& Solutions - Lexis at Pre-Intermediate Level
I am going to look at the problems that my pre-intermediate students might have with vocabulary; identifying the problems and suggesting ways of overcoming the problems. I will begin the assignment with a brief introduction to vocabulary then I will go to look at some of the problems that students have with vocabulary and in particular multi-word verbs. I feel that my students need to be better equipped to deal with them before they go on to a higher level. The few multi-word verbs that the students have already encountered have been a challenge for them and I want to see how I can help them cope with multi-word verbs when they are dealing with texts inside and outside the classroom.
How important is vocabulary?
As teachers I think we often find it hard to keep up with the demands for vocabulary from our students. However, this can be used to our advantage: students are already motivated to learn vocabulary. On needs analysis forms vocabulary rates highly as a student need. In my own experience of teaching vocabulary I have found that, due to time constraints, vocabulary sections are often rushed through and often in end of year exams there is little emphasis on the vocabulary learned during the year.
Despite my students' enthusiasm for learning vocabulary, they often find it difficult to acquire vocabulary, which is a problem I hope to assess during this research into vocabulary in this assignment. I encourage my students to read and listen to as much English as possible outside the classroom. I feel there is no denying the value of exposure to 'comprehensible input' (Krashen 1983) in expanding students range of vocabulary. I feel, from my own experiences of learning Spanish here in Spain, that everyday exposure to L2 can help you to acquire language faster than having twice-weekly classes in your native country. The more advanced my Spanish becomes, the more I am able to infer new vocabulary through context.
What makes learning a word difficult?
Thornbury discusses how cognates are easier to teach and should be exploited. I often use cognates to explain or define vocabulary (without the need for translation) and I feel that it helps me speed up the class and provides clarity for my students. However, he advises us to be aware of false friends .
Factors, which inhibit a learner's ability to learn a word, are:
Pronunciation: Words that are difficult to pronounce are more difficult to learn, for example words with consonant clusters (for example, crisps, breakfast, asked). I have been training my students to record words with their phonemic script to help students remember pronunciation. I also find it helpful to show students how word forms change in speech, particularly with weak forms (at this low level) and connected speech patterns.
Spelling: Sound-spelling mismatches create lots of errors (for example, words with silent letters).
Length and Complexity: Long words are more difficult to learn than short words. Generally, high frequency words in English tend to be short.
Grammar: The grammar associated with the word. Thornbury cites phrasal verbs (multi-word verbs) as particularly confusing.
Meaning: Some words overlap in meaning. I find it useful to present different meanings in context.
Range, Connotation and Idiomaticity: Problems with cultural references and words with a narrow synonym range are more difficult to remember.
Of course, all of these factors are especially difficult for low level learners. Not only do they not have the vocabulary necessary to communicate fluently, but they have to contend with all the above factors. I feel they need to be gradually introduced to these factors to build confidence in our students.
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.
"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.
Course books often present multi-word verbs in lists with the same verb e.g. 'put' with various particles (put off, put up) or the same particle(s) with different verbs (break out, take out). Students are usually given a definition sentence and then expected to learn them by heart. It is widely known that students (and even teachers) do not like multi-word verbs. Students are often introduced to them from intermediate levels and up. Course books avoid them until this level and then suddenly students are exposed to massive amounts of them and expected to learn them (I refer to my experience of teaching First Certificate).
So why do students and teachers, alike, fear multi-word verbs? Side (1990) summarises the reasons as follows:
(I am using the term multi-word verb here to define phrasal verbs- with idiomatic meaning)
1) The combinations
of verbs and particles is confusing
(See appendix 2 for the types of phrasal/multi-word verbs)`
How Can We Teach Multi-Word Verbs?
