Vocabulary is crucial to students’ success in a second language classroom. It is a predictor of long-term achievement in background knowledge and even reading comprehension. This is why vocabulary instruction should be considered one of the main goals in your lessons.
By knowing the vocabulary, students have better awareness of what happens in a story or in an intersection between a group pf people. In turn, they will better understand the context and perform accordingly.
Look at it this way: vocabulary is currency. Without currency, it becomes hard to get products or services. As a teacher, you want your students to have enough currency.
However, vocabulary by itself may look and feel out-of-place, so here are some tips that will greatly enhance teaching vocabulary in a second language classroom.
Vocabulary by itself is just a word. Give it life. Is the vocabulary about instruments? Give them different voices. Give the violin a beautiful soft voice. Give life to the cello by giving it the most opera-like voice you can muster. The best part is that you can model any vocabulary with fun words no matter the type of vocabulary: whether it’s concrete or abstract.
Make it real™
Unlike other subjects, vocabulary teaching in the second language classroom makes it easier to add real objects to the mix. What’s a better way to teach about food than bringing in real food? Turn the classroom into a supermarket, a clothing store, and even an antique shop. The possibilities are endless.
Make vocabulary the rule of the day
A fun way to practice vocabulary is to have students use it in the classroom. Make it so they have to use one word in any situation during the day. If possible, have it written in front of the classroom. It doesn’t have to be a new word, and you can even have students vote of the word of the day at the end of each class day.
Make it a map
Words are as powerful as you make them, so why not expand on that? Using cardboard, sheets of paper and/or small boards, have students make “continents” of similar or associated words. Give each student a word and have them look for their associated words; eventually forming groups or “continents”. If the words are not easily associated, ask them to look for connections on why a word should belong in said continent.
Make it incremental
Introduce a set of words that will appear in a reading or short story. Without introducing the story, have students work with this set of words in a various ways; from connecting stories to making sentences and even use them in context. A fun way to do this is to have students create small stories including a set of words. Make sure students understand the new words before working with them.
Hunt The Words
This is one fun way to add vocabulary in the classroom: hide the words in their environment. If they’re hidden, how would students learn the words? Simple: words are not meant to be found in one class or lesson. Whenever a student finds a word, take a few minutes to give it context and make it part of your current lesson. It is an interesting way to spice up classroom time and break monotony.
Some things to keep in mind
Teaching vocabulary is not a one-lesson deal. New words are learned over time; you must revisit these words as many times as necessary.
Reading is important, no matter the lesson or topic. Encourage students to read both inside and our of the classroom; that way students can build their own vocabulary. If possible, have a small library ready, and encourage students to borrow these books. It doesn’t need to be extensive, it just needs to be available.
Showing images and videos to represent words help students create a visual idea of what a word means or represents. Use this resource if available.
Don’t have students look for words in the dictionary. Over-relying on direct translation make students lazy.
Limit the number of words. Students will learn words at their own pace, but too many words can become overwhelming and boring.
Don’t assume students will know all the words just because they were shown in class: give them time.