A good way in here is to give your students the definition of a single word which represents the theme of a reading or listening text (or a new unit) and to ask them to guess the word. In this example, the unit is called ‘Crime scene’ and the word ‘scary’ is provided as a way into the unit.
However, any related word (such as those in the accompanying vocabulary activity below) could be used before the students see the page.
1a Write the words under the appropriate headings below. Some can go under both headings.
Once you have provided your students with the part of speech (adjective), the definition Something that makes you feel frightened and the example of usageI think The Exorcist is a really ______ film and they have guessed the word (one point for all those whose definition coincides with the real one), you can ask them to guess what they are going to be reading about. This can be a prelude to getting them to predict the content in more detail from a photograph or title. The vagueness of the single word adds to the sense of mystery.
When the title has been revealed, brainstorm other words related to the theme that could appear in the text. These can be represented in the form of a word web and ticked when reading the text to see how many appear.
At Bachillerato level, students are required to have a solid grasp of word-building and an understanding of how affixes work. If we go back to our original word scary we can divide our students into small groups and give them five related words from the same family, eg scare, scared, scaredy-cat, scarecrow and scaremonger. Their first task is to think about what part of speech each is likely to be.
They are then shown each in context, in a series of pre-prepared sentences (one per word) and given two minutes to read them and make any changes to their original hypotheses. Finally they have two more minutes to check their answers definitively in a monolingual dictionary.
Many students will probably have grasped subconsciously that –er (as in scaremonger) is a noun suffix often relating to a person and that –ed (like scared) usually denotes an adjective derived from a past participle. Being clear and systematic in our recording can help consolidate this understanding.
In the example on the right, our model student distinguishes the two noun forms, clearly showing two examples of the –er rule. The inclusion of smugglingand kidnapping cement the rule of how abstract nouns can be formed from the gerund. Tables, charts or any other type of graphic organisers can be regularly updated. They can also work well for recording other sets of words, such as false friends and cognates or phrasal verbs.
Once we have our word family, eg kidnap, kidnapper and kidnapping, we can consolidate the meaning of each by getting students to create sentences containing them on strips of paper while we write the stem word on the board. Each sentence is read out but with the target word blanked out, for example, _______ is a serious crime. Students in turn must add or subtract letters to the word on the board to create the part of speech required to complete the sentence.
Pictures also offer a great opportunity for working on vocabulary. Bearing in mind that in most coursebooks, the student’s book and the workbook both include photos related to the theme of the unit, we can build in some jigsaw oral pairwork focusing on the lexis. Divide the class into two groups, with each group working with a different photograph (they can still remain seated where they are, as everyone will have a copy). Write the following four categories on the board: people, objects, actions, descriptions. Give students five minutes to write as many words as they can in each category related to their photo then brainstorm the results for both pictures, getting all students to add all new words to their lists. Each student from the first group is then paired with another from the second, and both must write a letter ‘A’ by the words which appear on their own picture. Next, they take it in turns to describe their photo to their partner, using all the vocabulary they have marked, plus phrases such as in the background / foreground. They can combine factual information with opinions (who they think the photo was taken by and when, etc). Their partner marks all the vocabulary on their list with a ‘B’. Finally they swap photos and describe their new photo using the ‘B’ words as prompts (and maybe even a third time from memory). At the end of the activity, the new vocabulary is recorded.
Another fun way of using vocabulary work as a stepping stone towards working on a text or introducing a new unit is by using quotations. In this example, a unit about travel is introduced by the quotations in the ‘Getting ready’ box.
Before beginning the unit, divide the class into small groups and give each a different quote. A good way to find these is by typing the keyword, eg travel into Google. Sites such as Thinkexist.com, Brainyquote.com andQuotegarden.com have extensive lists of quotations. Groups have five minutes to invent another quote using the same keyword, attributing the quote to any famous person. Each group then reads out their two quotes and the others must guess which is the authentic one. The activity can easily be extended to include some reported speech practice, eg The Taoists thought that the journey was the reward.
Vocabulary learning needn’t be scary. New lexis shouldn’t scare your students; anyone who tells you differently is a scaremonger. So don’t be a scaredy-cat; recycle new words regularly and make time to make words fun in your classes!
(All examples in this article are taken from Definitions 1.)