Side suggests that teaching them in isolation should be avoided. Teachers should make connections to show a their context within the language "to show they are meaningfully idiomatic rather than meaninglessly random" (Side 2002: 150-1). He suggests grouping multi-word verbs lexically, for example, fill out, pad out, flesh out. Vocabulary, he says, is far more easily learned when it is understood in context. He cites Ttofi (1983) who says that we should look at multi-word verbs as they arise naturally in a text. Side also points out that, generally, the particle is an integral part of the meaning and that it is more useful to concentrate on grouping multi-word verbs by their particle rather than the verb which precedes it. The particle carries some, if not all, of the meaning. In most cases he says we can follow this rule and the exceptions are few and far between.
says that students probably do not learn phrasal (or multi-word) verbs
by learning the rules. He takes a lexical approach, which is based on
the belief that lexical competence comes from frequent exposure, consciousness-raising
and possibly memorising. He believes that the classroom provides lots
of exposure to 'lexical chunks' , for example, classroom expressions ("
I don't understand", "Can you repeat that, please"), and
that students will often learn chunks of language long before we present
the 'grammar' of the language. He also says that techniques for teaching
multi-word verbs often rely on a great deal of motivation from the learner
to read outside of class and look for, identify, and record new multi-word
verbs. Thornbury believes that teachers have a responsibility to try and
include as many multi-word verbs in their classroom language as possible.
He suggests we include common expressions such as put your hand up, look
it up, turn your papers over, etc to enable our students to have "exposure
to a rich diet of phrasal verbs" which can begin on Day 1 of the
teaching course (Thornbury 2002: 127).
Finally, I think there should be some discussion here about learner autonomy. Students have a responsibility for their own learning, and it may be helpful for the teacher to do learner training in their classes to encourage students (especially those who have been out of the education system for some years) to organise and record their work. Strategies should be taught to help students infer unknown vocabulary and, of course, teachers should do regular vocabulary recycling activities. Teachers should regularly ask students 'What did you learn from today's class?', 'Did you find this activity useful? Why/why not?' in order to negotiate with their learners and identify problem areas. It also gives students confidence and coming away from a class with some new and useful vocabulary, which they can then use again, is what students want (Ellis & Sinclair 1989).
My future aims are not only to experiment with vocabulary teaching methods in all my classes, but also to try and lose my anxiety over teaching multi-word verbs and train my students to be more confident when learning and using them. I aim to continue training my students to contextualise vocabulary and I aim to push my students more by introducing more vocabulary (for example, synonyms and idiomatic expresssions associated with multi-word verbs). I believe that my pre-intermediate students are ready to be introduced to the idea of multi-word verbs and hopefully they will already be familiar with them and have a good base of them before they become bombarded with them at FCE level!
G, Ellis &
B, Sinclair, 1989, Learning To Learn English: A Course in Learner Training,
Thornbury (2002: 77) presents a list that teachers can refer to for presenting vocabulary:
And whether to present the word in its:
Translation: Although Thornbury says it is probably the most direct route to explaining a word, and it is economica,l especially for coping with incidental vocabulary which crops up in a lesson, it could mean that learners "fail to develop a an independent L2 lexicon, with the effect that they always access L2 words by means of their L1 equivalents, rather than directly" (Thornbury 2002: 77). He also makes the point that if translation gives students the easy option they may not remember the word so easily because no cognitive effort is involved.
Real things: The technique of the Direct Method, which rejected the use of translation, is an approach which Thornbury says is particularly useful for teaching beginners and mixed nationality classes, where translation is impossible.
Pictures: Visual aids ( such as flashcards) can be created and used to both present and practise new vocabulary. Presenting pictures in a different order each time can help improve students' memories. Thornbury also says that it is important to let students work at their own pace.
Actions or gestures: Thornbury says this is useful for some vocabulary e.g. miming verbs or animals, but for more complicated or abstract vocabulary one may need to use other words or definitions to explain the word in question by:
Situations: This involves providing a scenario which clearly contextualises the target word or words.
There are four types of phrasal verbs:
Intransitive e.g. come to (recover consciousness).
Type 2: Transitive inseparable e.g. look into (investigate)
These verbs must take an object which always comes after the verb.
