Published 23rd May 2018

students Learning vocabulary

Learning vocabulary is a tough one. There are loads of different ways of learning vocabulary but at the end of the day all that is left for the student to do is study. Study the vocabulary items and use them (or lose them!).

Luckily for our students there are a few tricks we can use to help make learning vocabulary more effective. After all, what’s the point in spending all your time learning vocabulary if you’re just going to forget it again? Spaced repetition is one such technique. Another one is the keyword method approach.

The keyword method approach for more effective learning vocabulary

What is the keyword method approach?

The keyword method approach takes a familiar method of learning vocabulary one step further. Often, when learning a new word a learner will make a connection between the word in English and the same word in their language. In other words, they will learn through translation.

How to use the keyword method approach

To take this idea one step further, the learner needs to connect the English word with an image. We don’t mean just an image of the meaning of the word. No, in order for this to be effective the image needs to be memorable too.

For example, say the new English word to be learnt is mundane. This word now needs to be connected to an image which portrays both the meaning of the word and is memorable. Mundane sounds like Monday, so the image could be a calendar with a bored face on the Monday slot. In other words, a person is bored or uninterested by something that is mundane, similar to how people feel on a Monday.

As you can see, there are in fact two images at play here. The learner can choose any images that make sense to them. Nobody ever has to know what the connection is, as long as it is memorable to the learner. In fact, the more outrageous the image the more memorable it is likely to be.

Of course, this doesn’t work with all vocabulary items. Some vocabulary items lend themselves more to imagery than others. If you find yourself spending a long time trying to think of a connection or a suitable image, then this approach probably isn’t the best for that word.

How to use the keyword method approach in the EFL classroom

How can you incorporate this in the classroom? When dealing with vocabulary, give the students some time to create links between words and images. You don’t need to structure this in any way. As long as your students are familiar with the technique, you simply have to give them time to implement it. You also don’t need to ask your students to explain their images and connections. When you do revision activities, remind your students to think of their keyword images to remember the words.