As an English teacher, methods to promote vocabulary awareness are of huge interest to me. From a very early age, vocabulary skill determines a student’s access to information, and it remains related to success in a variety of academic, vocational and social contexts throughout their lives. Indeed, students who do not have sufficient vocabularies or word-learning strategies can go on to struggle in their education and careers.
Teachers such as myself are compelled to take a multi-faceted approach. Firstly, students must be presented with a thorough explanation of a word; aside from meaning, this includes spelling, pronunciation, grammatical patterns, collocations, affixes, and how it relates to other vocabulary. But a major challenge is to ensure that it stays memorised and usable. In order to do this, a teacher needs to engage multiple parts of a student’s brain.
For instance, the auditory part of the brain can be engaged by simply hearing the word in different contexts, or using strategies such as mnemonics to memorise it. We can engage students visually through flashcards and illustrations, or kinaesthetically through interactive games. Moreover, in learning how to use a dictionary effectively, writing their own definitions and teaching it to others, students can process new vocabulary in a multisensory manner. Intuitively, a particularly powerful way for students to internalise vocabulary is for them to discover it themselves. In guided discovery, a teacher leads pupils to the discovery of an item, but allows them to find and own it themselves.
It is paramount for teachers to equip students with strategies that they can take outside of the classroom and use independently. The goal is for students to take an active role in their education. If modelled well by the teacher, all the aforementioned techniques can become part of a student’s innate learning strategy.
Moreover, reading is an excellent way for students to develop independent learning processes, as they quickly learn how to infer details or guess word meaning from context. It is an unparalleled way to expose students to a large variety of words, much greater than is possible in everyday speech. Hence, reading at a suitable level, in which there are around 5-10 new words per page, is a great way for students to start owning the process of vocabulary acquisition.