How many ways can I use to teach the meaning of a word?

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How many ways can I use to teach the meaning of a word?

Post by pengyou » Sat Apr 10, 2010 3:50 am

I teach sophomores in a Chinese uni. I presently introduce vocab by teaching the meaning and the opposite, if appropriate. I also introduce sentences and paragraphs with the words used incorrectly. I teach word/prefix/suffix meanings as well. Are there any other ways to introduce vocab?

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Post by Heath » Tue Apr 13, 2010 8:25 am

I can think of quite a few... but might I suggest that you post this in 'Teacher Forums - Adult Education' rather than linguistics. You'd probably get more suggestions there.

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Post by fluffyhamster » Tue Apr 13, 2010 9:43 am

To me it's not so much where this has been posted, but what the question is asking for (and the likelihood of getting little or no thanks for answering in a way that would do "the" topic justice) that's the problem. All I can really suggest is that Pengyou try reading a book on teaching lexis (and only get back to us if such a book somehow proves completely useless).

For example, Schmitt & McCarthy's Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy is a great book generally, with a chapter on 'Current trends in teaching second language vocabulary' specifically: ... &q&f=false

Some more recommendations (in order of year published, from oldest to newest):
Hatch & Brown's Vocabulary, Semantics and Language Education (CUP 1995) - accompanies Hatch's earlier (and award-winning) Discourse and Language Education ... &q&f=false ... ks_s&cad=1 ... &q&f=false ... &q&f=false ... &q&f=false
Last edited by fluffyhamster on Sat Jun 12, 2010 12:15 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Post by Heath » Wed Apr 14, 2010 2:22 am

Sorry, I didn't mean Pengyou shouldn't ask here... I just meant that here Pengyou's going to have the few people who a seriously interested in Applied Linguistics answering the Q, but in the Adult Ed section there'd be a lot of people interested in teaching in general = more people sharing ideas and techniques.

Here's my brief list of tips to help convey meaning:
  • * Draw pictures on the board (eg. draw a dog)
    * Use photos or professional pictures (eg. a photo of a dalmation)
    * Use real objects where possible (eg. take in an actual stapler)
    * Use syonyms, antonyms, hyponyms (words in a family = apple, banana, guava), meronyms (parts of a whole = wheel, pedals, handle-bars)
    * Use affixes
    * Use a cline (eg. freezing <------ cold ------- cool ----- warm ----- hot -------> boiling )
    * Use mime (eg. actually jog around the classroom; act out begging for money)
    * Develop a mini-situation (eg. Bill loves football. Last night, he saw Manchester play. They're his favourite team. For 55 minutes they played very well. In the last 5 minutes, they played badly. The other team won. How did Bill feel? He was... disappointed.)
    * Use the context and grammatical clues in a (spoken or written) text.
    * Use the word family (eg. if they know beautiful as an adj, then highlight that the related verb is beautify)
    * Use something peculiar to that word (eg. if today is Monday the 5th, bring in a calendar and circle the 7th to convey 'the day after tomorrow'; to convey reggae play an actual clip of reggae music; etc)
    * Give a definition (eg. someone who is adventurous likes to hike in the woods, climb mountains, etc)

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Post by fluffyhamster » Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:11 am

Heh, I knew what you meant, Heath, and was just trying to suggest (not too clearly though, it must be said! LOL) that the AE forum seems to get less threads/posts/replies, even if the few who frequent it might have more to say. Anyway, this thread here's taken off now, so that's a moot point thankfully (for Pengyou)! :)

So, not a bad little list there, Heath! I can't really add that much to it generally and off the top of my head, but here are a few suggestions (even if just variations) in terms of specific (though just 'practice' rather than any "super-increased-learning"!) activities:

* Board associations for/from a central starting word, in the form of "mindmaps" or similar.

