Fun Fun Vocabulary Building

If you’ve learned a language yourself, you know what a struggle learning vocabulary is. Although it makes up the core of a language, it can take hours upon hours of using flashcard apps like Anki or Memrise to feel like you’re making the tiniest bit of progress. These apps have a second problem, too – they’re largely for disciplined, older learners and definitely aren’t what kids think of as fun or engaging.

When it comes to vocabulary acquisition though, explicitly teaching words like this isn’t the only way or even the best way. In this post, we’ll go over some other (fun!) ways to really plant new words deep into the brain.

1. Wide reading

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It’s no surprise, but reading – and reading a lot – is one of the best ways to encounter new words. In fact, by simply reading a language learner can encounter way more vocabulary words than they could hope for by receiving explicit instruction in a class. Through reading, the learner can also reinforce that vocabulary by seeing it over and over, and reading it in different contexts. Reading is also a lot more fun than trying to do flashcards – there’s nothing to lose!

2. Read Out Louds, Audiobooks, etc

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This is a great choice for learners who aren’t strong at reading, or, well, just don’t like actually sitting down to read much. As long as the language used is high-quality (meaning, it contains more high-leveled vocabulary and grammar structures than just conversational English), students have the opportunity to acquire lots of new vocabulary words. Personally, I like listening to podcasts with really meaningful topics – even in English (which is my native language) I find that I can still learn tons of scientific vocabulary.

3. Word Learning/Recognition Strategies

If you had to do any sort of standardized test or test prep, you’ll know the usefulness of learning things like word roots, prefixes, and suffixes. In the same way, learning such parts of speech can help students acquire and easily recognize new vocabulary.

4. Build Consciousness to Words

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Hey, do you know how old an onion is? Five (오년)

What happened to the three cats that crossed the river? Un, deux, trois cats sank.

What is turtles favorite food? Cherry pie (черепахи)

Super lame puns like these are one of my favorite things to both learn and teach languages. They’re easy to remember and develop an interest in words. Of course, you don’t have to only use dad jokes to build word consciousness! Think about incorporating things such as riddles, poems, and anagrams into your vocabulary building as well.


Those are some of our favorite ways to learn, teach, and most importantly, retain vocabulary both in and outside of a classroom setting. Do you have any other ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

Soft Skills in the Secondary ESL Classroom

Listening, reading, speaking, writing, grammar . . . these are all skills that every secondary-education English teacher tries to improve in their students. However, being a teacher is more than just teaching the skills involved in a subject; it’s also about equipping students with the life skills they need to be successful members of society. Unfortunately, there are seldom any classes that teach these skills, but the good news is that we, as teachers, can incorporate them into our everyday lessons. In today’s blog post, we’ll look at some auxiliary skills—or soft skills— that high-school and middle-school teachers can subtly incorporate into the flow of their usual classes.

A quick note before we begin: this article is intended to simply bring awareness to the need for these skills. Readers might find themselves wondering just, how, exactly, to effectively teach them to their students. While this article will give a few tips, each one is a topic in its own, about which an entire book could easily be written! Fortunately, GIFLE often holds training related to these topics and more, so we encourage readers to keeping checking this blog for further teaching tips and advice – or better yet, enroll in some of our trainings!

Note-Taking Skills

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In my previous job, I was tasked with helping students deliver a speech for a school competition. To this end, I gave them a variety of words that I thought would be helpful in accomplishing their goal. “If I were you,” I’d say, looking over the rims of my glasses to drive the subtle hint across, “I’d use these words in your speech to maybe get a few extra points on your final score.” Then I watched as the students, instead of writing the words down, continued to stare straight ahead, slack jawed. During the students’ final presentations, probably one student among the whole sophomore class used any of the words I taught them (and that student got a pretty high score, incidentally).

Later, when test time drew near, I was tasked with overseeing student self-study sessions. It was during this time I noticed something curious: not one student studied from a notebook. Studying was done either by pouring over highlighted textbooks or grinding through multiple-choice problems in their practice books. It hit me then: my students didn’t know how to take notes. Or, if they did, they weren’t convinced of the skill’s usefulness.

Taking notes is such an important habit for students to have. As a former language student, myself — having logged in over 3,000 classroom hours studying Modern Standard Arabic — I can tell you that there are so many grammar points, words, and tips that might be helpful to one student, but not to another, and test-practice books alone cannot account for these. Students need to be encouraged to actively listen and be ready to take (and later review) notes in order to tailor their study to their particular needs.

