Skip to main content

Exploiting vocab lists - going beyond the vocab test

This is a version of a page from the frenchteacher.net site:

Thanks to colleagues who have suggested some of these ideas.

Many of us work with text books which contain lists of vocabulary. Vocab learning can be a pretty dull task to do and an uninspiring homework to set. Then you have to deal with the students who do not do their learning or who simply cannot set words to memory very easily. Doing a vocab test of the traditional kind has its uses, of course, but I find them dull to administer and they work best only with the brightest classes.

By the way, I used to doubt the whole value of vocab learning, believing that vocab was acquired by regular use rather than by rote learning. Without entering a debate on conscious versus unconscious learning in language learning, I now believe that learning by heart can have a place. Put simply, consciously learned vocab can make the crossover into one’s “acquired” competence (despite what Stephen Krashen would claim!). Needless to say, we need to revise vocab from one lesson to the next, otherwise most children will forget words.

So what can we do with lists of words apart from telling a class to go away and memorise them?

Jan Baker, Ann Pendray, Anne Jackson and Sue Chalmers and kindly sent me their ideas, to which I have added my own.

TO LEARN VOCABULARY EFFECTIVELY YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING WITH IT

1. Think of it as a challenge not a chore – attitude is MOST important – you need to WANT to learn them.
2. Read the words in silence several times – then try & do a memory test – how many can you do without looking?
3. Cover the words and test yourself – or get someone to test you.
4. Use a word fan – make a fan (fold the paper several times) & write the English on one side/French on the other & so on.
5. Concentrate on the difficult words & link them to something you know eg. clay keys (the word for key is clĂ© – pronounced clay).
6. Write the words out over and over – English with French and vice versa – do more and more from memory each time.
7. Make up a rhythm – tap out the words as you say them.
8. Record the words onto tape.
9. Listen to them over & over from the tape.
10. Try and spell out the words with the French alphabet.
11. Remember what you teacher tells you about them – think about what was said in the lesson – read your notes as well.
12. Try and make the words rhyme or make up a rap.
13. Read the words out loud – fast/slow/loud/quiet.
14. Break up the words – mus/ique prof/es/seur.
15. Invent a song/poem with the words in.
16. Sort them by gender/groups/patterns – fruit/vegetables/which adjective follows which rule or colour code them.
17. Group them alphabetically.
18. Jumble up the letters & try & rearrange them in the correct order & then give the English.
19. Draw the words & label.
20. Write out the words with letters missing – vowels? – then gap fill.

Demand written evidence of how the pupils tried to learn e.g. wordsearches, look cover sheets, cards, fans etc. Encourage them to set themselves a test and bring it in. Some pupils may put up lists on back of toilet door etc. Pupils who work really hard may improve their test marks by using a different method. You can test using mini whiteboards or through team games rather than giving individual marks. You can raise the status of vocab learning by talking about the processes involved with children.

How about listing games? For example, first group to list 5/10 fruits/sports/types of
house etc. Or you can have a competition where the winner is the first group to guess the same five fruits/sports etc which you have on your own list. It’s not particularly fair but can be fun and very competitive.

“Running reporter”: a vocab list is put somewhere far away (e.g. back of class). In teams of two, one student runs to the list and tries to memorise as many and as accurately as they can and then run back to report to the team mate who then writes it down. The runner is not aloud to write! They then swap and the other student runs to the list to do the same. First pair to finish list all correct win.

From Elsa Carnoy:

A nice way to pair test vocabulary is to ask each student to write ten words in english from the list they had to learn (they can use their list so it makes them revise). Past the list to partner and each translate their partner’s list. Then they check their partner’s translation with the book again. They enjoy it and can be quite mean at giving difficult words to their partner!

My own ideas for the classroom

Read aloud vocab list to class. Students repeat. It seems obvious, but speaking aloud words can help fix them in pupils’ minds. You can make this fun (and improve pupils’ pronunciation) by whispering, raising the voice, creating a rhythm or even singing. Pull faces, get the class to watch your lips.

After an initial run through, pupils can try to quickly memorise as many words as possible. Most pupils are good at short term memory tasks and see them as a challenge. Use translation both ways.

Then get them to cover up the target language words. You then supply the first syllable or sound of a word and they have to complete it with the rest of the word. This can be amusing. Pupils can produce their rsponses orally or in writing.

Then do the same, but supplying the last sound or syllable of the word. Maybe save this to the next lesson.

For lists of concrete items pupils can use mime or gesture in pairs. One pupil mimes while the other guesses the word. Pupils enjoy this.

Give oral definitions of words. Students write down the answers. This is harder, but provided good listening practice.

Play word association. (This can lead off into all sorts of directions, but works well with large fields of similar vocab e.g. food and drink.)

Make up anagrams of words. Alternatively, pupils make up anagrams to test their partners.

Make up a code-breaking task for the class. There are examples on this site.

Get students to make up a simple crossword or acrostich.

In pairs each person has to give a word from the list. The first person who cannot think of a word loses.

Aural anagrams: spell out words in the wrong order, pupils have to work out the word. Gets competitive.

Makevoneoenormouscwordafrombtheulistlyouahaveisetrtheeclass. Place added letters between the words. the added letters could spell out another word.

So, if a class is not good at learning vocab at home, cut your losses and focus on learning in the classroom.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.


Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research …