Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Teaching Vocabulary

Teaching Vocabulary:
Two Dozen Tips and Techniques
I. Oldies but goodies
1. Matching synonyms
2. Matching opposites
3. Fill in the blank sentences

II. Variations on the above
1. Choose all the possible answers
He ate lunch in the _____.
cafeteria / restaurant / snack / snack bar / salad bar / diner

2. Where would you find . . . ?

an MD _____
a Ph.D. _____
an MP _____
in. _____
hp _____
a) in the British or Canadian Parliament
b) on a ruler
c) on a engine
d) in a hospital
e) in a university

3. Compete the phrases

to achieve ____
to reveal ____
to grasp ____
a) a secret
b) an idea
c) a goal

4. Correct the mistakes

He felt exhausted after a long nap.
possible corrections: "refreshed" for "exhausted" or "running to school" for "a long nap"

5. Label a picture

6. Cross out the word that doesn't belong with the others in the group.
uncle / father / aunt / brother
EST / pm / PhD / BC
meadow / river / yard / field

7. Categories: You give the example; students give the category. Or vice versa.
gun, knife club: weapon
weapon: gun, knife, club

8. Complete the sentences.
I was exhausted after _________________________

III. Distinguishing shades of meaning & near synonyms

1. Analogies - good even at low levels
easy : hard :: cold : __________ (hot)
skyscraper : city :: tree : _____________ (forest)
warp : wood :: __________ : paint (peel)
shatter : glass :: ____________ stone (crumble)

2. Choose the two possible answers that can complete each sentence.
(Good source for incorrect answers: student errors)
She longed for . . .
(a) her freedom.
(b) her lover who was far away.
(c) some ketchup for her french fries. [only as a joke]

He pondered . . .
(a) his future
(b) that he didn't know what to do. [ungrammatical]
(c) the meaning of life.

4. Word domains (?)
e.g., general category: break, damage
He dented the . . . car's bumper / tree branch / glass of water
She splintered the . . . can / board / mirror
He shattered the . . . mirror / water / curtains
She shredded the . . . can / tree branch /curtains

5. Which word in each pair is stronger, more forceful, or more intense?
___ to surprise
___ to astound
___ to boil
___ to simmer
___ to toss
___ to throw
___ to hurl
___ to throw

6. Arrange the words on a scale
hot - warm - luke - warm - cool - cold
despise - hate - dislike

Scales are nice to do when possible, but they're not possible all that often. It's rare that words are encountered all together like this. More common - in pairs (known word + new word)

7. Which word in each pair is slang?
___ a kid / ___ a child
___ disgusting / ___ gross
___ to fail / ___ to flunk

8. Which word has a more positive connotation? or Which word would be more polite when talking about a person?
___ thin / ___ skinny
___ fat / ___ overweight
___ frugal / ___ miserly

9. Complete the definitions. How are these actions performed?
thrust = to push _________________ (forcefully, hard)
shatter = to break _______________ (into many pieces)
tap = to hit _____________________ (lightly, softly)

IV. Things to do with the vocabulary in a reading passage

1. Guessing word meaning from context
But make sure it is really possible to guess the meaning from context.
If so, teach students techniques for guessing (see Part V). If not, try #2.

2. Give students the definitions; let them find the words.
e.g., find a word in paragraph 5 that means "angry"
A good way to deal with a difficult article without simply giving students the vocabulary.

3. Teach students when not to look up a word.
a) Can you get a general sense of the word? e.g., a person? something good/bad? a movement? a way of speaking?
b) Take a magic marker and block out all the words you don't know. Then read the passage and answer the comprehension questions.


4. Parts of speech
With a corpus of words you've already studied, give sentences that require a different part of speech. (Dictionary use)

5. Different meanings of familiar vocabulary
e.g. toll
(Driving on a highway) There's a toll bridge ahead. Do you have any quarters?
The highway death toll has declined sharply since police began to enforce the drunk driving laws more aggressively.
The bell in the old church tower tolled four o'clock.

V. Teaching students how to guess word meaning from context

Types of context clues:

1. Cause & effect: label the sentence C & E, then make a guess.
Because we lingered too long at the restaurant, we missed the beginning of the movie.
The door was ajar, so the dog got out of the house.

2. Opposite/contrast: underline the two words or phrases in contrast to one another, then make a guess.
Even though I studied for hours, I flunked the test.
My last apartment was really small, but my new one is quite spacious.

