Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Brain-based Strategies for Teaching English

Coming from biological anthropology, you can imagine my excitement at studying psycholinguistics for the second time this past spring.  The first time I didn't learn much about how to teach using the concepts because it was a general course on the topic in psychology.  I was a graduate student in anthropology, not a teacher. Three decades ago, we simply did not have the amount of information we have today about how language is stored at the cellular level.  We knew about Wernicke's area, the angular gyrus, and the involvement of the auditory and visual systems in processing information.  However, now, I imagine individual cells firing, axons growing, and chemical exchanges at synapses every time a student focuses on a vocabulary word, uses it, and recalls it.  Exciting stuff!

How can I use this information in the classroom? Armed with ideas and techniques demonstrated by Professor Holly Wilson at Alliant University, I have started using brain-based strategies to teach my vocabulary students.  Does it work?  I have no proof that it does, but it certainly doesn't hurt.  The students enjoy it, especially if you give some background to brain-based learning strategies.

One fun way to get students to recall vocabulary and to spell it is to put the first three letters of their target words up on the whiteboard.  Start passing out markers and get students to retrieve the word from memory.  It gets all students up and out of their chairs, even the shyer ones that don't like to speak.  It allows everyone to look at the words on the whiteboard, to re-view them, to look at the spelling of the words, and to decide if the word(s) is/are spelled correctly on the board.  The instructor can ask the class to pronounce the words, emphasizing the primary syllabic stress, to define, and to give examples of how to use the words. In fact, this game is very much like the "Flexibility" game at Lumosity that triggers word memories.  You can sign up for a free account at Lumosity and gain access to several of their brain game exercises.  They're entertaining (warning: can be addictive), but you can see improvement in your skills if you stick with the training.

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