Macmillan Books for Teachers

Practical techniques and ideas for classroom activities. Assumptions about learning. The role of TP on a teacher training course. Feedback on lessons. Eliciting, giving instructions and setting up activities. Students working outside the classroom.

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* if you want the situation to be unambiguous (unless there is a good reason to be ambiguous).

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

* The language can be contrived and artificial.

* It can be time-consuming to set up a new context for each new language item (although often 'mini-contexts1 can be set up to illustrate the meaning of two or three words - see Section 2: Vocabulary).

* It is quite teacher-centred, as the teacher is 'up-front1 at the beginning of the lesson.

* It demands a lot from the teacher by way of a ` performance'.

* Higher level and/or older students may feel this approach is 'less serious' than one which explains the 'rule' at the start, as described below.


As was pointed out in Chapter 5, as well as providing a means of practising listening and reading skills, texts can provide a natural context for language exploration and a pool from which particular language items and structures can be drawn, analysed and practised. The texts can be very varied: reading texts such as newspaper and magazine articles, stories, biographies, information leaflets and booklets, letters, reports, notices, etc; listening texts such as conversations, interviews, short talks, radio or television programmes, songs, etc. Texts which are intrinsically interesting and which give the students something to communicate about are especially useful as a vehicle for introducing and practising language.

Clearly, written texts provide a more suitable context for language which is mostly found in the written form: for example, I look forward to... (your reply/our meeting/receiving your estimate) - as in a formal letter. And listening texts are more useful for introducing language which is generally spoken, for example: See you ...(later, soon, tomorrow, next week, etc).

When is it useful to present language through texts?

The presentation of language in this way is often used:

* when students are of intermediate level and above. Because the texts from which the language is taken are often authentic or adapted from authentic material, this way-is especially suitable for students who already have some language. Authentic texts give exposure to language as a whole and not just grammatical structures in isolation, providing opportunities for natural acquisition of less familiar language as well as learning/studying of the focus language area;

* if the meaning and use of the structure is complex and the meaning of the new item is clearly illustrated by the context present in the text;

* if the new structure is being introduced in contrast with language which is already familiar and which is also present in the text;

* if a number of items are being introduced-perhaps several exponents of a function (for example, several ways of giving advice in a conversation between friends);

* if the structure has been encountered before. A way of revising language is to take it from a new and interesting context. Texts can always contain new vocabulary, even if the structures have been met before. This helps get over the 'not the past simple again!1 problem - ie when students need revision of areas that they have practised before and feel they are not making progress;

* if you want the presentation and practice of a particular structure to be integrated naturally into skills work. The language item can be drawn from a reading or listening text, isolated and focused upon, and then practised naturally in, for example, a speaking or writing activity. In other words, you can use the same text very often as a basis for speaking or writing tasks where the structure can get used more freely;

* when you use the students' coursebook. Many modern coursebooks contain texts chosen (or adapted) from authentic material to illustrate particular structures which fit into the structural syllabus of the course.

Are there any problems in using texts for presenting language?

If they are not available in the coursebook it isn't always easy to find authentic texts or to create texts which contain natural examples of the structure you want to introduce, particularly if the surrounding language is to be of the 'right' level, ie 'comprehensible'. For this reason it's not so easy to introduce language through texts to lower level students. Texts which are specially written to illustrate the target language and which are simple enough for the students to cope with are often very contrived and unnatural.

However, this approach should not be ruled out. If they are well chosen, there is no reason why short authentic, or at least 'semi-authentic' or simplified texts, should not be used with low-level students. You may have to adapt a reading text, or construct a semi-authentic listening text by getting someone (perhaps another trainee or a teacher) to record a monologue using the structures you want to illustrate. If you give the person some notes to work with but let him or her speak spontaneously, you can get a more authentic-sounding listening text.

It does take a relatively long time to use this kind of material. The overall meaning of the text must be within the grasp of the students before individual language items are picked out; the text may contain language which has to be dealt with before you can concentrate on the target language. This is only all right if the lesson is seen as consisting of skills work leading on to a focus on particular language items, and time is allowed for these stages.

If you choose a text for skills work the structures it illustrates well may not be the ones that fit into the structural syllabus of the course the students arc following. Bear in mind that particular text-types lend themselves to the presentation of particular structures: for example, simple stories contain the simple past, and a text of someone talking about his or her personal experiences will usually contain natural instances of the present perfect.

