In defence of vocab lists

Gosh, what a brave title, I can hear you all hissing from here.

Before you actually start spitting at your screen, hear me out.

Yes, I would love my students to learn English through communication activities and masses of comprehensible input.

However in the real world I teach in a continental secondary school where marks count, if students don’t get an annual grade point average of over 12/20 they won’t pass the year, they may get into another school but will probably have to redo the year. So points count.

When I arrived in this school the head told me I would be expected to give vocabulary list every week, followed by a test on said list a week later. I walked the walk, but secretly grumbled the talk.

Recently I’ve changed my mind, for the following reasons

– the students like them: they don’t always admit it, but they find them reassuring.

-they install learning strategies and regular work: by spending time talking about how to learn at the start of the year, the students develop techniques that they can use in other subjects, like it or not, continental education is still based on rote-learning so giving vocabulary lists encourages skills the students need at school.

-they reward work: some of my weaker students only pass the school year thanks to their vocab results. This may shock you, however their efforts merit this in my opinion.

-good results in vocab tests increase self-esteem and motivation: so often a new student tells me they “can”t learn English, that they are “rubbish”. A couple of weeks later they realise that even they can get an 18/20 and basically, that’s how I get them on my side. They are so proud of their result, and of the positive comments I give them. Also weak students tend to have low word recognition so these lists go part way to rectifying this.

– they are an easy “base” from which to do some fun activities, bingo, tell a story using the vocab words, describe a word, battleships, and this great activity that I stole borrowed from tefl geek.

– they are expected by parents.

So, these are some of the reasons I tow, what is quite an unpopular line in TEFL, what’s your opinion?

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About fabenglishteacher

I've been teaching English for a few years now and this blog is part of my never-ending quest to make learning English more fun, and easier for my students.
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5 Responses to In defence of vocab lists

  1. I agree; I think vocab lists are an easy win for students and teachers. They provide clear evidence of hard work, in a very simple numerical form, which can help open up communication with parents when you have children who simply aren’t working. They’re also a very simple way to get parents involved with their child’s learning even when they don’t speak English, through “look say cover spell check”, which is an easy method for parents to use with their children.

  2. Douglas says:

    I agree completely. I think that there is a revolving door in the ESL world that just cycles through a lot of dogma about how you MUST teach that ignores the cardinal rule….there is no single method that alone will get the job done, so eliminating any strategy or method completely simply limits your capabilities. That is not to say that there are no bad ways to teach, far from it. However, on the subject of vocabulary, they are the bricks in what you hope will be a mansion of language will be built, so without them, your students are going no where fast.

  3. Pingback: How to learn Vocabulary – 7 simple ideas | Fab English ideas

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