Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Teaching Vocabulary to ESL Learners

In my first meeting with potential new students, I do a Needs Assessment. This involves me asking a lot of questions and listening closely not only to the answers, but the accent, pronunciation, grammar, word choice, etc. I also ask the potential new ESL student to tell me what they feel their challenges are and what they want to learn. One of the toughest things I hear from new students is that they want to nearly new vocabulary.

“Vocabulary” is such a wide category of things to learn! Where do we start? When teaching vocabulary in an ESL classroom, the teacher often has a pre-set list of vocabulary words that the students must learn. Usually, at least some, if not all of the chosen vocabulary words will be new to at least some of the students.

For private, one-on-one tutors, choosing vocabulary to teach is more difficult. If you were to bring in a list of vocabulary words, it’s possible that the student may already know all the words. Then what do you do? Another challenge is finding vocabulary words that are relevant and useful to the ESL student.

My approach to teaching new vocabulary (usually) is to send the student an article (usually from Yahoo! News) that is interesting or relevant to the student’s life. It’s then the responsibility of the student to highlight (and preferably look up) any words or expressions or usages they do not know or are unsure of.

I also read the article beforehand and highlight the words or phrases that I think will be new to the student, or that I want to make sure they understand. Often, the student will miss some things, especially phrasal verbs, so I want to be prepared to ask the student about these. During class, we then discuss the vocabulary the student and I have highlighted. I check to see that the ESL student understands the definition and how to use the word or expression in a sentence and in context.


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