Another disadvantage with authentic texts is that they often don't give you enough examples of the target structure.

Short dialogues

Dialogues are a type of text-a spoken text which we listen to, although for teaching and learning purposes we also look at them in their written or transcribed form. Although they are a type of text, it is worth considering them separately from reading and other listening texts as they are often used as a model for speaking practice of structures.

Dialogues are often used as an alternative, or in addition, to introducing language through visual means, especially with lower level students.


This dialogue could be used with low-level students to introduce the question form and the short answer of the verb to be in the present simple. It also revises Sorry} as a way of asking for repetition.

At the airport Customs

Customs officer: Is this your bag?

Woman traveller: Sorry?

Customs officer: Is this your bag?

Woman traveller: Yes it is.

Usually the teacher introduces the characters and the situation through pictures/board drawings and elicitation - Who's this? Where are they? etc. The understanding of the new language is checked (see pl38). The students repeat the lines of the dialogue after the teacher and then take turns to play the roles, perhaps in open pairs first, then in closed pairs. It is a generative situation in that new vocabulary items can then be introduced (in this dialogue, for example, suitcase, camera, handbag, etc) and more sentences containing the same structures can be elicited and practised: /5 this your suitcase? etc.

When are dialogues useful?

Dialogues are useful from time to time, particularly at elementary level, mainly for the following reasons:

* You can write the dialogue so that it focuses on the language you want to introduce and doesn't include distractions such as unknown vocabulary.

* You can make the language vivid and memorable, with a clear situation and location, and sharply distinguished characters, often aided by pictures and props.

* Dialogues provide a controlled setting for language items and conversational features.

* They are very useful for introducing language functions, for example, asking the way, at lower levels.

* Dialogues can be used to generate a number of practice sentences. For example, with the dialogue above, the teacher, by using picture prompts, can elicit these questions from students: Is this your suitcase? Is this your camera get the same replies from 'the woman'.

* It is easy to introduce pairwork practice, as the dialogues naturally have two parts. Pairwork practice often begins with repetition/imitation of the 'model' dialogue, but often this controlled practice can be followed by freer, more 'meaningful' communication. Dialogues lend themselves to information gap activities in which each student in the pair has access to different information which he or she can feed into the dialogue.

* They can be a springboard for more improvised language practice. If the practice tasks can be made more creative and open-ended the students have some degree of choice over what they say. For example, the last sentence of a dialogue can be left open.


This dialogue practises language for making suggestions:

It's Rosie 's birthday next week. What shall we get her?/What about... (the students choose). That's a good idea because... or No, because...

A dialogue can often lead into a cued roleplay, such as the one in Task 3 on p43. See also Setting up activities on p44. Dialogues can also be used to illustrate the different social identity and the relationship between the speakers, and the kind of language they would use. For example, the way you ask a close friend to lend you enough money to buy a cup of coffee would be different from the way you ask a bank manager for a large loan.

What are the disadvantages of using dialogues?

* If dialogues are uncommunicative, predictable and not mixed in with other approaches to presentation they can be boring.

* They are rarely useful for students above elementary level, who benefit from seeing language within a wider context, not in isolated chunks.

* Because they are idealized, they don't prepare students for the unexpected - in real life people don't always play their part as set down in the dialogue practised in class! For example, the Customs Officer in the dialogue on p 132 is just as likely to say Your bag, is it? as he is to say /5 this your bag?

* It is not always easy to find or create a dialogue which is naturally generative, and in order to make them generative the dialogues can often be rather artificial and repetitive.

Giving or working out the 'rule'

In this way of presenting a structure, the teacher explains the rules or patterns of form and use and maybe, in a monolingual group, translates the structure into the students' mother tongue. You can start the lesson by telling them explicitly what language you are going to deal with: for example, Today we are going to look at how we use the third conditional: for example - If you U woken me on time I wouldn 4 have been late. Then you can go on to give the rules of grammar and use then set up some practice.

Alternatively, you can give some example sentences containing the structure and encourage the students to work out or suggest the rules for themselves. For example, a number of paired sentences can be given and the students encouraged to say when for and when since is used with the present perfect:

a I've been here for six hours, b I've been here since 3 o'clock.

a They've lived in this country for ten months, b They've lived in this country since October.

The 'rule' can be elicited and then practice can be given. This approach is sometimes referred to as guided discovery and is particularly useful if you think the students have some familiarity with the target structure or if you want to revise the structure.

