USING WORD CLINES IN THE EFL CLASSROOM

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We all know that learning vocabulary is a challenge for our learners for so many reasons. The sheer number of words that need to be learnt is probably the biggest hurdle but then it gets more complicated when you realise that many of the same words have different meanings (fair skin vs fair weather) and many different words have the same or similar meanings (shouted vs yelled). Add to that level of formality and conventions of usage and it’s no wonder our learners can feel a bit demoralised sometimes!

As teachers, it is our duty to try and come up with ways to make learning vocabulary easier for our learners. We can do this by conveying meaning through a number of different methods; using pictures or images is one such way. Using pictures when teaching vocabulary makes sense because it allows direct access to meaning for the learner without resorting to explanation or translation. It minimises the chances of misunderstanding and is a quick and easy way to present new language.

All of this you probably know.

But here we’d like to introduce you to a way of using a visual aid to teaching vocabulary that you might not be familiar with and that should prove useful in the EFL classroom: word clines.

A word cline is a sequence of words whose meanings exist along a continuum. It can be used by learners to distinguish between shades of meaning for words with similar meaning. It effectively allows learners to build on their current knowledge of words by adding in new words to their existing meaning structure and conceptualise these words in relation to other words.

For example, if you are teaching words to describe temperature you can use a cline to demonstrate the range of words we use in a way which makes the meaning immediately clear. You can start by drawing a line on the board and eliciting temperature words from your students, such as cold, warm, hot.

_______________________________________________________

cold                    warm                    hot

You then introduce the new vocabulary you would like to teach and let the students decide where they should fit on the cline. This should result in a cline which looks like this:

________________________________________________________

freezing             cold          chilly          cool          warm          hot          boiling

As you can see, just by drawing a simple line the different shades of meaning of the words becomes much clearer.

Temperature is just example of words which can be grouped in such a way, so the next time you find yourself wondering how to explain the difference between irritated, angry and furious, try drawing a word cline and see if that helps clarify things.

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