What’s more, this is a skill that is not only useful for English, but for any skill. For example, anyone who’s studied taekwondo, for instance, can likely recall a time they were taught a technique, only to attend class the following week to find themselves asking, “wait, how did that move go?” Similarly, anyone with a busy schedule knows they need to write their meetings and appointments in some kind of planner, or they’re bound to forget an important event. Whether it’s English, taekwondo, or business, note taking is a skill teachers need to encourage in their students.

How does one teach that skill? Well, that can be a complex topic best covered in another post, but a good place to start can be to make sure your students come to every class with a notebook and pencil. When you teach a point that you think is particularly important or useful, tell them to write it down!

Personal Accountability for Assignments

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I used to teach a lesson about riddles. Students would spend one class period thinking, in a team, of abstruse clues regarding an object of their choice. They would write these clues down, then present them in the following period in a sort of class competition. Sometimes students would lose the papers on which their riddles were written. My solution? Tell them “tough luck.”

I’ve noticed this with other activities as well. Any time I’ve had a class that required students to bring in a paper (or other item) a following class session, several (or sometimes many) forgot. This shows a real lack of organization and responsibility in high school students . . . which is to be expected in teenagers, of course! However, that’s why we need to teach them responsibility now, so that today’s high school students don’t end up becoming tomorrow’s businesspeople who forget to bring important documents to meetings, or paramedics who forgets to bring important pieces of life saving equipment to emergencies.

To this end, I encourage teachers to resist the temptation to manage students’ materials. Often, teachers prefer to collect ongoing assignments (book reports, projects, etc.) and return them for students to work on in subsequent classes, since this insures students will be able to use class time productively (or, in the case of written assignments, that they don’t have their friends do the work for them). However, this doesn’t build habits of responsibility. Instead, it makes students think that, even if they forget something important, there will always be someone to cover for them.

Of course, it’s easy to talk about this, but when a student shows up in class with nothing to do, it’s much harder to enforce it in reality. Therefore, it’s good to have a backup plan for forgetful students. For example, if a student forgets a report they’re working on, have them try to their best to continue it in class, then later re-write it on the original paper. At the same time, don’t be afraid of awkward moments. If a team forgets presentation material? Well, then they have to try it from memory, and if it doesn’t go well, let it be a lesson for how the real world works.

Confidence and Risk Taking

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The famous American baseball player Babe Ruth once said that we miss 100 percent of the shots we don’t take. Well, Korean students often use the opposite idea: We never give a wrong answer if we never participate. This is an unfortunate philosophy by which to live life. While there’s something to be said for the “better safe than sorry” outlook on life (ask anyone who’s been injured in a fireworks accident), it also means they miss out on a lot of potential life opportunities, and in class this will mean that students, out of fear of appearing foolish to their classmates, seldom volunteer.

But how does a teacher help inspire confidence in students? Unfortunately there’s no easy answer for this; (GIFLE’s Level One teacher training last month centered around this very issue, in fact!) but a good place to start is to try to create a classroom environment that allows mistakes. I often tell students that shy people seldom make history, and that sometimes being successful means doing things wrong once in a while. If a student’s answer is wrong, I might take a moment to explain why the answer might have seemed right to them when giving corrections. For example, if a student makes a pronunciation mistake, I’ll tell them “yes, a ‘p’ usually makes that sound, but when paired with an ‘h,’ the sound changes to that of an ‘f,’” instead of simply telling them “no, that’s wrong.”

Of course, this isn’t to say you have tell every student every time that every effort is a good effort. Sometimes they need to be told to get their heads out of the clouds and focus! That’s our next topic.

Attention to Detail

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Many ESL teachers will tell you not to focus too much on minor grammatical mistakes, as fear of making mistakes discourages students from speaking or writing their own English (see above). There is a lot of truth to this: if a student has to pause every time to consider if they need a definite or indefinite article before a noun, it can really slow down the speaking process.  However, there are also times when students should be made to consider some of the finer details of their English. This is because students often have a habit of being hasty and overlooking certain small, but important points. For example, in their writing, they might forget to capitalize their names, or place a period at the end of a sentence. What’s more, they seldom take time to proofread any pieces of English writing they submit to the teacher. These instances and more provide opportunities to teach students to put effort into the quality of their work.

This is an important life lesson for students. Again, bad habits in school can lead to bad habits as an adult. A student who doesn’t take time to check to see if the first word in every sentence is capitalized might later become a doctor who forgets to check if his patient is allergic to any medications, or an accountant who doesn’t take time to check her math.

So when it comes to certain, basic, English concepts, don’t be afraid to make sure your students are paying attention to the little things once in a while.