When is it useful to give or to elicit the 'rule'?

Giving or eliciting the 'rule1 is useful:

* if the meaning of the item is easy to understand (perhaps it is very similar to the students' first language) but the structure is complex from a 'form' point of view: for example, the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives: difficult, more difficult, the most difficult compared with easy, easier, the easiest;

* if a different aspect of, say, a verb form is being presented after a stage in which the tense has already been introduced, perhaps via a text or a visual/oral context. For example, if you have introduced the affirmative and question forms of the regular past simple it is quicker, and often more efficient, simply to elicit or give the rules for the formation and use of the negative before going on to practise using it;

* if the students come from a very traditional educational background and expect a grammar/translation approach;

* if the students are at a higher level and can more easily cope with a discussion about language.

Are there any problems with this approach?

* It can seem dry and uninteresting, especially to younger learners.

* It is not so suitable for low-level multilingual groups where the students may not have enough language to understand the explanation, or the language to express it themselves.

* It isn't so suitable for language which is complex in meaning and use: it may be that there is no clear 'rule7 to discover! For example, it is difficult to explain why such nouns as fruit, money, information and news are uncountable in English but countable in many other languages.

Test-t each-test

n this approach the teacher sets a communicative activity for the students which is designed to find out how well they can understand and use a particular area of language; it can be a creative activity such as taking part in a roleplay or writing a story. The teacher monitors and evaluates the activity in order to assess whether the language structure he or she wants to focus on is being used correctly and appropriately or not. It is also important to note if the students seem to be avoiding the structure. If the students have no problem with the structure the teacher can then go on to something else. If they are having problems or avoiding it altogether then the teacher can revise the target language. Practice activities which consolidate the students' ability to use the language can follow until the teacher is happy with the students' performance.

The first phase is the 'test' where the teacher finds out what the students can and cannot already do; 'teach' is the second phase when the language is revised, and the second 'test' is when practice activities are done to see if the students can use the language better than in the first phase.

What are the advantages of this approach?

This approach is particularly useful:

* at higher levels where very few, if any, language structures are new to the students;

* with confident (over-confident?) students who claim to 'know' the target language;

* with classes when you are not sure what the students have done previously and what they already know;

* when you want to focus on more than one structure - perhaps a number of exponents of a function, or the different forms of a tense;

* if you want to compare and contrast structures.

What are the disadvantages?

This type of approach, if it is done in one lesson, requires a considerable degree of flexibility on the part of the teacher. He or she has to respond instantly and appropriately to the first stage - giving feedback and picking out aspects of language to revise and consolidate. However, it may be possible to do the first phase on one day and the revision and practice activities, if it is thought necessary, on another day. In this way the teacher has time to evaluate what the students need and can plan accordingly.

If, during the first phase, the students show that they can use the target language competently, then the teacher has to have alternative activities and materials planned to replace the revision and consolidation phase.

Student-based research

Here the students are encouraged to do their own research into language areas using grammar reference books; they then report back to the class. The research can be done in or out of class time, individually or in groups. The report can take a number of forms: an oral presentation, a written report, a poster, etc. The students may also teach the structure to their fellow students and/or provide practice activities; in other words, the students 'present' the language. This approach puts much more of the responsibility for their own learning on the shoulders of the students.

When is student-based research useful?

This approach is particularly useful:

* if the students are at a high level where few, if any, structures are new;

* if they have been encouraged to be independent learners - capable of using reference books for their own research (see Chapter 5 Section 6: learner development and study skills);

* if individual students have difficulty with particular structures. In this way the teacher need not focus in class on language most of the students in the class have no trouble with.

What are the disadvantages?

* This approach depends on having students of a high enough level, with good reference skills and a strong motivation and interest.

* The students have to have access to reference materials.

* You also need to have the class over a period of time.

For these reasons this approach is not always practicable in the TP situation.

'Inductive' and 'deductive' approaches

Two of the basic approaches to the presentation of language items are sometimes referred to as inductive and deductive.

When an inductive approach is used, a context is established first from which the target structure is drawn. So, the approaches described under Visual/oral contexts (pi 29), Texts (pi 30) and Short dialogues (pi 31) could be called inductive. When a deductive approach is used an example of a structure and the grammatical rule is given first and then the language is practised, as described under Giving or working out the 'rule' on p 13 3.

What are the possible stages in a lesson using the inductive approach?

