Vocabulary Lesson Number One: Know Your Students

[Taylor]

Shortly after completing my introduction lesson, one of the teachers I work with wanted me to get started on developing other lessons.  She put me in charge of developing activities that would help students learn a specific list of vocabulary words.  It was a challenge.  I had to find an interesting way to introduce such unrelated words as best, soft, and fill into a single fifty minute period.

Warm-up, pt 1

I decided during my first lesson that I would start the class off by playing a game of 2 Truths and a Lie.  For those of you not familiar with this icebreaker, you basically have the students pick three statements to write about themselves.  Two of the statements are true and one is an absolute lie.  They share the statements and guess which one is not true.  In my experience it has been a consistently effective icebreaker, until last week.  I had a rather unruly class with low motivation and English speaking ability.  After I explained the game and turned them loose to create their statements, they just sat in their seats in silence.  The JTE and I tried to encourage them (in English and Japanese), but it just wasn’t going to happen.  We decided to move on.

Transition Activity

I decided that a word search would be an ideal way to introduce a random assortment of vocabulary to the students.  If you go here you can create your own word search free of charge.  This part of the lesson worked well.  The students were engaged in the activity.  I also gave out prizes (pennies) to the first five students to finish.

Heart of the Lesson

The students had a major exam coming around the corner so I wanted to make sure we hit the definitions of the new words hard.  I explained the meanings in the most interesting ways I could using a combination of pantomiming, photographs, and drawing on the chalkboard.  Thankfully my JTE was also there and willing to translate these definitions into Japanese.

After we went through the list, which took twice as long as anticipated, I told the students to write five sentences using the new words.  In a classroom of about 40 students, only three to five actually wrote something.  Although this class is extremely difficult behaviorally (stemming from experiences they had in junior high which I will refrain from dwelling on), their English ability is currently low.  I tried to push them too far and lost them.

Adaptations

One of the great things about teaching is you always get a second opportunity.  I tweaked a few of my procedures for the next class.  First, I dropped 2 Truths and a Lie from the lesson (except for the advanced class) and instead had them make nametags for their desks in English.  I also allocated a longer period of time to go over the definitions and retooled the sentence idea (again, advanced class excepted).  Instead of creating five sentences from scratch, I created five sentences myself.  In each sentence I left out a key vocabulary word.  The students’ task was to pick the missing word.  For example:

I ate _________  much ramen.

  1. too
  2. seldom
  3. fresh
  4. soft

Too easy?  Probably not.  After talking with my teacher I discovered that learning through definitions is a new concept for these students.  I wanted an activity that focused more on the meaning of the words than sentence structure.  However, for those who breezed through the first five sentences, I also left space for them to create their own sentences using the words in the new list.

I found that these adaptations made for very successful lessons.  The students had fun, participated, and were challenged.

The Lesson of Lesson Planning

Know your students.  Although it was initially frustrating that my first lesson didn’t go as well as I hoped, as an educator it is not my job to complain about my students’ abilities.  You have to meet them where they are.  My job is not to create crafty wordsmiths and English conversation artists; it’s to help them improve their current skills and abilities and hopefully instill motivation to continue learning English in the years ahead.  Now that I know more about my students I can begin implementing lessons that are practical and relevant to their lives.

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2 Responses to “Vocabulary Lesson Number One: Know Your Students”

  1. Hanna Says:

    I really enjoyed this blog entry, Taylor, (and all the rest as well) because it helps me to understand what you and Julie are experiencing. I think the students are fortunate to have a teacher who cares and tries this much. Way to go, man. You and Julie keep up the good work and tell her that we all miss her at PaperZone!

  2. pacificloons Says:

    Yay! I’m so glad you’re reading our blog. I miss you all, too. [Julie]

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