After having observed many teacher trainees during teaching practice, here are some guidelines that will help you become an expert at vocabulary teaching.
1. Dedicate Specific Classroom Time to Vocabulary Learning.
In our daily classroom work, we are so busy creating lively group work and meaningful communication that we often forget to devote some time to words. Noting the incremental nature of word learning (Zimmerman, 2014), it is important to have EFL students meet target words several times. Webb and Nation (2013) note that at least somewhere between 7 - 16 encounters of any new word are required for gaining necessary knowledge. Repetition of vocabulary is the key here. It is much more effective to review the vocabulary in short encounters across a few days than to spend a larger amount of time during a single class only.
2. Help Students Learn Vocabulary in a Meaningful Context.
We very often observe novice teachers who start their class by telling their students that they are going to learn vocabulary today. With such an opening statement, no EFL student is going to be excited about what he/she will learn in class. It sounds so boring. It is much more attractive to embed the new words in a context. Here are two examples:
a) Today, we are going to learn about crimes in our neighborhood. Your context will be a robbery. Crime is a topic that makes students want to say a lot.
b) We are going to learn how to categorize and combine food to not only become healthy but to also lose weight permanently.
My students will always remember the food items because they learn something about combining food which they had never known before.
3. Engage in Unplanned Vocabulary Teaching.
It happens rather frequently that EFL students find words they don't know in certain contexts. Now we have to teach them on the spot. During initial teaching practice, we experience that most novice teachers provide an explanation of the new word. We don't want that. We want the teachers to elicit the meaning from our EFL students.
In a beginning class, I would ask the students to show or draw the object if they have already learned the word. If they haven't learned the word yet, we have to teach it with the help of pictures or gestures. In the low intermediate level, the conversation could be like this.
T: Okay, "clumsy." Who can help me with the meaning of the word?
[writes the word on the board]
T: No one? Okay, let's take a look at the sentence it's in. "Her clumsy efforts to imitate
the principal dancer were almost amusing." Now, was Silvia a good dancer?
[S1 raises his hand.] Yes, Tom?
S1: No, she was a bad dancer ... we see this in the next sentence.
T: Excellent! So, what do you think "clumsy" might mean?
S2: Mmm, ... not graceful?
T: Good, what else?
S3: Not balanced, ... uncoordinated?
T: Great! So "clumsy" means awkward, ungraceful, uncoordinated. Who can explain
that to me again in a sentence?
S1: "Clumsy" means uncoordinated, ungraceful and awkward. [T writes synonyms on
As long as unplanned teaching does not detract too much from the main focus of the activity, the students can now use the new word (clumsy) in their personal context and talk about who in their family clumsy is and why. This will help them to better internalize the new word.