As noted above there are a number of variations on a theme, but this is an example of one way to proceed:

1 Create the context - with a text which has already been used for skills practice, with a dialogue, or with a short visual/oral context.


This is an extract from a lesson introducing comparative adjectives via a visual context (pictures or drawings) to a class of low-level students:

The teacher shows a picture of a tall, thin man labelled Sam, and indicates by hand gesture that Sam is tall and elicits Sam's tall. The teacher shows a second picture of an even taller, even thinner man labelled Tom and elicits Tom's tall The teacher then puts the two pictures side by side and says Sam 's tall and Tom's tall, but Tom's taller than Sam. The teacher can do the same for thin and introduce more pictures and adjectives -fat, short, etc.

If you set up the context through a picture or short dialogue, rather than using a text, you may want to ask some simple questions to make sure that the students have a general understanding of the context. In the example dialogue given on p 132, for example, the teacher would need to check that the students understand that the people are at an airport, that one is the Customs Officer and the other is a traveller.

2 The situation should lead naturally to a sentence using the language to be taught - the model or target sentence.


In the lesson presenting comparative adjectives above, the target sentence is Tom's taller than Sam and other sentences can be generated using the pattern X's ... than Y. You can then say the target language and/or write it on the board.

3 Check that the students have grasped the meaning of the structure. (See Нои,1 can you check students have understood what is being presented? on p 138.)

4 Practise saying the target language. Concentrate on the pronunciation. (See Section 3: Pronunciation.) Let the students repeat after you or from a model provided on cassette. They can do this together and then individually. (If the structure is one that is usually written but not spoken, this stage can be omitted.)

5 Give further practice. This is usually less controlled than the repetition practice and can involve pairwork or groupwork.

6 Then write up* the language structure. At this stage a clear record of what has gone on before is given. Try to make the record the students copy from the board as memorable and integrated as possible (not just a list of unrelated sentences). Whenever possible elicit from the students the language you write on the board. This serves as a further check that they understand and remember what you have presented. Name the structure/function using clear headings, and give information about the form and/or use where appropriate.

* When you write the language up on the board depends to some extent on the students - some feel more secure if they can see the target language written up as soon as it is focused on. You can put the target or model sentence on the board (in Step 2 above) and then add to it after oral practice (in Step 6). Or you can write up the sentence but rub it off before oral practice. In this way the students are listening to, rather than reading, the sentence and Their own pronunciation is likely to be better as a result.

For example:

* note whether the words in the structure are nouns, adjectives, pronouns, etc;

* mark the sentence stress and intonation and note any contractions (see Section 3: Pronunciation);

* give the grammar rule (in this lesson: to make comparative adjectives of words of one syllable, add -er);

* note any special features of the spelling (if the word ends in a single consonant letter, double it: for example, fat --> fatter, thin --> thinner).

If you are using translation with a monolingual group you can also write up the translation, if appropriate. Give examples of the language item in sentences, perhaps in the form of a substitution table. If possible, try to make the examples personal and memorable for the students.


I am (I'm)

Sonj a.

You are (You're)


Rick is (He's)

taller than

his brother.

We are (We're)

our parents.

On average Americans are (They're)


Other means of helping to understand and remember the meaning can be added -by using 'time-lines', for example (see pi 38). Give the students time to copy the information in their note books or to make a note of where the information is recorded in their coursebook.

Whether you want to do more than this depends on the language item and the class. Further practice may be needed in the form of guided and/or freer practice, integrated into skills work - as part of the same lesson or on another day. You may also want to set some homework to practise the new language. In the lessons that follow you can try to build in activities that will re-activate the language item. Often students need a little time for the new item to 'sink in' - they may recognize it, but often delay putting it into active use.

What are the possible stages in a lesson using the deductive approach?

Again, there is no one way of presenting a structure using a deductive approach. However, one possible way of staging such a lesson is as follows:

1 Present the structure and explain the 'rule' in a way that involves the students.


In order to compare ways of talking about the future you could put two sentences on the board: I'm seeing her tomorrow and OK, I'll see her tomorrow and ask the students to discuss the difference in the situation and the meaning.

With a function you could give the students a number of exponents and ask them to group them - perhaps according to degree of formality - and then discuss when and with which people you would use such expressions. For example, with requests - Open the window. Can you open the window? Open the window, would you? Do you think you could open the window? Would you like to open the window? I don't suppose you could open the window for me, could you? etc.