3. General sense: focus on S,V,O, actor & recipient of action. What type of word is it?
If it is a noun: a person, place, thing, abstract idea
If it is a verb: an action (e.g., movement?), or feeling/emotion, etc.
If it is an adjective: what is it describing? good or bad? size? color? shape? emotion?
Each summer thousands of tourists flock to the beaches of Cape Cod.
The father tossed the ball to his little boy.

4. Synonyms or paraphrases (found elsewhere in the sentence or paragraph)
Samuel was deaf, but he didn't let his handicap get in the way of his success.
Sally's flower garden included dozens of marigolds, which she tended with great care.

5. Examples in the text
The baboon, like other apes, is a very social animal.

6. Recognizing definitions: common in college textbooks, newspaper & magazine articles
Many children of normal intelligence have great difficulty learning how to read, write, or work with numbers. Often thought of as "underachievers," such children are said to have a learning disability, a disorder that interferes in some way with school achievement.
(from Reader's Choice Baudoin, et al., 1977, 1988 University of Michigan)

VII. Miscellaneous

1. Word sheets
A simple but effective way to review vocabulary from a given unit is to post a sheet of paper with the words under study and talk about them. You can practice pronunciation, conduct oral mini-quizzes, answer students' questions, etc.
For example: Which words have positive/negative connotations? Which words refer to people? Which words are verbs? What's the opposite of X? I'll give you a word; tell me what the opposite is in the list. What's a more polite way of saying X?

2. Look for words that mean . . .
When using a magazine or newspaper in the class, you can have students look for words in a certain category while they're doing other reading and scanning activities.
One issue of Time yielded the following:
words for go up: soar, rise, raise, increase, push up
words for go down: fall, plummet, sink, decrease
Other categories of words that might work: words that describe movement, travel; words related to crime; names of government positions (president, mayor, etc.)
In a work of fiction (or a profile of a famous person): adjectives that describe the main character, both physically & emotionally

VI. Fun & games

1. Act out/pantomime
Give students cards with instructions like the ones below. Have them perform the actions without speaking. The other students try to guess the word or expression the student is pantomiming.
Open the door fearfully.
Walk across the room cautiously.

2. Crossword Puzzles
Several software programs are available which allow you to make your own puzzles. Clues can be synonyms, opposites, fill-in-the-blank sentences, etc.

3. The Category Game ($25,000 Pyramid)
Divide the class into teams. One person from a team sits in front of the class. The rest of the team members are given a card with a category, for example: Things that are red. The team members take turns giving examples of the category until the person in the "hot seat" guesses or all the team members have given a clue. If the person in front cannot guess, the other team can confer and try to guess.
NOTE: The clues must be examples, not definitions. In the above example, ketchup, blood, and a stop sign are all acceptable clues. Color is not.
e.g., things that are yellow/expensive/fragile/made of glass/found on a farm
American authors/state capitals/things in a woman's purse/warm clothing

4. Password
Divide the class into two teams. One person from each team sits in a chair in front of the class. Those two people receive a card with a vocabulary word. The first person gives a one-word clue to his/her team. If no one from the team can guess, the second person gives a clue to his/her team. This alternates back and forth until someone from one of the teams guesses the word, or until a specified number of clues has been given.

5. Drawing pictures
This works well if you have an empty classroom nearby. Divide the class into two groups. Give each one a list of vocabulary words (idiomatic expressions also work well for this). The students draw pictures - but no words - on the board so that the students in the other group can guess the words or expressions they're trying to represent. This is a fun way to review some vocabulary and break up the class routine.

A note on keeping score
You can keep score in most of these games, but I've found things actually go more smoothly when you don't. No one disputes points, and students don't seem to mind that there's no clear "winner" or "loser."
Occasionally, a student will ask why I'm not keeping track of who won and lost. I usually tell him (it's never a 'her') that we're just learning how the game is played now, so I'm not going to bother this time. I never bother keeping score any subsequent times, either, but I've never been asked about it a second time.

VIII. Miscellaneous examples

1. A follow-up to a radio interview of a psychologist who discussed money and people's attitudes towards it.

Money Talks
Below are some words used to describe people and their attitudes towards money. Working with another student, put them into the proper category.
a miser / an / overspender / generous / cheap / a cheapskate / giving / tight / a tightwad / thrifty / frugal / a spendthrift / stingy

saves money
spends money


2. A follow-up to an article on health.
Match these medical terms with the parts of the body they involve.

_____ 1) to clot
_____ 2) asthma
_____ 3) a stroke
_____ 4) hemorrhaging
_____ 5) a migraine
_____ 6) leukemia
_____ 7) respiration

a) brain
b) lungs
c) blood



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