Type 3: Transitive separable e.g. put off (postpone)
The object can either come between the verb and the particle or after the verb. If we use a pronoun then it must go between.
Type 4: three-part, e.g. put up with (endure)
These are always
1) knowledge of
frequency of a word in language- the probability of encountering the word
in speech or print
1) To introduce
the following vocabulary: (stages 4 and 5)
2) To encourage students to infer the meaning of unknown vocabulary through context (stages 3, 4 and 5)
3) To introduce the concept of eight transitive inseparable multi-word verbs and encourage the students to create personal meaning from the verbs and draw their attention to the form of the verbs. (stage 5 & 7).
4) To highlight the word stress and connected speech patterns of the multi-word verbs (stage 6).
5) To give the students the opportunity to practise the new vocabulary at sentence level (stage 8)
1) To encourage
the students to use previously taught family vocabulary.
2) To expose the students to less structured, freer text material to build students' confidence in dealing with more complex listenings.
3) To give the students the opportunity to produce the language in a long speaking turn.
The students are
currently studying the English File 2 course book for elementary learners.
I feel it is a good level for them but sometimes (as they are quite a
strong group) I feel they need something a little more challenging. In
the past few lessons we have looked at adjectives for describing people
(including family vocabulary). In the next unit we will be looking at
some phrasal verbs.
There are nine students in the group. Six of them have been together from the beginning, two joined the group after a month (they were originally in my other group of the same level) and one of the students joined only very recently (about a month ago). In general, the group was very quiet. They used to lower their voices to a whisper when they did speaking activities but recently they have become more confident. They are generally a strong group in most areas and they usually do their homework. The attendance levels have been quite good, however, recently some students have been coming very irregularly. Recently the students have been using more English to communicate between each other and not only with myself, which I have been actively encouraging. The students are between the ages of 16 and 40. Four of them are students at school or at university and want to improve their English levels for the future and the other four work and need English for their jobs. Despite the age range of the students, they get on very well.
Ana: She started in a different group of the same level with me in October then changed to this group. She is one of the weakest in the class in most areas and I think this is due to the fact that she missed lots of classes when she was in the other group of this level. However, she is quite confident when speaking.
Cecilia: She has recently joined the class. She is a fairly confident student and her speaking is probably her strongest area. She needs to work on her grammar as she has not studied since school.
Guillermo: One of the youngest students. He is very enthusiastic and works very hard in class. He uses lots of English in class and often helps his partner or peer corrects. His speaking level is better than his listening. His writing is always carefully planned out and he tends to check for mistakes. He needs English for his studies and he also likes travelling.
Jose: Jose has only just joined the class and so far he seems to be coping well with the level. His speaking seems to be fairly strong but it is too early to comment on his grammar, listening and writing levels.
Iñigo: The youngest in the class. He is a fairly fluent speaker but tends to make lots of mistakes. He has lots of passive vocabulary knowledge. He has travelled to England with his school and wants to go back to London for a longer stay.
Matilde: The oldest in the class. She is very enthusiastic and attends the classes regularly. Although she is a fairly fluent speaker she has very 'hard' Spanish pronunciation (particularly /j/, /h/ and /r/). Her listening is quite strong. She loves travelling and occasionally needs English for her work.
Mercedes: She is very quiet in class but she has a good range of structures and vocabulary. She has to use English on the telephone and she frequently travels abroad. She sometimes struggles with the listening exercises. This maybe because she deals with mainly Italian speakers of English on the telephone.
Mouna: She is from Syria and so English is her third language after Arabic and Spanish. She has lots of Spanish interference when she speaks. She is a confident speaker but she often lacks sensitivity towards the other students and tends to answer for other students when I am asking individuals for answers. As this was starting to create a bit of a negative atmosphere among some of the class members, I have been very careful to let her know that she must let the others speak. She has lots of fossilised English errors and it is difficult, even in controlled practise, to get her to use grammar structures that we are doing in class. This is evident in her homework too, where she will use the structures that she feels are correct without following the model or example answer. She uses English quite often in her job.