2 Write up the language structure(s). (See Stage 6 in the inductive lesson above.)

3 Set up some activities so that the students can practise using the language in a meaningful context - perhaps in a roleplay, a discussion or in a piece of writing. The practice can often be integrated into skills work.

How can you check students have understood what is being presented?

There are a number of ways you can check that the students have understood the meaning of a language item and the way it is used. It makes sense to check their understanding before any controlled practice - otherwise they may just be repeating parrot-fashion!


In addition to illustrating meaning, visuals can be used to check understanding.


Students can be asked to choose the picture that best illustrates the meaning of a particular word or sentence; to put pictures in order to show a sequence of events; or to match pictures and sentences, as in this example which compares the past simple and the past perfect.

Which sentence goes with which picture?

They started the meeting when she arrived.

They'd started the meeting when she arrived.


Time-lines are graphic ways of illustrating the use of tenses. For example:

We've been here for six month

We've been here since October

I remembered to send him a birthday card.

I remember sending him a birthday card.

You can check students' understanding by asking them to select the correct timeline, to label or even draw time-lines.

Concept questions

Concept questions are questions you ask students to check whether they understand the meaning of a language item. If you consider the concept questions when thinking about the language you're going to teach this should help you get the meaning clear in your own mind. Until you have had considerable experience you will need to write the questions in your lesson plan and have them to hand at the appropriate stage of the lesson.

They should be:

* simple and short. The language level should be below that of the students and certainly simpler than the language item you are focusing on. Try to design questions which only require ayes/no or a one-word answer from the students. One-word questions, for example - Past? and gestures such as a thumb over the shoulder to indicate the past together with a questioning expression are not only acceptable, they are preferable;

* in language that does not include the language being checked in either the question or in the answer. If students don't understand what you are checking, then your question will be meaningless and will not guide the students towards understanding;

* varied and numerous. Often more than one question is needed for each aspect so that more than one student can be asked without the others picking up the 'right' answer from the first student. However, concept checking must be done efficiently - you've got to find a balance between asking too many questions and asking enough to satisfy yourself that the meaning has been grasped;

* asked often and spread around the class. It is not usually possible to ask all the students in the class, but if you make sure you ask at least one of the slower students, their answers should give you a good indication of how well you have managed to get the meaning across.


1 Past perfect to indicate an action that took place before another action in the past:

They had started the meeting when she arrived.

Was she there at the beginning of the meeting? (No)

Did they start the meeting before or after she arrived? (Before)

Did she miss the start of the meeting? (Yes)

Did she miss the meeting? (No, not all of it, just the beginning)

Was she late for the meeting? (Yes)

2 A polite request - a young man to a woman who is sitting near him in a restaurant:

Would you mind if I smoked?

Does the man want a cigarette? (Yes)

Does the man know the woman very well? (No)

Why does he ask her? (He is polite. He doesn't want to upset her)

Does everyone like smoking? (No)

Is he asking before or after he has the cigarette? (Before)

How would you ask a friend the same question? (Is it OK if I smoke? etc)

(See also Section 2: Vocabulary for examples of 'concept' questions used to check the understanding of vocabulary items.)


This is only possible with monolingual groups but it can cut down on lengthy, laborious explanations - particularly at lower levels. You can check the students' understanding by asking them to translate words or sentences. However, it is dangerous for students to assume that a word-for-word translation is always available. Often the connotation of a word which is looked up in a dictionary is not fully appreciated and consequently the word is used inappropriately. Also, you may not want students to get into the habit of translating every language item they meet.



To give practice in drawing 'time-lines' to illustrate the meaning of structures.


1 Draw time-lines to illustrate the meaning of the following structures:

a I've been here since four o'clock.

b He was going round the corner when he lost control of the car.

с This time next week we'll be lying on the beach in Florida.

d I'm using this office while mine is being decorated.

2 If possible, show your time-lines to a colleague, a high-level student, your supervisor, someone not in EFL for their comments.


Of the people who were shown your time-lines, who understood them easily, who had the most difficulty? Why do you think this was?

1 Structures: grammar and functions

Task 2


To give practice in writing questions to check that students understand new language.

Procedure A

1 Write concept questions to check the understanding of particular language items. For example:

a I wish they'd come,

b He used to go fishing every week.

с She must have gone out.

