Sunday, December 30, 2007

Students Teach Vocabulary

One of the most difficult topics to cover in my exam prep classes is vocabulary development. Although CAE students have a lot of reading exercises and attend vocabulary/idioms classes, many suffer from lack of adequate vocabulary to excel on their exams.

Since one of the best ways to 'know' or 'understand' something is to teach it, the past six months I've been experimenting with switching roles with my students. I model a one-hour vocabulary lesson on wildlife and animals in which I provide warm-up questions and realia (e.g., 50 or 60 photos and illustrations of different kinds of animals and stuffed animals, plastic dinosaur figures, etc.) to stimulate discussion and help students learn how to correctly pronounce names of animals or what to call certain creatures or toys (teddy bears or stuffed animals). In addition, I have a set of downloaded materials from Lanternfish displayed in plastic sheets used to introduce more vocabulary. Students work in pairs, and then I ask individuals to share information they've gained about their partner's preferences in animals, for example. Sometimes they're asked to describe animals, or they can play 20 questions with their partner (e.g., Does this animal have horns?; Can it climb trees?; etc.). Students enjoy themselves and the hour flies by; then, they're told that they'll have an opportunity to team-teach vocabulary to the rest of the class.

Depending on the class size, I put students into pairs or threesomes, providing a range of topics for them to choose from. They are asked to cover two topics in one hour. (In the future, however, I plan to reduce the coverage to one topic.) The goal is to present useful vocabulary and activities to engage the class in certain language and reinforce the new words. Usually students are horrified at the idea of presenting for an hour, but after reflecting on the lesson on animals and wildlife, they see that their job is to get the other students to speak and to activate language on specific subjects.

Invariably, students come up with creative ideas and have fun being 'the teacher(s)' and putting me in the position of 'student.' Once I had to mime a race car driver and a baseball pitcher. Another time I had to role-play a paramedic, explaining how to handle an accident victim, using information discussed in the vocabulary presentation.

These photos highlight some students covering sports and music vocabulary. We listened to "We Will Rock You," talked about vocabulary that we heard in the song, and did a song cloze. Afterward, we worked on action verbs, using illustrations from a picture dictionary and matching vocabulary word strips to pictures.

I'm always amazed that after their initial reluctance, students are able to embrace the idea until they finally present what are very memorable lessons. All students participate and complete the assignment, coming up with creative ways to present and activate vocabulary. I will continue to incorporate this element into my CAE classes.

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