Wait! What About …

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Critical thinking? Citizenship skills? The ability to draw a realistic-looking cat? Yes, all of these and more are valuable soft skills for students to have, and there are many more you might be able to think of, as well. The above items are just four examples to consider when teaching your students. Remember, our job isn’t just to create English speakers, but future leaders, as well.

Random Student Selection: Importance and Methods

When you teach class, how do you select students for giving answers? Do you ask a question and then move on when the smartest student in the class shouts the answer? Do you ask for volunteers, then just say the answer yourself when no one replies? Well, in this blog post, we’ll give you a few pointers for how—and why—to select students to answer your questions. 

The importance of student selection 

One problem with the methods above is that they don’t target the students who need the most help. This can be a big issue. When you simply ask a question in class and continue when several students shout the answer, or when the “smart” students in class volunteer, there are likely some students who don’t understand. It’s important, then, that you have methods for choosing not only the most proficient or the most confident, but also the ones you don’t always hear from. 

Selection methods 

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Now that you realize the importance of selecting students, how do you do it? First of all, note that randomness is important. If you always choose the students that struggle with your questions, those students might feel embarrassed, while the other students will feel ignored or cheated out of the opportunity to participate. By randomly selecting students, you can insure everyone has a chance to participate, and no one feels discriminated against.  

Now don’t worry. You don’t need any fancy pieces of software, or a spinning dartboard to choose students … although, if you want, you can find plenty of random number generation websites online, and sometimes a fun prop can add a bit of flavor to a class. In my experience, an easy way is to have a student choose a number between one and 10, or to use the day’s date, to arrive at a “number of the day.” Then count that number of students, and the final one will be the one who answers your question. While this isn’t truly random, it’s a quick way of selecting “volunteers” free from bias. Of course, if you use this method, attentive students will be able to predict the next student to be selected, but that’s fine, since it allows them to prepare accordingly. 

Also, it should be pointed out that random selection of students isn’t always good. It’s important to, at times, allow vocal and confident students to volunteer, and that does mean they will end up participating a bit more than other students. This is fine. It means they’re enjoying the class and this should be encouraged … but you shouldn’t forget about the other students who might need some extra help.  

One method of student selection that isn’t particularly helpful is having students choose the next student to answer. While this might sometimes add some fun to class (students will feel like the KING–or queen–OF THE CLASSROOM!!!)  it also results in only a small group of friends participating in class … or, worse yet, gives students the ability to bully other students by selecting ones they know will feel ashamed. Use this strategy sparingly.  

Special strategies for low-level students 

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Sometimes there are students who, when selected to give an answer in class, take a long time. This can make some teachers feel awkward or feel like it’s slowing the class down. There are several ways around this problem, though. 

The first solution is to not be embarased when this happens. Encourage the student to take his or time and let it be known that you’re comfortable with it. If you’re comfortable, they’ll be comfortable, and it lets students know that they don’t have to be pressured to come up with an answer instantly.  

Another way to deal with slower-processing students is to give them time to prepare in advance. Sometimes, I’ll choose two students at a time, with the first one giving the answer, and the other student being “on deck”—that is, preparing to answer the next question. This gives that student time to think and prepare. Then, once it’s that student’s turn, another student is put on deck. This way, every student will have a chance to prepare their answers a little ahead of time.  

In the event you’ve done all of the above strategies, and your student still has a hard time answering, you can make the question easier by giving them an easier version of the task. For example, if their task is to read a paragraph aloud from a book, you can simplify it by having them read one or two sentences or, if that happens to be too much, a single word. Having students choose one of two answers can also help. For example, if the question is “What animal is this?” and the student hesitates, you can prompt him or her by asking, “Is it a bird or a cat?” 

And if none of the above startegies work? Well, welcome to the world of teaching, where sometimes you can do everything right, and some things still won’t work. But again, the most important part is that you appear comfortable with the situation … even if you’re sweating like an ice cream bar on a hot summer day. 

Or, you can just close your laptop, put on a Hawaiian shirt, tell everyone you’re quitting, then book the next available flight to Bali. 

In all seriousness, though, teachers should resist the temptation to simply give up on certain students. Participating in class is important preparation for students’ lives beyond school. Life’s responsibilites don’t make exceptions, so you shouldn’t either. On the other hand, it’s also important for them to know that, while they might not be the best in class, there’s still a place for them, and they can still contribute in their own way.  

Conclusion 

The idea of making sure all students participate, even those of lower proficiency, can sometimes be easy to ignore. But what good is it to anyone if a student manages to “slip under the radar” for the majority of his or her education, then graduates without knowing the basic information needed for success? So don’t forget to take time now and then to slow things down and call on specific students to make sure everybody has the opportunity to learn.