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Problems & Solutions - Lexis at
Pre-Intermediate Level
by Emma Worrall
- 2

Ways of Teaching Vocabulary

Taylor (1990: 3-4) presents seven criteria, which describe 'what it is to know a word' and she believes that we can begin to use these criteria in the classroom (see appendix 3) by introducing students to them a few at a time.


Taylor says that learners remember best the words that they have heard many times and have uttered themselves (she suggests that choral repetition can be useful here, but only when meaning has already been established). I agree that personalising vocabulary also helps students remember vocabulary and I often ask students to record sentences which have 'meaning' for them. Taylor (1990: 41) says "where possible we should relate new meanings to our learners' own experiences". She suggests that incorporating several of her seven aspects of 'knowledge of a word' when teaching vocabulary. I must admit I have been reluctant to try all these with my pre-intermediate students for fear of 'overloading' them with information. Gairns and Redman (1986: 17) argue that low level learners "should be spared lexis that is superfluous to immediate need, or involves conceptual difficulties that may not easily conveyed without using language of comparable complexity". However, if you have a strong group, I see no harm in challenging. Taylor also discusses the 'communicative teaching' of vocabulary as a way of presenting new items:

"When we 'do' a reading passage with our students, surely we are teaching vocabulary? Sadly, in many classrooms this is not the case. Encountering and 'understanding' a word are seldom enough: as with meeting people, there needs to be depth and interaction for the encounter to be memorable" (Morgan & Rinvolucri 1986: 4).

Taylor says that we may prefer, before doing a reading or listening, to pre-teach vocabulary which may cause difficulties. This can be done by 'pre-familiarisation' or by 'post-familiarisation'. Pre-familiarisation is when we establish 'sense' by encouraging students to look at the topic first then move on to the 'item' of vocabulary. Post-familiarisation is the opposite process. The 'item' is given before sense. I decided to use a 'top-down' approach in my lesson, using the technique of post-familiarisation- they will be encouraged to work out the sense for themselves.

The importance is on giving learners time to assimilate the vocabulary, which was the thinking behind my lesson plan. I wanted to carefully stage the lesson so that the students would be able to 'get to grips' with the vocabulary before they can confidently use it in a 'meaningful' way. Thornbury (2002) suggests, as does Taylor, that personalisation is important when teaching vocabulary, for example, written sentences and ranking vocabulary in order of preference (see appendix 1 for Thornbury's list of ways of presenting vocabulary).

I feel it is especially important to present vocabulary in a variety of ways. Often the course books we use have a method or set way of presenting vocabulary and there is a danger of the students getting used to the routine, and therefore we need to challenge them more and put more pressure on their abilities to memorise words.

Teaching Multi-Word Verbs

A muli-word verb = a verb + one or more particles, for example, give up- she gave up smoking (she stopped smoking)

A particular problem for my students has been the use of multi-word verbs. They have only met a few in the course book but I have noticed that they were lot particularly happy with them (and may be with my presentation of them). As my lesson is aimed at teaching multi-word verbs I want to look more closely at the problems that teachers have teaching them and students have learning them. I feel that my students need to be able to use 'real' language in the classroom. My pre-intermediate group are now at the stage where they are learning 'chunks' of language to communicate. I want to build on this and I feel that introducing multi-word verbs is a good way of providing students with 'usable' language. At this level the students do not have the language they need to communicate effectively and at this level (and indeed above) they often rely on latinate words to help them to communicate, which often makes them sound unnatural. They do this because either they do not know the multi-word verb equivalent, or they are afraid of misusing multi-word verbs.

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