Personalized Vocabulary Exercise

Personalize Voc Image

Which of these two sentences below would be more fun for you to answer?

1) What is one significant event that happened in the world this past year?

2) What is one significant event that happened to you this past year?

Which of those two sentences would be more fun for you to hear your friend answer?

Which of those two sentences would be more likely to help you internalize the word “significant”?

It seems that the second one tends to be much more stimulating for students to answer.  And, on top of that, it seems be the type of question which will help students retain the meaning of the word.

A few years ago, I started to add an additional vocabulary exercise titled “Applied Vocabulary” to the more traditional ones that I was assigning my students.  In this, each new vocabulary word is embedded in a personal question about the students’ lives and experiences.  For example:

-With whom did you interact before you came to class today?

-When you were in high school, did your parents give you a lot of autonomy? Explain.

– Smoking cigarettes is prohibited in most high schools. What is something else that is prohibited in high schools in your country?

-With whom have you had a conflict recently (e.g., parents, boss, a girlfriend,a roommate)? __________________ Briefly tell what the conflict was about.

-Choose the things that seem inconceivable to you:
___ There will be no more wars in the world.
___ I will live in a foreign country for most of my life.
___ I will get married.
___ I will be rich enough to own several homes.
___ I will have a lot of children.
___ I will retire from work before I am 50 years old.
___ I will be a performer in a movie.
___ (Write one more thing about your future that is inconceivable to you.)

-Do you think that the method that your parents used to raise you is consistent with how you would raise your own children? _______ Explain.

-Complete this sentence: Recently, I feel insecure about _________________________ .
a) my financial situation
b) my grade in this course
c) my future
d) other: ___________________________________

Although I can’t prove empirically that this type of personalized exercise improves students retention of a word’s meaning, I have noticed an improvement in the average score on vocabulary quizzes.  (Perhaps the quality of student entering my class is just higher than previous terms, and thus, their scores were higher.)

Passive Vocabulary

Naturally, we want to build up students’ passive vocabulary, i.e., vocabulary words that they can understand when they read or hear them (as opposed to “active vocabulary,” which they can apply in speaking and writing).  And, to acquire a new word, they need to experience the word in several different contexts.  These personalized vocabulary questions present an opportunity for students to experience them in many different contexts because the questions are not only fun to answer but also enjoyable to hear how others have answered them.

As with most reading-skill instructors, the vocabulary items that I work with come from a reading passage.  (See link to the type of vocabulary to teach Don’t Wastes Students’ Energy Teaching Certain Types of Vocabulary Words in Reading Class. )

Depending on the specific goals of the reading course, I often include a small-group discussion component about the reading passage.  (See an example of this Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Parts 3 & 4: Discussion and Writing aspects)  and Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Part 2 of 4: Reading aspect)).  After they have discussed the reading passage, the final step is to discuss what they wrote in response to the personalized vocabulary questions.

I’ve noticed that when groups reach this point in their interactions, they seem to enjoy the change from the more “intense” discussions about the content of the reading passage to the almost lighthearted exchanges about vocabulary words that included their personal experiences. 

And, on top of that, they are hearing the new vocabulary word in as many different contexts as there are members in their group.

David Kehe

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