2 Swap questions around and get each set modified or developed by others in your group.

3 Discuss.

Procedure В

1 Write concept questions for a particular structure.

2 Ask colleagues to try to guess what is being checked.

Procedure С

1 Get each person in your group to prepare concept questions for different items.

2 Shuffle the items and questions.

3 Get the whole group to match them.



To consider the most suitable approach to use when presenting and practising a structure.


1 Think about a class you are familiar with - perhaps your TP group or a class you are observing.

2 Which approach would you use - inductive or deductive - to present or revise the following structures? How would you illustrate and check the students' understanding of the meaning of the structures?

a The present perfect to talk about experience of events before 'now': for

example, I've seen 'Cats' six times. b Ways of expressing likes and dislikes: for example, / really like ..., I hate ..., I

absolutely adore .... I can't stand ..., etc. с A comparison of the uses of so and such: for example, He's such a good

dancer. He's so good. We had such good weather. The weather was so good.

That's such good news.

3 Compare your ideas with a colleague.


1 You may, of course, consider that these structures are not suitable for your class, or that you would choose different examples to illustrate the language.

2 You may be able to try out your ideas in a lesson with the class.

2. Vocabulary

The importance of vocabulary

Vocabulary is important to students - it is more important than grammar for communication purposes, particularly in the early stages when students are motivated to learn the basic words they need to get by in the language. Also, as the lexical system is 'open', there's always something new to learn when students have 'done' the grammar. So more advanced students are motivated to add to their vocabulary stock, to understand nuances of meaning, to become more proficient in their own choice of words and expressions.

A learner's receptive vocabulary is generally much larger than his or her productive vocabulary: language learners can usually understand many more words than they actively use. And students arc idiosyncratic in the way they remember vocabulary - no two students are exactly the same. In particular, as students become more advanced, their individual interests and needs will help determine what kinds of words they will want to understand, remember and use.

Acquisition vs. learning of vocabulary

Vocabulary can be 'acquired' (or 'picked up') by students who listen to and read authentic language. If a text is at such a level as to be generally comprehensible the students can often grasp the meaning of new words from the context. The more often a vocabulary item is encountered, the more likely it is that the full meaning will be understood and remembered.

It is also clear that there are certain ways in which students can consciously 'learn' as opposed to 'acquire1 vocabulary. Words are generally easier to remember if the meaning is well understood; so a clear presentation by the teacher can be helpful. Also memory is aided if the learner can be encouraged to make as many cues or 'memory triggers' as possible when committing the vocabulary item to memory. These cues can take the form of:

* a visual reminder such as a picture or diagram (the use of colour can be very effective);

* the sound and rhythm of the word (this is why repetition practice is helpful);

* the inclusion of the item in a sentence which is bizarre and/or personal;

* a translation of the item in the student's first language.

Most importantly, the association of one item with other items aids memory.


1 Words which are associated with the same topic such as clothes or food at lower levels and ecology or the law at higher levels (these are known as word fields or word sets).

2 Words which have the same prefix or suffix - for example, unhappy, unlucky, unfriendly.

3 Synonyms or near-synonyms with illustrations of the differences in use - for example, unhappy, sad, miserable, wretched-, etc; antonyms - tall/short, fair/dark.

So it helps if words that have associated features are presented together. And it is helpful to point out to students study/review techniques that make use of word association - like ordering their personal vocabulary books according to topic.

What makes a vocabulary item easy or difficult?

How 'easy' or 'difficult' a vocabulary item is can depend on a number of factors:

Similarity to L1

The difficulty of a vocabulary item often depends on how similar the item is in form and meaning to the students' first language. Obviously speakers of Latin and Germanic languages have a huge advantage over other students where learning English is concerned. And a long, uncommon word such as augmentation may be much easier for, say, a French speaker than a short word like mud.

However, words which are similar in the first language and English may be misleading rather than helpful. There arc many examples of these 'false friends' in European languages; someone described as sensible in English will be understood to be sensitive by many Europeans and if you say you're embarrassed to a Spanish speaker, they may well think you're expecting a baby! At first it's not easy to know which words students will find difficult and which they will find easy, especially if you are not familiar with their first language.

Similarity to English words already known

Once students have some English then a word which is related to an English word they are already familiar with is easier than one which is not. For example, if students have already met the word friendly they should be able to guess the meaning of unfriendly.


