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Active Vocab Learning Challenges

This term has been hectic and has not quite turned out as I expected.  Nonetheless, despite all the unknowns and all the work the one constant and the one pleasing aspect to my role has been what has been going on in my classroom.  I make no bones about the fact that this article is going to have very little link to technology.  This does not mean that I have left technology behind.  On the contrary, I am still very much in favour of harnessing tools to enhance learning and marrying this with the most pertinent teaching methodology.  

In fact, methodology is where this blogpost begins.  With the demands of the new GCSE in mind I wanted and indeed, needed, to consider how best to enable my students to enlarge their vocabulary so that they could put it to use in writing and translation.  With Daniel Willingham’s Why Don't Students Like School in mind, I have worked hard to ensure that students have a large bank of words at their disposal so that they can build on this and apply it more critically in all sorts of ways.  Rote learning has come to the fore.  MOTs (more of the same) has been key so that HOTs (higher order thinking skills) can be more readily achieved.

Thus, lessons at the start of a topic have often centred around activities that allow for building vocabulary.  I am indebted to Fun Learning Activities for MFL by Jake Hunton for many ideas that have been implemented in class or for the basis of activities.  Who knew how a simple activity such as Jake's Bob-Up Classic which requires students to repeat vocabulary first in the TL, then in the English would be so well received by students, even those in Year 12 or 13?  Perhaps making them stand up before they respond and bringing in an element of competition (first person to bob up wins) has made the activity so popular.  Or, perhaps the very fact that they know that they are remembering these new words means that they are enjoying the activities.  They understand the purpose of the the activities and thus focus well on them.  Other activities from Jake's treasure trove of ideas include the marvellous Vocab Piler, where students write down six of their favourite words in the TL and in English. Then over the next 5-10 minutes they go round the room and listen to other students' six words,writing down any new ones they hear.  The students are always amazed at how many words they can recall after this process.

Key to success when embedding basic vocabulary is giving students as many opportunities as possible to learn and use the words. I like to create activities that use these new words in different ways.  Ultimately, I am aiming for students to be able to use the words in translation activities or a comprehension and speaking.  To this end, well-known games fit the bell really well.  Tabou is a particular favourite with my students.  The opportunity to explain a word without actually saying it and insisting that students do this within a time limit always goes down well. Students of all ages love this.  Pictionary has the same effect and if the words allow and time permits, then creating a game of Balderdash using recently acquired vocabulary could also be considered. 

I firmly believe in a variety of activities so that students don't become numb to the same old tasks. Amazingly, students enjoy old classics such as cover, write, repeat.  In fact, often when my students do this activity I give them the option to learn the vocab using Quizlet, or doing physical matching exercises with the print outs from Quizlet.  In this way, I am accounting for different learning needs.  In addition, I am also keen to get students moving.  The aforementioned Vocab Piler allows for plenty of movement as students collect info from their friends around the room.  Another activity that gets them moving and is loved by all age groups is what I call the Word Investigation.  The object is to collect new vocabulary that I have hidden around the room.  This activity can be set at different levels.  It could be a simple matching task where students have a set of English words and need to find the TL words, or they have some TL sentences and they have to explore the room to find the missing words which could be in the correct form, or in need of conjugating or agreement.  The options with this task are limitless and can be manipulated as the teacher sees fit.  

These are just some of the vocab activities I have undertaken this term, there are many more but just too many to mention here. The effort to be creative with these activities is beginning to pay dividends. Watching my Year 12 with another teacher recently, I was aware just how successful these tasks had been as my students accessed so many topic-specific words and even recalled the activity where they had first learnt them.  Their confidence has improved because they feel more able to contribute orally given that they had a variety of vocab to make use of.  Spending time helping students to learn vocabulary is not wasted; it is so much more important now give the new qualifications.  I shall certainly be continuing my drive to build knowledge in this way and I am very keen to hear how you do this in your classroom.  Let me know in the comments box below.


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