Tatiana: She is repeating the level and has only recently joined the class. She seems to have a very low attendance so far. As she is Russian and also learning Spanish she has lots of Spanish interference when she speaks English. She is very hardworking in class and seems to take the classes very seriously. She often answers the questions that I direct at other students.
My students are quite a strong group at this level and I have started to introduce more challenging materials into the class. The book they are following (English File 2) is very controlled and gives the students security and guidance they need at this pre-intermediate level. However, for stronger students it is not challenging enough and the book and its structure become predictable. The students in this group are all planning to do the next level in the academy, which uses a different book (Cutting Edge Intermediate). I have used English File 2 with a semi-intensive group and then taken them through to the next level using the Cutting Edge course book and I found that there was a substantial jump between the two levels. Colleagues of mine have found the same and have advised me this year to push my students more towards the end of the File book. This is to prepare them for what is considered a fairly difficult change of levels. The Cutting Edge book is not as controlled and there is a lot more free practice with speaking activities and more difficult listenings. The students are often daunted by the new course book and the teacher of that level is often under more pressure to get the students up to the level. Phrasal verbs are a big part of the Cutting Edge vocabulary sections and in the next unit of English File 2 there is an introduction to some phrasal verbs. I wanted to introduce my students to multi-word verbs at this stage using a topic which I think they will be interested in i.e. the family.
I got my idea for the topic from Workout Pre-intermediate course book. At the end of the previous class we looked at family vocabulary and we have recently done a unit on describing people, using adjectives for personality. For this particular class, I wanted to provide realia for my students so I used photocopies of photos of my own family in the form of a family tree to make the task more personal for them. I also decided to use only transitive multi-word verbs so as not to confuse the students at this level. As the verb 'get on' is an intransitive verb I have decided to not give this explanation and use it as 'get on with + person' to avoid confusion. All the verbs take an object (pronouns and nouns) and are inseparable. I also added extra multi-word verbs (see appendices) because I did not want to use all of the verbs from the text in the course book (see appendix 9). I wanted to stage the introduction of the vocabulary very carefully without overloading the students with too much information and as the vocabulary has the added factor of being 'chunks' of vocabulary which follows a certain pattern I decided to limit the multi-word verbs to eight.
The practice stages
(stages 8 and 10) do not really have much of a communicative purpose.
I thought that the first practice stage (stage 8) is intended more for
cohesive purposes; to allow the students to practice the form and pronunciation.
I feel the students will naturally be curious about their classmates families,
so they will be listening to their partners (in both stages) without the
need to encourage them to listen for particular information. A quick feedback
question "Whose family is most similar to yours?" should be
sufficient to check the students were listening.
The students will be interested in the topic of the family as it is big part of their lives. They should be motivated by the pictures and information about my family as students often take an interest in their teachers' lives and the photos help provide a memorable reference for the vocabulary. The students will appreciate the introduction to multi-word verbs as they are often difficult for learners of English and their confidence will be boosted by their being able to produce the new vocabulary in talking about their family and the memorable reference of their family photos and the Royal family questionnaire (see appendix 7).
Problems and Solutions:
The students may get confused with question forms with multi-word verbs
(where there is no object e.g. Who do you look up to?).
We will not get to the reproduction stage (stage 10)
Students may forget to bring their family photos.
The students may find the listening too difficult.
Students may encounter other unkown vocabulary (especially those students
with a low attendance).
The students might not understand the meanings through the Royal Family
Generally it is expected that meaning is highlighted before form
when teaching vocabulary.
White board, board pens (red, green, blue and black), teacher's family tree (including copies of family photos), students' family photos, Royal Family questionnaire, worksheet with circles, copy of teacher's family tape script for each student (with definition exercise), cards with family vocabulary and stress marked, tape cassette recorder, tape cassette, overhead projector, overhead transparencies.
4: Introduce vocabulary
5 : Language
9: Feedback (optional stage)
Stage 11: Homework
Lesson materials & appendices