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Two good practices of teaching vocabulary: reflection of a teacher

Samita Magar

This blog post presents the two good practices of teaching English vocabulary for primary level students based on my action research “enriching vocabulary of the primary level English language learners”. Among several intervention techniques used in the research, I shall discuss key two techniques including my personal reflection as a student and teacher.

My experience of learning and teaching English vocabulary

Reflecting back on my own learning process, we had to learn the meaning of difficult English words by rote in our native language (i.e. Nepali). We were taught English vocabulary through the Grammar Translation Method in isolation. As a result, we were not able to use them in our day-to-day life though we learned the words. I could read the words but could never speak in English by the time I completed the school level education. Now, I think that students’ language learning is shaped by the exposure they receive in the target language in and out of the classroom. Forget about using the English language outside the classroom, we rarely heard our teachers speaking in English, so I only knew words but was unable to use them in real communication.

I was destined to be an English teacher but before I started teaching, I had doubts whether I could teach English in English medium schools having schooled with such a background. I had a feeling that the students taught in English medium could communicate effectively in English. I even had a thought that the students studying in English medium schools in the capital city (Kathmandu) might be far better than the students from peripheral parts of Nepal. I had doubts that I would not be able to communicate effectively with them and handle the classes in English medium school if I had the opportunity. This feeling continued for years when I was teaching in my hometown. Later, I started teaching in a school in Kathmandu city, I explored that the reality was different than what I had thought.

In my classes, I gradually found most of my students were Englishizing the Nepali verbs. For instance, if they had to say ‘I forgot to do’ they were using ‘I  birsing (Nepali equivalent for forgetting). If I asked them to speak in English, they would use the suffix ‘ing’ at the end of Nepali verbs to form English sentences. This phenomenon occurred repeatedly in my classroom. Then I felt that it was happening because of the low command over vocabulary and lack of continuous practice. 

On the other hand, they used to listen to me with patience but often failed to answer the questions I asked and they would ask me to translate words into Nepali. Very often they used to stop me and ask the meaning of vocabulary and I used to get surprised when they were not able to comprehend and communicate in English even in the fifth grade. Similarly, while writing a paragraph, they often used to count the words more than five times. I realized that it was the result of having less exposure in English and having a very limited repertoire of English vocabulary, like the situation I went through in my student life. 

The situation demanded some investigation and intervention to improve their vocabulary. Therefore, I prepared a list of the ‘most frequently used 2000 words’ and told them to tick the words they knew. From my initial inquiry, 50 percent of them knew around 1000 words (50%), while a few of them were familiar with 1500 words. As a teacher of English, this finding encouraged me to support my students to enrich their vocabulary at least up to the level of 2000 words. So, they could communicate in English more fluently and express their ideas better than earlier. Finally, I decided to carry out an action research on teaching vocabulary. I used several interventions and I would like to share two of the effective techniques in the rest of my blog.

1. Sharing one word each day technique

This was one of the intervention techniques based on everyday practice. There are many other techniques for teaching vocabulary items but I chose ‘sharing one word every day’. It is because I believe that if the learners cannot use the learned words to express themselves effectively, they have not achieved mastery over the words and the real learning starts when they can assist their peers in vocabulary. 

In this technique, firstly, the students were assigned to choose one word from the lesson discussed in the classroom. They could consult the dictionary and keep the record in the diary every day. The record included the dictionary meaning of the word and contextual meanings, word class and its usage. Then they could share their words in the class with their classmates and support them in using the words in daily communication. It was really difficult to manage time to let every student share their words personally in the whole class. Therefore, they worked with peers first and later five students got an opportunity to share what they learned after the pair work. Similarly, it was equally difficult to follow  them up regarding the use of the words in daily communication and observe their improvement. However, I managed to continue the same activity every day. As a result, they demonstrated increased confidence in their communication, especially in their verbal communication.

2. Speakers’ club technique

I wanted to see my students using the learned words confidently in their day-to-day conversation and overall communication. So I formed a speakers’ club, where they could have speaking practice. I made them practice freely without worrying about accuracy. I gave them topics which were discussed in the previous classes so that they could feel comfortable to speak. The familiar and simple topics encouraged them to speak. When they were familiar with the format of speaking, I provided them a word as a theme to speak. They had to speak on the topic and also remember the theme and use the words related to the theme. However, it took time to get them to understand the theme, its related vocabulary and the way of presentation. So I gave them a demonstration on a topic, which helped them a lot to understand it well. Despite having challenges at first, this intervention remained so effective. As a result, they enriched the use of their vocabulary level and it also gave a good impression to the students of other classes as well and they were invited as speakers in the club. Therefore, forming a speakers’ club even in lower grades was not difficult for me. Since I succeeded in that activity, I proposed to the school administration to include it in the co-curricular activity every Friday which was a great accomplishment for me and my students. With the continuous support and encouragement, gradually my students  were ready to deliver impromptu speeches. I always provided them with positive feedback and supported them by showing the better ways to improve. Finally, with the permission of the school administration, we were able to include a short speech session in the assembly every day.

Conclusion

To sum up, vocabulary represents one of the important aspects of learning a language and learning the language remains incomplete without mastery over vocabulary. Robust vocabulary enables a learner to communicate fluently and effectively. Thus, empowering the learners to master vocabulary should be one of crucial tasks language teachers, and several strategies and techniques can be used to do so. Therefore, I shared two of the techniques I tried with my students and would love to hear your ideas, tips and techniques of teaching vocabulary in the comment section below. 

The author: Samita Magar is an emerging writer. She currently works as a secondary level English language teacher at Manthali secondary school, Ramechhap. Ms. Magar has completed Masters in ELT from Kathmandu University. She is a life member of NELTA and she has presented her papers in the international conference of NELTA.

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Can be cited as:

Magar, S. (2021, January). Two good practices of teaching vocabulary: Reflection of a teacher [Blog article]. ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2021/01/two-good-practices-of-teaching-vocabulary-reflection-of-a-teacher/