13 steps to successful vocabulary teaching


The following are the principles that underpin vocabulary teaching in schools.

  1. Select the vocabulary based on:How easy or challenging lexis is in terms of length, pronunciation, spelling, meaning, grammar, word order in a sentence etc.);

Frequency; Relevance to students’ interests, back-ground, culture/sub-culture;

Semantic relatedness (the more strongly semantically inter-related the target words are, the stronger the chances of retention)

If you do not make your own resources, especially if you are a novice teacher, it may be useful to draw a list of the words you intend the students to learn to ensure that systematic recycling does occur throughout the lesson.

  1. Decide which lexical items you are planning for students to learn receptively (for recognition only) and productively (for use in speech and writing) – ‘receptive learning’ being obviously easier.
  2. Decide on how deep your teaching of the target lexis will go:In other words, which level of knowing a word you are going to teach. Nation (1990) identified the following dimensions of knowing a word:

Learner knows:

    Spoken form of a word;

    Written form of a word;

    Grammatical behavior of a word;

    Collocational behavior of a word;

    Frequency of a word;

    Stylistic appropriateness of a word;

    Concept meanings of a word;

    Association words have with other related words.

  1. The number of words to select per lesson:This will depend largely on the students you are teaching and how systematically one wants the target lexis (every single item) to be recycled. There is a myth that one should teach 7+/- 2 words per lesson. This rule of thumb is based on a misunderstanding of Miller’s (1965) law which posits that Working Memory can only hold and rehearse 7+/-2 digits at any one time. But Working Memory span has nothing to do with how many words one can learn in a lesson. In my experience, with an able group (i.e. students with highly efficient working memories) one can aim at as many as 20-25 words/lexical chunks receptively (especially if the lexis includes cognates) and around 10 to 15 productively.
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