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We all know learning vocabulary is one of the toughest things for our English language learners on their journey to learning English, so as teachers we should always on the lookout for ways to make it a bit easier for them. If you take some time and delve into the research regarding language acquisition and memory you will find that there are theories behind vocabulary learning which we can utilise to make learning vocabulary easier for our learners.

Of course, as a busy teacher you probably don’t have the time to do the research, so we’ve done it for you!

Here are 10 activities which are guaranteed to help your students remember English vocabulary better, based on the most current and up-to-date research.

1. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is something teachers often do when introducing a topic and research supports the idea that it’s a good activity on two counts: it forces students to activate what they already know and it primes them to think of links between their knowledge and the new vocabulary.

What do they do?

Basically students need to think of words related to words in a certain group. This can be through any kind of association; it will depend on the student to make a meaningful connection.

2. Pairing

Collocations are words which are commonly found together and, as such, they are a useful way of reducing cognitive demand on learners.

What do they do?

Given a list of words, let your students pair up words which go together and so create a set of collocations rather than a longer set of individual words.

3. Grouping

During English lessons, your students are going to be exposed to a wide range of different vocabulary items and they are likely to be unrelated. Research has shown that grouping words meaningfully helps retention and retrieval.

What do they do?

Give your students time to sort words into groups. They can group a set of words into categories and they must decide which words to group together and then choose a heading for each group.

4. Focusing

One of the attributes of a good learner is being discerning in what they study. It’s near impossible for students to study everything that they have learned in class and they should spend some time deciding which are the more useful vocabulary items and focus on those.

What do they do?

Students must spend some time thinking about the set of words in question and decide which will be useful to them. These words are then highlighted in some way.

5. Linking

Identifying or creating links between vocabulary items will strengthen associations between words, thus making words more memorable and easier to be retrieved.

What do they do?

Similar to the brainstorming activity, let students clarify they connections they have made between words. Paying attention to the links will add weight to recall.

6. Associating

Learning vocabulary should be a personal activity; it will be different for each student. If a student can draw a personal link to a word their connection to it will be stronger. This activity is then similar to brainstorming but on a more abstract level.

What do they do?

Let students make associations with words to relevant notions, such as positive/negative. This association can be anything but it only needs to be personal.

7. Recalling

Rote learning still seems to be a popular method of learning vocabulary. The problem with this strategy is that often you remember the first and last words of a list but then you forget about the middle ones. It makes sense to instead focus on the words you cannot remember after learning the words once rather than trying to learn the same list again.

What do they do?

Students can try to remember a list of words but the first time they recall them they should make note of which words they couldn’t remember. These words then form the next list to be learnt.

8. Using

By actively engaging with a word it is more likely to be remembered. Plus, using a word will mean that the student knows how to use it appropriately and will be able to do so on demand.

What do they do?

Students connect words in a group by linking them together in meaningful sentences.

9. Anchoring

The more associations a student can make with a word, the stronger the network of connections will be and the more likely it is to be remembered. While this is similar to other activities, this requires deeper associations and is good for more difficult items.

What do they do?

Students come up with associations for words that will link them together. Associations such as superordinate or subordinate words are good examples.

10. Expanding

Making use of the students’ first language is another way to create connections between words. Allowing the students to make active use of their first language will let them process the words on a deeper, more meaningful level.

What do they do?

When students look at their list of words, they need to think what related words they want to know but still don’t know in English and then look them up in their first language to find out the English equivalents.

There is no need to lecture your students on the research behind learning vocabulary; if you make use of these strategies you will be able to help them learn more effectively.


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