Vocabulary in reading texts
What do you do when a student asks
you a question about vocabulary when everyone is doing a silent
There are several options:
a.you could explain directly
to the student.
But then you've got to ask yourself whether it is necessary
for the task at hand? If it is then someone else may ask as
well & you could then find yourself explaining the same word
ten times! (If you had predicted beforehand that it was necessary
you could have pre-taught the item - along with any other
items you pre-taught. Careful with pre-teaching though - if
there is a large number of unknown crucial words that the
stds don't know then perhaps the text is not suitable in the
first place.) If the std who asked the questions is lacking
in confidence or a weaker member of the group then you might
b. you could stop everyone reading
irregardless of where they are & explain to everyone.
This might be necessary if you suddenly realise that you hadn't
anticipated very well & all will need to know the meaning
of the word . However, it is very distracting for everyone
- for those who have not yet got to the section in the text
where the word is or for those who have passed that point
because they already knew it or decided it wasn't necessary
for the task at hand. You do want your stds to be able to
cope with texts on their own as you won't always be there
to explain words when they have a problem. They need training
in dealing with the unknown - in this case either by ignoring
the word or working meaning out from the context. A meaning
from context activity could come after the reading tasks.
c. you could ask the std to
ignore it & carry on with the task at hand.
The std might feel frustrated but do explain why you take
this approach - this policy towards vocabulary whilst the
stds are on-task. Explain your policy on vocabulary before
beginning the activity. Don't forget to pick up on the word
at the end of the activity/stage. At the end of the reading
you could ask the stds to find a couple of interesting-looking
words that they don't know the meaning of & do a dictionary
activity or see if anyone else can explain - if not then you
can then explain. It could go on though - possibly give it
as a task for homework.
Try to anticipate your stds
& then decide on courses of action - look hard at the vocabulary
in the text & decide which items need pre-teaching, which
will be known, which can be ignored & which you'll look at
in the meaning for context activity. The preparation will
The message here is to be consistent & principled, and explain
your policy to the stds.
to the contents
a communicative purpose
Imagine this scenario: The stds are
working in pairs exchanging information on charts, that they
keep secret from each other, through questions & answers -
an information gap activity. The language area is the present
simple for talking about daily habits - What time does Peter
get up? etc.. There are a list of people & their habits to
talk about. Std A asks, listens to the answer & then writes
it on their charts. Then it is Std B's turn.
When they have completed filling in the missing information
the activity is finished. The teacher has been round listening
in & correcting. All are happy & on to the next stage/activity.
How about taking it a bit further? Ask yourself why they are
filling in the charts. OK, to practice the target language.
But what about providing a 'communicative purpose' - a 'real/pretend'
purpose to the task. This is like a jigsaw activity - bring
the parts together to discover the whole. In this case the
purpose could be to find out who is the laziest in the list
of people discussed i.e. by working out how long they spend
in bed through the time each goes to bed & gets up. (This
could also be made even more interesting by using the stds
themselves & discover who is the 'laziest in the class - the
stds mingle & fill in a chart -Name/Time get up/Time go to
bed - for each std - personalised practice!) Another purpose
might be to find out which of the people are similar - a kind
of dating agency.
Don't forget to tell the stds the aim - the purpose - before
they begin the activity! It all adds more interest & motivation
to a practice activity. It certainly requires a bit more thought
from you the teacher to think up the 'pseudo-communicative'
purpose & then design the activity but it is worth it. And
hang on to the activity to use another time!
Back to the contents
Working with the Board 1
Have you ever wondered how you could tidy up your board work?
Stand back & take a critical look at it. Do you plan what
you're going to put on the board when you write your lesson
plan? Why not ask your students what they think? After all,
they're the ones it is designed for! And also ask a colleague
At the beginning of each lesson put a line down the left-hand
side of the board & use that space for all the vocab & language
that 'crops up' during the lesson. E.g. a std asks you for
a word unconnected to the lesson or you correct a language
point that isn't the main concern of the lesson - write up
the correct version in the left-hand column. Use the main
space for the boardwork that you have planned at each stage
- & don't forget to clean the main space at the end of each
stage if it isn't necessary later on. At the end of the lesson
go through the 'crop up language' in the left-hand column.
The say 'Garbage in, garbage out!' & that's very true here.
If the board work's messy then it will probably be twice as
messy in the stds notebook. If your stds are copying something
from the board don't forget to go round & make sure they've
got it down correctly - it can be surprising what they have
copied! And if you can get a range of colours to use .catch
the eye & reach the brain!
the Past Teaching Tips