Autonomous Learning – Improving Vocabulary

By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

Students often ask how they can improve their vocabulary. Those who are at a good upper-intermediate level or have just entered an advanced level, often find they still struggle with reading newspapers or listening to the news. This is usually because there are idiomatic expressions or language very specific to the subject. You may be tempted to say “read more” or “listen more” but this gives the impression that they will learn more vocabulary just by the process of osmosis, which to a certain extent might possible. However it is not an adequate response; they need to know how to be an active learner when they meet new words.

Mining the word

Students’ faces often fall when I suggest that they read the paper, which is understandable because quite often just a headline is mind boggling! During classroom time you could focus on a short article/story that interests them, and teach them how to “mine” new words. For example, learners often just write down a new word with a translation in their own language. This is not the best way to learn and understand a word, as the information is too limited. Encourage them to use the dictionary to find out more; pronunciation, antonyms, synonyms, does the word take a particular preposition, idiomatic uses of the word. Make sure they write an example sentence, and encourage them to repeat the sentence out loud to get their tongues around the word.

Organising vocabulary

You will often find that the better your boardwork the better they will record information in their notebooks. If they have recorded new words in an organised manner, their notebooks become very efficient revision tools, which help them to become more autonomous when they study. I prefer to record new words as a spidergram/mindmap. Whichever way you write it on the board just ensure that it is clear. Once learners have become aware of what and how to record information about words, they are able to be more productive during their own private study time. Of course they do not have to write so much detail for every word they find, words which they think will be useful is a good start. Remember some students may not enjoy reading so they could do the same task with a listening text, such as a film or a news item etc. Learning new vocabulary takes a very conscious effort on behalf of the student, and once they have learnt how to record it more effectively they are on their way to autonomy.

Online Mindmapping

Autonomous Learning – Improving Vocabulary

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