Another difficult aspect that learners have to get to grips with is the connotation of the word. For example, does the word have a positive or negative connotation to a native speaker? Either skinny and slim could be used to describe someone who is thin - but these words are very different in their connotation and by choosing one rather than the other the speaker conveys a particular attitude. Sometimes, however, native speakers do not even agree about the exact nuance of a word. For example, to be a patriot may be considered good by some and bad by others, depending on their political viewpoint.

Spelling and pronunciation

he spelling of many English words can cause problems for students who speak languages with very regular spelling systems (Spanish, for example). Particular spelling patterns can also cause confusion where the pronunciation is concerned. For example, it is easy to understand why many students confuse the meaning, spelling and pronunciation of these words: through, though, thought, tough, thorough.

Multi-word items

A lexical item may consist of more than one word, as in a compound noun such as tennis shoes or sports car, or a phrasal verb such as to put someone up. Phrasal verbs are notoriously difficult for learners of English because they arc made up of simple words (often prepositions or adverbs) which are easily confused. There is a world of difference between putt ing someone up and putting someone down. Phrasal verbs also cause grammatical problems: eg look up the chimney vs. look chimney up (in the dictionary).


How a lexical item collocates (or 'goes with1 other items) can also cause difficulty. For example, people are injured or wounded but things are damaged, and we can say a strong wind and strong coffee ~ but it's a light wind not a weak wind and weak coffee not light coffee. The way some grammatical structures are formed depends on knowing which words go with others and which do not; for example, a learner may know the expression to be interested but say I'm interested of that rather than I'm interested in that.

Appropriate use

When to use vocabulary appropriately is also problematical. Some words and expressions are restricted to use in particular contexts (for example, we can use pushing to mean almost in He's pushing fifty . But pushing is only used in this way

with older people-we do not say He's pushing three/). Also it is important that students know whether the word or phrase has a marked style - informal or formal. Students have to take care with the use of colloquial and slang expressions, for example. Some language is so restricted we talk about it belonging to a particular register: for example, English for commerce (eg bill of lading, free on board); medical English (eg abdomen instead of stomach, fracture instead of break), and legal English (eg easement, in fee simple).

What aspects of a vocabulary item should the teacher consider?

As with a structure it is useful to think about the form, the meaning and the use of any new vocabulary item that you introduce to students:

The form

* What part of speech is the word - noun, verb, preposition, etc?

* How is it spelled - is it regular or irregular?

* Does it belong to a 'family' of words, for example electricity, electrical, electrician}

* How is the word, or combination of words, pronounced and, in words of more than one syllable, where is the stress? (See Section 3: Pronunciation.)

* How does the word collocate with surrounding words? Is it part of a set expression?

The meaning

* Many words have more than one meaning. What exact meaning(s) in which context do you want to focus on?

* What is the connotation of the item?

* Could the vocabulary item have different meanings for different people?

The use

How is the vocabulary item used?

Does it have a restricted use? Does it belong to a particular style or register?

Increasingly compilers of dictionaries are using computer concordance programmes based on written and spoken corpora to discover how language is used by native speakers in real life.

How do you decide what vocabulary to teach?

If vocabulary (or lexis) can be defined as 'all the words in a language', how do you decide what to teach?

Type of lesson

Firstly, it is worth distinguishing between the 'teaching' of vocabulary that you, the teacher, bring into the class and the development of strategies for helping students to understand and remember vocabulary (use of dictionaries, helping students deduce words in context, etc).

There is a difference between a 'vocabulary lesson' (where, for example, the main objective is for the students to learn and use a number of vocabulary items) and a lesson in which vocabulary comes up as part of another activity (where, for example, the teacher helps the students deal with vocabulary they may meet in an authentic listening or reading text). You will make different decisions about what vocabulary to present, depending on the type of lesson.

For receptive or productive use?

Secondly, you should think about whether the vocabulary items you have chosen to present are for receptive or productive use. Is it enough for the students to be able to recognize the vocabulary when they meet it in context, or do you want them to be able to use it? If you want the students to be able to use the vocabulary, what practice activities are you going to set up?

Lexical syllabus

Thirdly, you may have to consider the order in which vocabulary items are introduced, particularly at low levels. If you are using a coursebook, the lexical syllabus - the vocabulary items and the order in which words and expressions are introduced - will have been considered by the authors. However, you may want to add or omit items depending on the teaching context and the needs of your students.

With a General English class it is usual to introduce:

* the 'easy' words before the 'difficult' (see above);

* the concrete before the abstract;

* the most frequent before the uncommon;

* the most generative, or 'all-purpose', before those that have a more restricted use (for example, it would probably be a good idea to introduce chair before armchair or highchair).

