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Hatsushiba Hashimoto High School - International English Program
Teaching of Vocabulary Guidelines
Course Coordinator Guidelines
Slow ESL Learner Teaching Strategies
Speaking Test Guidelines
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Teaching of Vocabulary Guidelines
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There will never be a single better way to learn English vocabulary than by students just reading as many and as wide of a variety of books and periodicals as possible.  Good books provide recorded language forms in meaningful contexts which afford progressing readers to learn and study place new vocabulary, all in an increasingly motivating fashion.  Unfortunately, there are a number of difficulties which make either starting a reading program or getting EFL Japanese students to read for pleasure, extremely difficult:


1)     Japanese teaching methods of English for students rely virtually exclusively upon grammar-translation.  This means students have little experience in developing the critical abilities to interpret and personally internalize what they read.

2)     Japanese English curriculum typically utilizes texts which are at the frustration level (too high) of their students, as well as texts which are not often relevant or of interest to their students. The consequences of such are that students are, more often than not, timid, passive, unmotivated, low-beginner readers. 

3)     The Japanese teachers are in charge of the reading components of English education, and therefore have had the class time assigned to them already.  Native English teachers, therefore, do not have the class time to teach reading in English as it needs to be done, without sacrificing speaking and listening curriculum.


In fairness to the Japanese teachers, however, it should be noted that their own teacher training is very archaic.  Perhaps even more importantly, the national and university testing of English systems are incompetently designed to frustrate and to focus attention on English study upon the most artificial and trivial elements imaginable.

In addition, Japanese English textbooks are disorganized, full of errors in usage and meaning, over-full with Japanese translations and explanations, as well as boring (so the students say). Therefore, Japanese teachers of English have had little chance of doing otherwise than they have done.


At any rate, the acquisition of vocabulary is obviously necessary.  Hence this document’s purpose is to outline the various ways in which new vocabulary may be mastered by students outside of intensive or extensive reading.


Through Guided Reading

While intensive or extensive reading may not be feasible, guided reading activities are still a good way to increase vocabulary.  See Reading Guidelines for more information.  Essentially, guided reading involves a carefully planned learning cycle for reading any individual text.  The teacher, therefore, is heavily involved at each stage of the reading process, and therefore, such activities are time-intensive, though well-spent time to be sure.  Because of the large amount of time it can take, especially with lower readers, and their initial efforts to participate in guided reading, it is not practical to always use reading as the major method of teaching vocabulary.  Thus other methods are necessary as well.  


Through Vocabulary Set Images

Vocabulary learning will be more successful where there exists familiar situational or semantic topics around which the targeted words have been organized.  In this way, students will more easily be both able to initially recognize and later recall what they are learning.  Please see the individual Class Curriculum Guides (organized by textbook name) for the specific topics and semantic groups.  The aim is to supplement each chapter of the textbook with some directly related vocabulary.  The result will be mutually supportive learning goals: mastering the chapter content assists the students in learning the supplementary vocabulary, while learning the supplementary vocabulary helps the students to more proficiency perform the language skills of that chapter.  One other reason for incorporating the extra vocabulary is that most textbooks focus primarily on mastering conversation by situation and topic.  Typically, they just don’t provide the extra, quite essential vocabulary, especially with regard to verbs.  Yet mastering the use of verbs is the key to the any language learning.  Providing students with some vocabulary learning activities should provide students with a more complete English education.


Deciding Upon and Making Vocabulary Sets

For each chapter, about one to three sets of vocabulary should be chosen for study, based on the topics or semantic group in any of the areas listed.  For example, from the Impact Intro ECC, chapter 3 (My Past-Times), some possible choices could include:: SPORTS (nouns) , SPORTS (verbs),  RECREATION (verbs), FREE TIME ACTIVIES (nouns).  Once a topic / group has been decided upon, see if that set already exists in the Image Library, and if you like it.  If it does not yet exist, then you will need to make it. Sorry! You can change it to fit your own judgment of what should be leaned, of course. In this case, the teacher should next choose which specific words for that group will be targeted.  In order to do this, browse the Image Library, the Verb / Adjective Semantic Group lists and select and copy the targeted words and images you deem the most appropriate, clear, interesting, and useful.  It should be kept in mind that any existing vocabulary sets won’t necessarily be the same as the way images were scanned from dictionaries. 


One other important point in mind is to find out (or remember if you haven’t recorded it) if the students already studied a particular set.  It is still possible a set may be studied twice if the teacher feels that that particularly set should be covered more fully.  Once a set has been studied, it is suggested that the teacher mark their copy of that class curriculum guide as completed.


There are also picture dictionaries on hand which may also be browsed for the same: The Oxford Picture Dictionary, Basic Oxford Picture Dictionary, The Oxford Picture Dictionary for Kids, The Oxford Picture Dictionary for Content Areas, and more….  The sources for the Image library are from scan images from the picture dictionaries and various textbooks, as well as from images garnered from the Internet ( is highly recommended.)   For whatever target expressions there are not images already, please use the Internet or photocopy them from available books.


