TEFL Q and A, Chapter 3: Vocabulary--Getting Students to Practise It

Q: After understanding you said the most important thing to remember is use. What do you mean exactly?

A: Well, you have to make sure that students can say the words you want them to learn. This means that, first, you have to know how words are pronounced and, second, you have to know exactly what to do and say as a teacher to help your students.

Q: What sort of problems do students have, then?

A: One problem is the stress of a word. For example, the stress in aware is on the second syllable. If students stress the first syllable, they probably won't be understood.

Q: OK, so what can I do or say to help students say "aware"?

A: Say "aware" quite loudly, and move your hand up when you say the second syllable. Then you can say "Everybody!" This is a signal for everyone to say the word at the same time.

Q: But if they'e all speaking at the same time, how can I tell if individual students are saying it correctly?

A: Good point. After the whole class has said it, you can then nominate particular students (while motioning toward them with an outstretched palm-down hand). This is code for "You speak now, please." Then, when a particular student speaks, you can either say "Good!" or make the hand gesture that we discussed a couple chapters ago and diplomatically inform the student that his or her pronunciation is incorrect.

Q: OK, I think I understand that. But what if I want my students to say a whole sentence?

A: Every sentence in English has one main stressed syllable, as in "I borrowed the book from my brother." In order to show this to your students, while saying the words snap your fingers from right to left (following the students' perspective) to show all the stressed syllables. When you get to brother, say that syllable louder.

Q: So you agree that it's necessary for students to learn vocabulary in full sentences?

A: Not always. It depends on the word. For example, I don't think you need a whole sentence for elephant, but I do think you need one for borrow. You see, with borrow, the students may not use it grammatically. This means you have to think in advance about whether you need to come up with a complete sentence.

Q: So do I just get the students to say the words I want them to learn? Don't they have to write anything?

A: After the students have done a lot of oral practice, write the word on the board (in a full sentence, if necessary). Put a big dot over the stressed syllable(s) in the word, and don't forget to ask the students to write this in their notebooks.

Q: OK, thanks. But I have to say that I'm still not getting used to the level thing. I'm not sure exactly what words I should teach at what level. Do you have any tips?

A: As you gain experience, you'll develop a feel for the level of the classes you teach and the type of language they need. But, in the meantime, I'll give you some examples. Elementary students who need English for travelling around the United Kingdom might need the word change (for use on trains and buses).Intermediate students who need English for secretarial purposes might need the word dictate. Advanced students who need English for a master's or doctoral degree might need the word abstract (as a noun).

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