You have to think about this process of grading language when you are choosing vocabulary items to teach to the class and when you are considering how to deal with the vocabulary in any authentic materials you include in your lessons.

Presenting, practising and revising vocabulary

As with structures (see Section 1: Structures: grammar arid functions), there are a variety of ways of introducing, practising and revising vocabulary.

Presenting a vocabulary set via a visual/oral context

As with the presentation of structures, introducing vocabulary through a visual/oral context is very effective, especially with lower level students and with children. It is particularly useful when the teacher wants to present a set of 'concrete', demonstrable words and expressions on a particular topic. You can proceed in a way which is very similar to that outlined in the inductive approach to presenting a structure (see pi 29), with a few notable changes:


The teacher wants to elicit the words for food and drink that the students already know and then introduce some new items of vocabulary before going on to practise ordering food in a restaurant.

1 Illustrate the meaning using visual aids (pictures and drawings or, if possible, real food and drink).

2 Say the words. Don't forget to include any grammar words that make up the lexical item: for example, the preposition o/as in a bottle of mineral water. At this point you can write the words on the board, or you can leave this step until later.

3 Check the students' understanding of the meaning of the items. (For ideas on how to do this, see below.) In steps 2 and 3 involve the students as much as possible: elicit what they already know and encourage them to help one another.

4 The students practise saying the words. Concentrate on the pronunciation -the sounds, the word stress and, in items of more than one word, the way the words link together (see Section 3: Pronunciation). 1 .et the students repeat after you or from a model provided on cassette, together and/or individually.

5 If you haven't already done so, write the words on the board. Mark the word stress, note what parts of speech the items belong to, any spelling points worthy of note, contractions, punctuation and capital letters where appropriate. Write down examples of the language item in sentences - try to make the sentences personal and memorable to the students.

6 Give the students time to make a note of where the information is recorded in their coursebook or to copy the information in vocabulary notebooks under the topic heading of Food and Drink. You can encourage the students to include any 'memory triggers' - a picture or diagram, a translation, information about how the word is pronounced, the use of different colours for different parts of speech, etc.

7 Any further practice activities you organize will depend on the vocabulary items and whether you expect the vocabulary to be for receptive use only (ie students can understand the word or expression if they see it written or hear it spoken) or for productive use (ie they should be able to use the item correctly and appropriately). For the former it may be enough to give some controlled or guided practice activities: filling gaps in a text with words from a given list or matching words and definitions, for example.

If you want to provide freer productive practice you may plan to integrate work on vocabulary with some productive skills work. For example, after you have revised and introduced some food and drink vocabulary the students can take part in a roleplay set in a restaurant where they read a menu and choose and order food.

In addition, you may often want to set vocabulary-learning homework. You can decide on the words and expressions to learn and give a short test during the next lesson. Alternatively, you can ask the students to choose, say, ten words or expressions from the day's lesson to learn. The next lesson you can then put them in pairs and ask them to test each other. In this way they learn their own list and get further practice in the words their partner has chosen to learn.

Vocabulary in texts

One very effective way of introducing new vocabulary is through listening or reading texts, as it is from specific contexts that words and expressions derive their particular meaning. Often in integrated skills lessons one of the teacher's aims is to introduce and practise a number of lexical items on a particular topic or theme.


A lesson suitable for intermediate students on the theme of holiday resorts. After introducing a number of words and expressions on the topic through a short text from a holiday brochure, the teacher can then ask the students either to plan and deliver a talk about a resort in their own country and/or to write an entry on their own town for a holiday brochure or travel guide. The procedure for such a lesson could be as follows:

1 Introduce the topic by showing the students a real holiday brochure, elicit the words holiday brochure and ask students what kind of information a holiday brochure contains.

2 Give each student a copy of a short passage which describes a particular holiday resort. Ask a few general questions to check that the students have an overall understanding of the text (for example, hit a good place for a holiday? Is it a place for people interested in culture or just relaxation? Would you like to go there? etc).

3 You can then pick out vocabulary from the text and introduce some related vocabulary (for example, the text might mention beautiful coastal scenery and you could introduce mountain scenery, desert scenery, etc).

4 The rest of the lesson could follow on from Step 2 in the sample lesson outlined on p 146 in Presenting a vocabulary set via a visual/oral context.


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