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Creative ways to teach vocabulary
Here is the third extract from the latest British Council publication 'Creativity in the English Language classroom' edited by Alan Maley and Nik Peachey. In this chapter, Judit Fehér gives tips to teachers on how to integrate creativity into everyday classroom practice.
'In this chapter, I aim to give tips to teachers on doing just that: to integrate creativity into everyday classroom practice and typical language learning activities and exercises. I will use a framework of thinking that is used by many teachers around the world to think about and plan their lessons, namely:
Working with the language system:
- Presenting and practising vocabulary.
- Presenting and practising grammar.
- Improving pronunciation.
Working with skills:
- Developing speaking.
- Developing writing.
- Developing listening and reading.
While sticking to this familiar framework, I would like to show that small changes introduced step-by-step at different levels of teaching can gradually lead to a richer and more motivating, more creative learning environment for the learners and a more fulfilling, more rewarding teaching experience for the teachers.
With each typical classroom/course book activity discussed, I will use the following format:
- How is the activity normally done?
- What alternative do I suggest?
- How does the proposed change affect teacher and learner creativity?
- Adaptation, variation, extension. How can the idea be used in different ways?
Background to the activities
The activities in this chapter were designed with secondary and adult classes in mind and they are informed by a variety of current approaches including learner-centredness, holistic learning, Multiple Intelligences, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, humanistic teaching and task-based learning.
Presenting and practising vocabulary
When teaching vocabulary, we normally aim to help our students to connect the form of a word with its meaning so that they can get to the meaning if they come across the form (they see or hear the word) and that they can come up with the form (say it or write it) when they have the meaning in mind. When we present vocabulary, we provide the form, spoken and/or written, and give some guide to the meaning through a context, images, objects, mime, sounds and verbal clues or by creating a situation in which the meaning is clarified. This often calls for a lot of teacher creativity, as they try to find ways to clarify meaning without using the mother tongue, but the students can do some of this creative work.
From meanings to words
Students present meanings of words they don’t know in English.
- Give students an example of what we mean by different clues for the meaning of words. For example, if your topic is travelling by train, choose the word ‘train’, give a simple definition, imitate the movement and sound of a train and show students a simple drawing of a train.
- Ask groups of four to six students to write down in their mother tongue five words on your topic that they do not know in English but they think would be useful to know, e.g. station, ticket office, seat reservation, timetable, platform, written in students’ mother tongue.
- Ask groups to provide clues to the words they have chosen. They can use drama, mime, sounds, drawings, gapped texts, paraphrasing – anything but the mother-tongue word.
- Ask groups to give their clues, one at a time. For example, students in a group pretend to be trains while some students make sounds like a loudspeaker and they sing the tune you hear before railway announcements in your country for the meaning of station.
- Ask if another group thinks they have a clue for the same meaning. If there is a group with the same meaning, get them to give their clue, for example, “You can get on and off trains here”, or they show a picture they drew. Check with the first group if it is the same meaning.
- Ask students if any of them knows the English word, and ask them to say the word. If not, provide the word yourself. Get them to repeat the word and write it on the board.
- Continue like this, asking groups to repeat their clues from time to time and say the word, to recap.
If you have a specific list of words you need to teach, make a big poster/slide of the words in the students’ mother tongue and ask groups to choose the five they want to learn the most.
This technique can be used with any topic which students have some experience with and knowledge about.'
Extract from chapter 7, 'From everyday activities to creative tasks' by Judit Fehér in 'Creativity in the English language classroom'.
Read more extracts:
- How to develop a more creative climate in your classroom
- Ideas for using the coursebook creatively
- A creative approach to language teaching. A way to recognise, encourage and appreciate students' contributions to language classes
- Creating creative teachers
Download the complete book: 'Creativity in the English language classroom'.