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Vocabulary Notebooks –
Ways to make them work
by Robert Ledbury
- 4

In the classroom

Classroom time will need to be set aside to train students in the use of vocabulary notebooks. In addition, classroom activities can be designed in order to raise students ’ awareness of aspects of word knowledge and the value of revisiting new words to add more information about them.

Activity 1

Take a word into class and revisit it periodically, adding to the information about the word and building a classroom poster. The following example took place with a class of pre-intermediate level university students over a three week period.

Day 1

proud (adj)

gururlanmak (–a Turkish verb! typically Turkish students translate new words to the verb form–tell class next day)

Day 2

(to be) proud of sb/sthg

gururlanmak (recalling the English word receptively and we need “to be” and “of”)

Day 3


(to be) proud of sb/sthg

(recalling the English word productively)

Day 4


/ /

(the phonemic spelling)

Day 5

pride (n)

/ /

(the noun form)

Day 6


When I pass the Proficiency Exam I will be proud of myself. (a sample sentence from the class)

Day 7


I am proud to be a member of this class.

(proud + to infinitive from a student’s dictionary)

Day 8


I am proud that one of my students is at IUE.

(proud + “that”)

Day 9


Oh she won’t come, she’s far too proud.

(new meaning from student’s dictionary)

On days 1 to 4 recall is achieved and demonstrated to students by folding an A4 sheet of paper length ways. The new word is written on one side and the meaning is hidden underneath. By the end of two weeks students were fed up with this word proud, but they did not forget it and they new a great deal about it. They also learnt that when checking the meaning of a new adjective in the dictionary it is a good idea to check for related prepositions. The classroom poster serves as a model, and students can be set “research a word” homework that can be displayed in class for classmates to see.

Activity 2

A “vocabulary corner” can be set up in the classroom that includes notes on how to maintain a vocabulary notebook such as tips and sample pages either invented by the teacher or from previous students’ work. This again serves to show students that their notebooks are connected to the classroom.

A “word(s) of the week” section can be established that includes five headings: verbs, nouns, adjectives, phrasalverbs and collocations (or word partners). A shoe box with slips of paper or cards can be used for students to add new words to the word corner at the end of each week. The cards can be kept in the box and used for revision before tests, for vocabulary recycling activities and as Friday afternoon fillers. A similar activity can be found in Dictionaries by Jon Wright , an indispensable resource for teachers who are especially interested in vocabulary development.

An essential prerequisite for the successful use of vocabulary notebooks is the allocation of classroom time to vocabulary development and awareness raising. Training students in the use of vocabulary notebooks should be an integral part of the learner training strand of the curriculum. This will inevitably involve training teachers as well as encouraging cooperation between teachers who share classes. Students will benefit in a number of ways. Their ability to use a learner’s dictionary and their awareness of what a good learner’s dictionary can offer them will improve. Students’ word attack skills, their ability to guess meaning of unknown words from context and their constituent parts, will also improve. Whilst 100% “take up” may not be a realistic expectation, the application of principles such as those outlined above will ensure that many students will learn to appreciate the importance of learning and storing vocabulary systematically.

References .

Nation, I.S.P. (2001) Learning Vocabulary in a Foreign Language. C.U.P

Schmitt, N. & Schmitt, D. (1995) Vocabulary Notebooks: theoretical underpinnings and practical suggestions, ELT Notebook 49/2.

Wright, J. (1998) Dictionaries


Robert Ledbury has been involved in English language teaching in Turkey since 1987. He worked in various language schools in both İzmir and Ankara, including a period as Director of Studies at English Fast, Ankara. Between 1994 and November 2001 Robert worked for Oxford University Press as an Educational Consultant. Robert
During this time, as well as giving ELT related seminars and presentations all over Turkey, he regularly worked as a teacher trainer on Ministry of Education in-service training courses. Robert's qualifications include the UCLES Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults (DTEFLA), and the MSc in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Aston University. He joined İzmir University of Economics in March 2002.

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