Vocabulary in Second-Language Classrooms
Understanding the words of a second language is only part of understanding the second language, but it is a crucial part. Here are some ways to build on the suggestions when teaching word meanings to learners of a second language.
Realia and visual aids are used in many second language classrooms to teach vocabulary meaningfully. One way to add to these concrete teaching tools is by enlisting students’ help through scavenger hunts. Present a list of terms for each instructional unit, and have students individually or in groups bring in concrete objects, models, pictures, and illustrations that represent the terms. Afterwards, you have an almost instant bulletin board or display table for introducing and practicing vocabulary.
Looking beyond obvious sources and representations is a good way to extend what you gather during scavenger hunts. For instance, children’s action figures, dolls, and other toy people often come with physical settings such as dollhouses, forts, and farms. Leading your class to describe the locations and actions of scenes (“The man is hiding behind the large house hoping to surprise the enemy.”) can result in active participation and meaningful applications of terms. You also might provide well-illustrated magazines for students to scavenge during class time. Calendars, catalogues, and newspapers are other frequently untapped teaching aids that provide useful tools for promoting second-language vocabularies.
The capsule vocabulary teaching strategy provides students good practice using the vocabulary of a second language. In this strategy, you first present the pronunciations and meanings of topically related words (e.g., fruits), then students use these words (e.g., apples, oranges, bananas) while conversing with each other. This strategy is most productive when the terms refer to common concepts that require little explanation, because the emphasis here is on students practicing and applying new terms in a supportive setting. Capsule Vocabulary stresses attaching labels to concepts already understood more than developing conceptual knowledge.
Several options are available for practicing the Capsule Vocabularies that are introduced. Using the words in oral conversations certainly is appropriate. In written conversations, or buddy journals, students take turns composing notes to each other in a manner similar to the surreptitious note passing that sometimes occurs during class. Written conversations are like pen pal situations; however, the pals are in the same classroom and they are using certain terms associated with units of study.
Another Capsule Vocabulary practice option is for students to write one term each on a card and categorize the cards in whatever groupings come to mind. Additionally, students might write sentences with each one containing two or three target terms. The class could play Twenty Questions in the second language, a game in which one word is selected and players try to determine what it is by asking yes–no questions (“Is it an animal?” “Is it four-legged?” “Is it domestic?”). Charades and Password are two other games appropriate for practicing Capsule Vocabulary Terms.
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