Author Interview | Richmond Vocabulary Builder

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Richmond Vocabulary Builder author Liz Walter provides her top tips for teaching vocabulary.

Both Liz and co-author Kate Woodford have a background in lexicography. They specialize in vocabulary and grammar and have written a wide range of materials including books on collocations and phrasal verbs, grammar course books for young learners, a guide to common errors, two phrase books and a writing guide.

1.Your students want to learn vocabulary – that's half the battle won already! It's easy to teach something that students are already motivated to learn. Vocabulary is far and away the most important aspect of language, especially at lower levels, and students understand this.

2. Don't overload your students. If you end up with a long list of words on the board after a reading or listening task, guide your students towards the most useful ones to learn. Alternatively, ask them to choose the words they think would be most useful for them. Try not to cover too many synonyms together, as this can be confusing.

3. Vocabulary doesn't just mean single words! Students need to be able to put the words they learn into natural-sounding sentences. That's why Richmond Vocabulary Builder starts with single items on the left-hand page of each unit and goes on to collocations and phrases in 'Putting words together …' panels on the right hand page. Get your students into the habit of noticing collocations themselves. Ask questions such as 'What verb did the speaker use with x?', or 'What adjective do you put with 'wages' to show that someone earns a lot of money?'.

4. Spoken English is important to students. Students love to learn spoken phrases that they can use with confidence. Have you noticed how the shyest students often leave class saying 'Bye! See you tomorrow!' with great enthusiasm? Richmond Vocabulary Builder gives a lot of help with spoken English, and concentrates on what we really say. For instance, instead of the rather bald 'He/she is rude/unfriendly.', we are much more likely to use a softening phrase: 'He/she can be a bit rude/unfriendly, etc.' These things may seem like niceties at B1, but they're not intrinsically difficult and can make all the difference to how natural a student sounds.

5. Don’t be scared of phrasal verbs. English uses a large number of phrasal verbs, and students who want to progress beyond the most elementary stages need to accept that they have to learn them. At B1, if they want to talk about money, they will need to know save up and pay someone back. Good monolingual learners' dictionaries (often available online) give clear advice about separability. Consider a session on dictionary skills, as students often don't realise how much help their dictionaries can give them.

6. Students need to make 'deep decisions' about words.  Research has shown that vocabulary lodges in the brain much more effectively if we have had to make 'deep decisions' about it, i.e. if we have used it in ways which require us to think hard about what we are doing. A book such as Richmond Vocabulary Builder not only presents useful words and phrases but provides a wealth of exercises that encourage students to make such decisions.

7. Context is important. It is best to learn vocabulary in a natural context, and – where possible – one that is relevant to the learner. If an item you are teaching has cropped up in an unusual context, try to give or elicit some examples of contexts in which it is more commonly used.  Richmond Vocabulary Builder practices the vocabulary it teaches in a variety of natural contexts, such as newspaper articles, emails, texts and dialogues.

8. Give students the questions they need. We all know that you can teach question formation until you are blue in the face and students will still ask 'What means this word?' When you are working on vocabulary for a particular topic, give or elicit the questions that will be needed for a discussion and get students to learn them as chunks, just as if you were teaching a phrase or an idiom.

9. Personalisation aids learning. Everyone feels motivated if they are learning things that are relevant to themselves. Each unit of Richmond Vocabulary Builder ends with a simple personalisation task, and the final exercise of the unit provides a template for completing that task.

10. Encourage your students to use a vocabulary book. Using a vocabulary book helps students to build on and consolidate their other learning. Richmond Vocabulary Builder provides around 20 really core, useful words and phrases for each of 50 different topics. Students who spend time at home working through a book like this will improve their English significantly. Alternatively, fill the odd 10 minutes in class with exercises relating to a topic you have been working on, or set them as a convenient form of homework.

Liz Walter's Top Tips for Teaching Vocabulary

Liz Walter

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