Presenting Vocabulary – Chuck Sandy

Chuck Sandy

The Vocabulary Masters    –  Chuck Sandy

 “Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult.” – M. Scott Peck

Substitute learning for life, say the new quote aloud, then read on:

When I heard my colleague-at-large, Rob Waring say several years ago at a conference that he’d walked into his university EFL class on the first day, handed his students a copy of the 570 word Academic Word List (AWL) and told them they were going to learn it, I thought this sounded both painful and a bit much. It turns out I was sort of right about it being painful but completely wrong about it being a bit much.

I found this out by trying it myself with two different university EFL classes I’d been charged with teaching: the highest-level freshman class at the university and the lowest level sophomore class.

On the first day in both classes, I announced our goal for the semester was to learn the academic world list, made that sound as exciting as I could, and then did what Rob had suggested. I passed out copies of the AWL and had students draw an x through the words they knew, place a check mark next to the words they sort of knew, and circle the words they didn’t know. I was pretty sure we had a real challenge on our hands when later I discovered that the best student in either class had circled only 119 words and that in both classes there were students who knew none of the words well enough to circle any.

The next thing we did in both classes was to talk about how best to go about learning these 570 words. I confessed that because I am not an expert on vocabulary learning, I’d need their help, and though they looked shocked about this, they willingly got into groups and came up with some great ideas that they shared with the class. I wrote all ideas on the board, and then we ranked them from most to least effective, most to least fun, and wildest to most boring. We had ideas that fit all categories, and I’d like to share some of the best with you.

Before I continue though, let me tell you the end of the story. In the next to the last class, we took a test on all 570 AWL words and in both classes more than half of the students scored 100% and though we’d mutually agreed to set the passing score at 80%, not a single student failed. When on the last day I passed the tests back and announced the results, both classes cheered. They’d done it! They knew they’d done it.  They were vocabulary masters, and for some in the lowest level class, it was probably the first time probably they’d been masters of anything.

And how did this happen?  Well, it wasn’t magic. It was them coming to embrace a difficult goal while slowly coming to realize  (because of the disciplined time they put into reaching it) that it could be done. It was them taking ownership for how learning happened. It was me believing in them and then them believing in each other.  It was good painful fun.

I won’t tell you about the weekly quizzes we did on AWL’s sublists or the flashcards we created on Quizlet or even how we used those cards to play rounds of Vocabulary Master, a flashcard game the students invented and decided to play the first 15 minutes of every class as they tested themselves on that weeks words, but I will tell you about ….

The Wall of WordsSince our classroom was graced on two sides by old fashioned black boards, the students decided to use these in every class to group AWL words in different ways. At first they decided to group the words by part of speech. Later they decided it might be more effective to come of with categories like Science, Environment, Politics, and Society to group the words into, even though they often had to defend and revise their decisions, which they came to enjoy. Students also used their cell phones to take photos of the word walls to keep for both their memory and at home study.

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Hot 50 At some point students decided it would be useful to work in groups, choose one of the categories they’d created, and decide as a group what 50 words (out of 570) best fit that category and were most important to learn. They then presented their decisions to the class, and later we used these to decorate the room.

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HOT 10 Song What would happen if we took 10 words from the Hot 50 poster, worked in groups and turned them into a song, the students wondered, so we tried that. This was one of the less successful activities but probably one that was the most fun and therefore very motivating after all those quizzes and flashcard games.  Have a look hereto see a little clip of one group in the process of creating their song.

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Human Vocabulary Well, how about if we spelled out some words with our bodies and had others guess the word? Or how about if we each became an adjective and acted that out? This was wildly fun, and a nice break from the other more traditional sorts of learning we were doing.


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In addition to these class activities, students chose among several options such as writing a daily blog post using some of the vocabulary, writing collaborative quizzes to share with group members, keeping a vocabulary notebook, and writing their own personal dictionary for at home study. Meanwhile, they studied. They memorized. They quizzed themselves. They encouraged each other, and in the end, had some fun while putting up with the pain that was no longer pain because it had been accepted and became Vocabulary Masters.

