEP 2 – Have a volunteer demonstrate how to use one item. Ask the student to narrate his/ her movements.

Model (student):

This is a jar. You can put nuts or other small things in here. To open and close it, you turn the top like this.


STEP 3 – If the student uses accurate vocabulary, note it on the board. If better choices or alternative choices are possible, ask the class to offer suggestions. If targeted words are not offered, note them yourself.

Model (teacher):

Good. Thank you. You’re right that it’s a JAR. We can talk about putting food or other small things in here, but we can also say we STORE food or other small things in a JAR. Also, who knows what this top is called? …It’s a LID. To put it on and take it off we have to TWIST it.

[Words in CAPS are the targeted words to be written on the board.]

Continue with the other items.

Suggested vocabulary:

  • JAR: store, lid, twist
  • CHILDPROOF MEDICINE BOTTLE: squeeze and twist/ push down and turn
  • THREAD AND NEEDLE: cut, tie a knot, sew, stitch
  • SNEAKERS: tie, untie, shoelaces
  • SALT and PEPPER SHAKERS: shake, sprinkle
  • LETTER and ENVELOPE: fold, insert
  • PLASTIC STORAGE BAG: slide, fold
  • PLIERS: squeeze, grasp


STEP 4 – Have students work in pairs. Number the items and then assign a number to each pair. Students must compose a fill-in-the-blank statement in order to quiz their classmates on vocabulary related to their assigned item. Monitor the pair work and assist with editing before Step 5.


[JAR: store (2), lid, twist]

A jar is a good place to _________ small things like buttons or paper clips. You can also use it to _________ food like jam. If you _________ the _________ tightly to close it, the food will stay fresh.


STEP 5 – Have each pair read their statement to the class or write it on the board. The other students can call out answers or one volunteer can try to complete the statement.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 856 other followers