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TEFL Masterclass – Recycling Vocabulary

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Cristina Nicolaou – Experienced CELTA Trainer, University Lecturer & Examiner.

Cristina Nicolaou, with 15 years in ELT, is a CELTA trainer, Cambridge examiner (IELTS, BEC, FCE), and a TESOL Master’s holder from the University of Manchester. She’s pursuing a Ph.D., focused on student-centered, enjoyable classrooms that enhance communication between learners and the world.

What you will learn

Vocabulary acquisition is essential for mastery of the language and yet TESOL students believe it to be one of their greatest sources of problem. This webinar explores the reason why learners fail to master the acquisition of lexical items, explaining why lexical knowledge seems to be going in learners’ in one ear and coming out the next immediately.

It details how recycling lexical items ensure those will be retained in the learners’ memory. Recycling activities that focus on both receptive and productive knowledge of the lexical items will be presented as practical, effective and low prep- solutions to recycling vocabulary that teachers can use immediately in their classroom.

Workshop Summary

Challenges in Vocabulary Retention and Age-Appropriate Strategies:

The TEFL webinar, led by Christina and Gabby, delved into the significant challenges of vocabulary retention in language learning. A key point highlighted was that 80% of learned information is typically forgotten within 24 hours, necessitating multiple encounters with new words for effective memorization. The webinar stressed the need for vocabulary recycling activities to be adaptable across various age groups. While some activities seemed more suited to younger learners due to their playful nature, they were deemed effective for adults too, particularly when incorporating gamification elements. The necessity of customising activities to match the cognitive complexity of different age groups has been emphasised- simpler tasks for younger learners and more sophisticated ones for advanced students have been suggested.

Long-Term Vocabulary Retention and The Principle of The Four Strands:

The second part of the webinar concentrated on strategies for long-term vocabulary retention. Speakers focused on the cognitive effort required in recalling words, which aids their integration into long-term memory. Paul Nation’s principle of the four strands in vocabulary learning has been discussed – meaning-focused input and output, language-focused learning, and fluency development. These strands aim to enhance understanding of vocabulary, with activities ranging from reading and listening for comprehension to categorising words and exploring collocations. The discussion also covered the difference between teaching and learning vocabulary, advocating for a long-term approach that goes beyond single lessons and integrates activities into the broader curriculum. Christina advocated for spaced retrieval practices, where vocabulary is revisited over extended periods to ensure better retention.

Integrating Pronunciation and Technology in Vocabulary Recycling:

The final part of the webinar focused on integrating pronunciation practice and technology in vocabulary recycling. Regular pronunciation exercises were recommended, with speakers suggesting short, frequent practices. Christina shared her method of meticulous record-keeping of new words, which aids in designing effective recycling activities. The webinar highlighted the utility of technology, particularly chat GPT, in creating contextualised vocabulary activities. There was a demonstration of how chat GPT could be used to engage students in vocabulary learning interactively. However, it was noted that while technology is beneficial, it should supplement rather than replace traditional methods like handwritten word cards.

Addressing Teacher Concerns and Embracing the Learning Process:

Towards the end of the webinar, the speakers addressed common concerns among language teachers, such as time constraints and the pressures of adhering to a coursebook. They suggested that tools like chat GPT can help ease these pressures by assisting in lesson planning and paraphrasing tasks. The key takeaway was the natural tendency of students to forget vocabulary and that this should not be seen as a failure on the part of the teacher or student. Instead, it was recommended that teachers embrace this reality and focus on strategies like spaced retrieval and engaging activities to enhance vocabulary retention. This approach acknowledges the challenges of language learning and aims to create more effective and enjoyable learning experiences.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. Why do my students keep forgetting words they have just seen and studied?
  2. What can I do to ensure students remember the lexis I have taught them?
  3. Is repetition enough to remember a word?
  4. Do students need to use the words to remember them?
  • Morgan, J. and Rinvolucri, M. (2004) Vocabulary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Schmitt, N. (2000) Vocabulary in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Thornbury, S. (2002) How to teach vocabulary. Harlow: Pearson/Logman.
  • Ur, P. and Thornbury, S. (2012) Vocabulary activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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