VOCABULARY is a term used to define the words which make up a certain language. More often than not, teaching vocabulary tends to be one of the biggest challenges faced by educators in schools.
This is partly due to the fact that the teaching of vocabulary is not emphasised enough in schools as compared with other aspects of language acquisition such as grammar or composition. Consequently, vocabulary is sidelined and neither students nor teachers have the inclination to explore it. Students need to be taught the importance of learning vocabulary from a young age because a strong command of vocabulary enables the child to write, read and understand far beyond his age.
There are many methods of teaching vocabulary that teachers can utilise in school that are both enjoyable and educational at the same time. One of the most basic ways to teach words is to use words. It is not enough for students to merely know the meaning of a word, rather they should be able to identify the different forms and functions of the word as this knowledge will enable them to use the word in different contexts.
There are several aspects that the teacher can choose to teach depending on the student’s age and capability such as the root of a word, its meaning, the different forms, function, other related words as well as synonyms and antonyms.
For example, if the teacher is introducing the word “pinching” he can first start by teaching his students the root of the word which is a pinch. Its meaning is to squeeze. Adding suffixes such as pinching or pinched and related words such as pain or squeeze will help student expand their knowledge of one word and simultaneously learn different words that are related.
Moreover, visual aids are very useful tools in aiding teachers to teach vocabulary, as they are extremely stimulating and engaging. Flash cards and drawings can be used with younger learners. They also respond well to colours and images.
In addition, teachers can also make use of the “realia” concept by directing their student’s attention to the objects in their surrounding environment to further stimulate their creativity. This is because research has shown that cognitive growth starts from an early age and is stimulated by visuals. For instance, if a teacher is introducing words associated with shapes such as a circle for the first time, he may begin by showing the class a flash card of what a circle looks like, then he may teach them how to spell circle. After that, he may ask the students to identify an object in the classroom that is circular in shape and may ask them to describe it. Activities like this will help students remember the word with ease as they’re able to visualise the words being taught.
Furthermore, using games to introduce new words can be an excellent method to get students interested in vocabulary. Word games like Scrabble or Pictionary can be used in the classroom with the supervision of the teacher. Teachers should make sure that the game is played correctly and that they fully understand the meaning of the words. Besides, word search and crossword puzzles can be prepared by teachers according to the learner’s age and capability. For example, at the end of each week, teachers can prepare a word search or crossword puzzle that includes all the words learnt earlier in the week.
This way, students are able to refresh their minds and remember what was taught throughout the week. Other games like charades can also be entertaining and effective. Such games raise their competitive spirit and motivate the students in their learning process. In addition, teachers can assign one lesson weekly especially for vocabulary.
On these days, teachers may come up with activities that will engage the students and require them to communicate and mingle around with their classmates. One way to do this is to incorporate activities like singing, dancing or role-playing while telling a story. Teachers can use storybooks or even comic strips with colourful pictures or cartoon characters and begin the lesson by introducing students to words that may be foreign to them. They can then proceed by telling them the story and encouraging them to act it out with their peers.
They may also include songs or rhymes to compliment the story and sing along with students as studies have shown that listening to music stimulates the parts of the brain responsible for memory recall and visual imagery. Not only does this method enable students to move around and socialise, it also builds their self-confidence and improves their pronunciation and intonation.
The availability of technology now provides an enormous opportunity for students to learn new words. Teachers should make full use of the Internet in teaching vocabulary by accessing interactive online word games which students can access by themselves in the comfort of their own homes. Besides, these websites are also excellent teaching resources as most of them are user-friendly and free. Some examples are the Visual Thesaurus Website and TrackStar. Another free online tool available is Wordsift.
Although teaching vocabulary may seem like an arduous endeavour, teachers can be innovative in their approach to the subject by using their creativity and imagination. Making use of games, art, music and technology to teach words can act as an excellent propeller to broaden their minds and outlook on learning vocabulary. When teaching vocabulary, the students must be kept engaged throughout the lesson by maintaining communication between the teacher and students so as to maximise learning.
MIRIAM GUNA, Kuala Lumpur
Original text: The Star