The composition of a single vocabulary set could be from 6 to about 20 words, though about a dozen might be a standard rule: depending on how new the material is to your students, how difficult it is to learn, and the students’ present proficiency. It can be printed on A4 or B4 paper, depending on the number and size of the images.  Remember, you can size the images as desired using the photo editor.  In general, put only images without text on this paper, except for a heading or 2.  The students will learn initially better if they themselves actually write the vocabulary near each image.  Be sure to check that they are writing it down correctly.


It can also be a good idea to make flash cards (B5) versions of some of the vocabulary, for practice students in pairs, as well as posters (A3) for class-wide practice conversation practice.  To make these, use the photo editor software and size and position as desired.  This software may be used by first selecting the menu option in the lower-left hand corner of any image.


Using the Vocabulary Sets

It is possible to be especially creative with these materials, and there is not any one particular method that is best in every case.  The main aims are probably going to be that you want to make sure the students can read, write, say, hear and say the targeted words, as well as understand the meaning as well as possible, so choose your methods appropriately. Use the integrated skills approach as much as possible to help ensure this.   In the case of verbs, you will need to plan on which forms (past tense, present, past participle, …) should be studied at present.  You may find that synthesizing several combinations of methods works best for you, for a certain set of vocabulary and / or students. 


In addition: review, review, review, and have the students relate as much of everything being learned to as much as is possible.


Feel free to just make your own original methods, but here are some of the more common methods:

       The teacher shows the picture, the students who know it, say the expression aloud.

       Students, as a class and /or individually, pronounce the expression aloud.

       The students write the expression near the picture.

       The students spell the expression aloud.

       The students match a definition with its image.

       The students match an expression with its image.

       The students complete a sentence / story / conversation missing the targeted expressions.

       The students answer questions about the image.

       The students make their own questions about the image.

       The students listen to a story / conversation about the image, and then answer questions about the story / conversation.

       The students draw an image after being given the targeted image.

       The students read a story / conversation about the image, and then answer questions about the story / conversation.

     Students read a story containing many of the targeted expressions (probably made by you the teacher) and then answer questions about it.

       The students make (write / say aloud) their own story / conversation from a single image or a set of images.

     The students identify semantic relationships (without necessarily knowing the linguistic term!) between words:

1.                hyponym             [red : color]

2.                meronym            [finger : hand]

3.                synonym             [hot : warm]

4.                antonym              [good : bad]

5.                polarity                [formal : informal]

6.                reciprocals         [grandparent : grandchild]

7.                homophone        [eye : I]

9.                homonym            [book (read) : book (make a


10.             rhymes                [bait : gate]

     Given a semantic relationship, or an example, students state the corresponding missing word or words fitting this pattern.

     More advanced students converse about a topic using the target vocabulary as much as possible.

       Students play a game involving the set of words such as crossword puzzles, or action games requiring them to perform one of the mentioned methods; for example: teams answer a question about a picture that they hit with a thrown ball from among a group of pictures on the board.



For the sake of variety and for enriching the students’ vocabulary, it is recommended that a small portion of the beginning of some alpha classes be set aside for learning idiomatic language.  The better or more positive students especially seem to love to learn them.  The learning of colorful and useful idioms can help enliven the class as well as deepen students’ interest in the English language.  A set of established pictures and phrases can be found in the Slang Folder within the Images Folder.  Use these as the target idiomatic language or feel free to focus on other expressions in this very vast language area.  You can use the Internet or textbooks for pictures relating the expressions.  Whatever target idiomatic language is selected, it is best that such terms be both fairly common in usage and somewhat interpretable from its literal meaning; that is, students can look at the face value of the expression and decipher to some degree what it denotes (means) and connotes (implies in general).  

At any rate, the most common difficulties to keep in mind about such expressions include:

               (1)       it may be difficult to infer the true communicative


               (2)       the literal meaning may confuse the students, and

               (3)       using such expressions with the proper syntax is

                          difficult, and       

(4)       using such expressions (producing the language) in

            the proper context is also difficult.


Nevertheless, despite these difficulties, the truth is that native speakers use such idiomatic expressions frequently.  While it should not be expected that students will develop much of an accurate production of these phrases, it is beneficial for them (because of the reasons already stated) to develop some reading and listening skills concerning idioms.


The students will learn these idioms more easily if they are presented in sets of words (3 to 6) organized by form (for example, expressions using “red”: red-faced, redneck, caught red-handed, see red), or related in meaning (take it easy, hang loose, chill, be cool).  The learning cycle for each group of related (preferably) words could be as follows:

(1)               Write the expressions on the board,

(2)               Post a large picture representing the idiom’s meaning,

(3)               Ask students to match up the pictures with their respective expressions,

(4)               Have students in pairs ask each other:

What do you think         means? (What does        mean?)

(5)                 Ask students to give their definition for each expression, if possible.  If

students are partially correct, praise them and modify their definition.  The teacher should give them a clear, simple definition if they cannot.  Try to avoid using Japanese as much as possible.

(6)        Have students make 1 or 2 questions using these

             expressions.  The teacher should model some

             examples of the questions and answers, with the

             class and / or individual students repeating.  After

             students have written their questions down, check

             them for accuracy. 

(7)      Students should next survey the rest of the class using

           their questions. They should record or remember their


(8)      After the survey, ask each student these 2 questions:

A.            What was your survey question?

B.            How did most people answer? (What did

             most people say?)

The teacher should then interestingly comment on the survey results of each student and encourage students to make their own comments or questions.