Steven Herder

Presenting Vocabulary – Steven Herder

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Dream Students and the Rest of Us – Steven Herder

In economics, these days we hear a lot about the 1% and the 99%. In ELT, I also see this division when it comes to learning vocabulary.

Dream students (1%)

There are countless resources – many of them free online – for students who want to increase their vocabulary while learning a second or foreign language. If your students have already made a commitment to improve their vocabulary, and if they also have the skills to make decisions, make a viable plan, follow through on the plan and adjust the plan as necessary, teaching vocabulary is very easy for us teachers.

Here are some great posts and resources for that small percentage of your students who simply need to be pointed in the right direction:

vocab Herder 1





vocab Herder 2Vocabulary sites




Normal students (99%)

In my experience, however, the vast majority of learners do not fall into that category. Most of my students over the years say they want more vocabulary but haven’t addressed the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of vocabulary that is needed in order to succeed with vocabulary. Here are a few sets of questions (and answers I’ve heard from some of those Dream students) that your normal students need to answer in order to succeed with vocabulary:

1. Why should I make an effort with to learn more vocabulary?

–       It makes you smarter and opens many more doors to your future (especially for those who don’t know exactly what they want to do yet).

–       It is the quickest way to raise your score in tests like TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS, etc.

–       It teaches you discipline and you’ll gain confidence.

2. What vocabulary should I learn?

–       You need to learn the most frequent words (Top 2000, 3000, 5000, etc).

–       You need to decide which words are active and which are passive, then decide which ones YOU need.

–       You need to focus on TOEFL words if you are taking the TOEFL test. There are many lists available online.

3. How can I learn vocabulary?

–       Spend time with words in order to learn them.

–       Use the words you want to learn (Speak and write them a lot).

–       Read more than you currently read!

–       Learn to notice words you hear but don’t know

4. How can I not give up after three days?

–       Make a good plan that will last over time.

–       Collaborate in studying vocabulary with your friends.

–       Make learning fun by using new words with friends and teachers.

–       Develop a system (word cards, smart phone, etc).

–       Set goals and get feedback on your progress.

–       Talk with your teacher and solicit their ideas.

–       Tell your friends, and get them to join you or check up on you to make sure you continue.

5. When can I fit in this extra study plan?

–       Make it a habit or routine in your life (at breakfast, on the bus, before you sleep, etc).

–       Set daily, weekly goals that are attainable and race to meet your deadlines each day.

–       We all have “dead” time or little “chunks” of time throughout the day; we just need to use it.

Once you make a good plan, and get used to doing it, you will begin to see your improvements. As humans, we like to succeed. And the old saying, “Success leads to more success” is very true. Another way of looking at this phenomenon is called the “virtuous cycle” – we make an effort, then we begin to get better, So we get excited and motivated more, this leads us to make more of an effort, and the virtuous cycle continues.

So, if you are a normal student, answer the questions you need to succeed and then go succeed.

I hope some of you will add both questions and answers to this post, because I’m sure there are a ton of other useful ideas out there!

Published by

Steven Herder

Steven has been teaching within the Japanese EFL context since 1989. Having over 20 years teaching experience at the elementary and secondary school level, he is currently an associate professor in the International Studies department at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts. He is also extremely active in professional development within the ELT community. He co-founded MASH Collaboration in 2007, an online community devoted to professional development through collaboration. He is an avid user of Skype and can often be heard saying, “Collaboration creates just the right amount of tension to get lots done.” He also spends time editing numerous articles, academic volumes and proceedings, and leading teacher training seminars for various companies throughout Japan. Steven works from the perspective that, “being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to learning”.

8 thoughts on “Presenting Vocabulary – Steven Herder”

  1. Absolutely the virtous cycle is really inspiring as it leads you to go on and never stop until your goal is achieved. Grit is the word that all reflects here in this blog, that will to preserve until the end. Vocabulary is necessary, especially in the TOEFL, as it should be second nature for the students if follow the plan as outlined here.

  2. Thanks for ideas I can learn vocabulary from the books I read When I read I write down new words and dont write translation Just look at the translation and try to remember while looking at the new words Days past I read my new words and remembering the situation from the book I try to find the meaning

  3. Steve, thanks for the links above. Even though I spend 85% of my time teaching Native Speakers, I find that these tools are useful. My English class has many different learners so I must teach for all students. This makes it hard to challenge those at the top and include those at the very bottom. However, since my school is adding technology for our students, it will allow my lower level learners a chance to increase their vocabulary.

  4. Wow! I liked all the links you just shared for vocabulary learning. I wish I had more of those dream students you mentioned! I always tell my students about the importance of vocabulary, and I found the Text Content Analysis tool in REALLY useful. Most of my students have been in school for at least 10 years, therefore there speak quite well,their reading comprehension skills are good, but their writing could definitely be better: the amount of words that they repeat is really worrying, and I find this tool excellent to have them realize precisely that…encouraging then the learning of vocabulary.

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