Presenting Vocabulary – Vladimira Chalyova

Vladimira Chalyova

The Colour of Words  – Vladimira Chalyova

What are you learning when learning new vocabulary? Is it a word itself that matters most? Is it “mastering” the word and keeping it firm in our memory? And so I ask what is it you teach when you teach new vocabulary?

“Writers fish for the right words like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.” – Jarod Kintz

I was thinking what it is that makes each word so powerful and distinctive from others, yet similar and sometimes hard to remember or distinguish as each is “made from the same dough” – letters. Words are like people, the same yet different, each with a unique story but separated only by six steps from each other, simple to grasp and hard to define.

But being more serious about words, here are some of the features we learn as we learn new vocabulary (or we should learn):

  • Meaning – of course, often overestimated in classes. I call it “the first impression of the word”. And you know we were taught not to judge the book by its cover.
  • Function and use – you know,  this stuff about whether it is a noun, verb or adjective and all the things related to it.
  • Word formation – so if you know it is a noun, how does the verb look like that conveys the same information? What is the root of the word and where can I take it using all kinds of suffixes or prefixes?
  • Context – how and where is it used most often, and why? Who, what group of people uses it? And what about phrases and idioms that are formed out of that?
  • Associations – hard to define and easy to argue about as this one is very personal, related to your own very specific experience, environment and perspective of it.

I would like to share some activities that were built around these principles and still offer space to adapt, simplify, or enrich. They are all built around the topic of colours but taken one step further and beyond the elementary level to see there is always a lot more to discover than we may think when we first encounter the word.

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  • A-Z race – ask your students to write down the letters of the alphabet and give them a colour. See how many things they know that are of this specific colour. Discuss, compare, take further!
  • Guess my colour – at home, prepare pieces of papers with a colour sample and a name of the colour, see picture for inspiration. Each student gets a piece secretly. Let them mingle and try to find out what the name of the colour, the other person has, is. They can ask questions, give hints, lead each other or just nod, as you wish. Again, make them contemplate and discuss the colours and take them one step further inventing the names for the colours they like or find mundane in every day life.


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  • Poem factory – I start this lesson by saying that by the end of it, we all will be poets. It always gets them! I tell them about haiku poetry and if possible take them out. The aim is to notice the little piece of the world in a new perspective and redefine its colours.
  • Imagine – take on the colored glasses and see the world around! Give your students a set of verbs (or nouns/songs/dances/adjectives, list here is basically endless) and ask them to match each with one colour. Discuss, compare, take it further!
  • What word are you today and what colour is it? – this last one is pretty much self explanatory. You can use it as a warm-up, fill in activity or even when you need to calm down your students (especially if you also give them a crayon to choose and use). It is highly personal and as an attentive teacher, you can get lots of teaching material for your unplugged lesson from it.

You may have noticed that each of these activities is very flexible and with an outcome that you can’t predict in any lesson plan but one that can easily lead to lovely discussions, discoveries, and full of potential for learning a lot in a context.

Challenge 1: how many flowers do you know that are blue? Can you name at least three? What do their names represent and what can we learn about them from their names?

Challenge 2: how many words do you know that are green and contain letters S and A?

Challenge 3: what colour is your name? Can you explain?

Enjoy words as you enjoy the world around and never separate those two. And if you need some inspiration, look for more colours!

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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:

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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!

Presenting Vocabulary – iTDi video

We intend to bring you samplers of the content from iTDi lessons that is related to the week’s blog topic.

This week. We bring you some content from Module 1 Presenting vocabulary: Lesson 2 Conveying meaning. This lesson was written for iTDi by Scott Thornbury, and forms part of the Teacher Development course.

Watch the video on our YouTube channel for better size options:

The actual lesson content is much more interactive than this video can convey. Visit our site for more details

Presenting vocabulary

Welcome to the ‘Presenting vocabulary’ issue of the iTDi blog. We bring you practical suggestions and tips from three of our most regular and renowned bloggers. We also present a video which demonstrates some activity content from the module on presenting vocabulary from the iTDi Teaching Skills Development course.

Chuck Sandy

The Vocabulary Masters –  Chuck Sandy

Steven Herder

Dream Students and the Rest of Us – Steven Herder

Vladimira Chalyova

The Colour of Words  – Vladimira Chalyova


Presenting vocabulary: Lesson 2 Conveying meaning

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