* Expanding on definitions/defining/paraphrasing, here's a time-honoured "translation" activity: Carefully select enough relatively low-frequency, but still reasonably interesting English words to enable every sudent in the class to potentially have a turn at defining an item, then make a set of cards with just the Chinese equivalents written on the undersides (top side is blank). Examples words from the 'A' section of a dictionary might include the Chinese equivalents of 'abacus', 'abbatoir/slaughterhouse', 'abdicate', 'abominable snowman/yeti' etc (you get the idea). In class, divide the class into two teams, give each team half the cards, and get each team in turn (with a different team member stepping up each time) to draw the top card from their pile and try to define the Chinese in English - but they can't say what the actual word being defined is in English (and obviously not in Chinese; and gestures are also not allowed) even if they know the English - that will be for either team to guess, which will obviously depend on the clarity of the definition. Points awarded as follows: the team that guesses correctly knows the answer and provides the exact matching English word - both teams get 3 points; the team that guesses correctly provides a not exact but close enough English synonym - the defining team still gets 3 points, but the guessing team only 2 points; and finally, if the team that guesses correctly can only guess in Chinese, then they only get 1 point (but the defining team still gets 3 points). So points are always skewed in favour of the defining team, but correct (English) guesses will help level the scores. Deduct a point or two/don't always award the full three as you see fit for defining team rule infractions or too-obvious errors. Finally, whenever neither team can guess at all then nobody gets any points for that item!

Then, I quite like the following suggestions from chapter 5, 'Classroom strategies, activities and exercises', of the Teaching Collocation book edited by Michael Lewis:

10. Five-word stories
Look up order and exam(ination) in a (collocation) dictionary. Find five verbs for each which suggest a 'story' if they are in a particular order like this:

place, get, process, dispatch, receive an order
enter for, revise for, take, fail, re-sit an exam(ination)

You can do the same for any noun which suggests an extended process such as: problem, product, relationship, research, system, letter, war, negotiations, job.

14. The collocation game
(Paraphrasing here!) Select a target (and secret) word and arrange up to five collocations for it in a rough weaker > stronger collocate order. For example:

dark, plain, white, milk, bar of (=chocolate)

Student teams listen to you call out the first collocate ('dark') and have one guess each (fastest stands best chance of winning) to guess the target word. If they are correct after only 'dark' they get 5 points; each subsequent collocate needed reduces the potential score by one point, meaning if you have to tell them the answer ('chocolate') even after saying 'bar of' then they will get zero points!

15. Noun + noun combinations
(Paraphrasing) Or rather, compound nouns. This is basically like word dominoes, or Morgan & Rinvolucri's 'Tails to Heads' game (though the latter uses final letter rather than whole word to begin the next item). For example, you start them off with 'blank cheque' and they continue thus: cheque book - book club - club sandwich - and so on.

Maybe allow students to use dictionaries (within a time limit of 30 seconds say and/or with a penalty point attached for each use), and/or award negative points for every time a team is stumped and a completely fresh new chain has to be begun.

The other example in the book is table top - top quality - quality time - time management - and so on...

But this last activity especially might perhaps be a bit too difficult for those much below upper-intermediate!
Last edited by fluffyhamster on Thu Apr 17, 2014 9:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by fluffyhamster » Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:25 am

Ooh, and let's not forget "our" Learner Strategy Instruction thread, eh, Heath!

And I must say (again) that I think that a lexicogrammatical approach, primarily in the form of the COBUILD Grammar Patterns, is one of the best (most thorough and revealing) ways to organize if not actually learn-teach the language. And here's something (Pengyou) on how to utilize the BNC at BYU in order to unearth better exemplars for specific constructions generally: ... 1753#41753 .
Last edited by fluffyhamster on Sat Apr 17, 2010 12:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by J.M.A. » Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:18 pm

The OP might enjoy I.S.P. Nation's "Teaching Vocabulary: Strategies and Techniques" Heinle 2008. ... 1424005655

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Nice little thread now...

Post by Heath » Thu Apr 15, 2010 4:04 am

Hmm, thanks Fluffy... this is turning out to be quite a nice and useful little thread now. Next time I'll just add proper suggestions right off the bat instead of worrying about where to post things.

Mind maps and translation - can't believe I left those two off my list. In our teacher-training courses we don't allow teachers to use translation, but I always let them know that it can be quite beneficial when done with care, and that the only reason we don't allow it is because we need to know that the teachers could teach in any context (including ESL contexts where all Ss might speak different languages).

And the 5 words stories - what a great idea. In fact, I've loved that idea ever since I came across it in Lewis, but have never actually made use of it with learners... I've gotta try it out.

I keep hearing about Nation too - seems to be highly recommend by everyone... but I've never managed to get hold of a copy (I have one on vocab by McCarthy that's not bad, just called 'Vocabulary', if I remember correctly - I'll check tonight).

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Post by fluffyhamster » Thu Apr 15, 2010 7:30 pm

Well, you mentioned mindmaps at least in your detailed reply to Betty on page 2 of that LSI thread. :wink:

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