Ways of recording new words

More often than not, we see our learners struggle with the new vocabulary and seem to easily forget it despite their good intentions. They spend hours and hours learning the new words, i.e., their spelling, meaning, synonyms or derivatives and they end up remembering half of them or even worse they’re not able to use them correctly. What is more, they demonstrate a remarkable ability to recognize words rather than produce them as is the case.

Given the fact that short-term memory can hold new information up to a few seconds, it is no wonder why learners forget or make the same mistakes. Successful retention is highly determined by the level of difficulty of the new input, by its equal distribution in terms of time and amount and by recycling it. The non-observance of any of these impedes long-term storage so learners have issues with word-retrieval in many aspects. Some of these issues are mother tongue interference, the use of false friends or wrong use of phrasal verbs or idioms to name but a few.

With the teacher’s continuous guidance and motivation, students can learn how to take control of their own vocabulary learning, which is one of the skills required to become an autonomous learner as well. Thus, it is important to show them various ways of recording new lexis preferably at the beginning of the new academic year in order to help learners organize the words they learn and be able to recall and use them in the long-term.

As soon as they familiarize themselves with the different techniques and feel confident enough to use them, then they can decide which techniques suit them better and meet their needs more. Here are some of the ways of recording new lexis which my students prefer using as well and have been proven quite effective in practice.

1. Word cards

Word cards can be used in different ways, e.g. write the word on the one side of the card and the meaning with or without an example on the other, or provide a synonym or an opposite or even stick a little picture. They can also be used in pairs or in groups for peer teaching so that learners can teach each other or for revision purposes. Using word cards facilitates learning and storage since they promote personal involvement.

2. Visuals

Due to the fact that the mind creates vocabulary webs according to their topic, a learner can also organize new lexis using trees, word webs or diagrams, i.e. using a visual. Moreover, grids where learners have to write hyponyms, synonyms or opposites according to the lessons’ needs involves students in the learning process and facilitates memory storage, too.

3. Mnemonics

Learners can remember better what they learn using some popular ways, like rhymes, acronyms or the Keyword technique. The Keyword technique is when you substitute the original word with a word or words which have a similar sound and then you associate them with a picture. So teaching learners how to remember new input using the mnemonics that suit them more, maximizes vocabulary retention to a great extent.

4. Topic vocabulary

This technique is particularly useful after they have worked on an article or done a speaking task and then the learners have to organise the key vocabulary according to the topic(s) discussed.

5. Personal dictionaries

This alphabetical word organization is versatile because learners can add more meanings to the words or examples or modify them accordingly during a course. It is a great tool for revision and a way for the learner to check what s/he has learnt so far. The dictionary can also be an electronic one using a word document or google docs so that learners are encouraged to have access to more frequently as well as edit it fast and easily.

The techniques above can easily be adapted and used for different levels always with the teacher’s guidance and support. They can be simplified to a great extent for lower levels or use a combination of them for the same vocabulary for higher levels. Taking control of one’s own learning requires hard work and perseverance. Therefore, teachers should introduce their learners to the ways of recording vocabulary the earliest possible so that they can immerse themselves in these practices. The more they learn how to make use of them the more they will acquire new lexis and the more motivated they will feel about their own learning.


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