What do your English as a second language students already know? This is a very important question to consider when introducing new vocabulary to your class. By using students’ experiences and background knowledge, and vocabulary that they already know, you, as the teacher, will help students discover more from your lesson than if you tell them the meaning of every key word that you present in your lesson.
Students should be the center of the lesson. This idea of learner-centered teaching is key to students retaining information from your classes. When students make connections for themselves about ideas and vocabulary related to the theme you are teaching, they are more likely to remember the information in the future than if they read the information or hear it from someone else.
What are some ways to elicit information students already know? One way is to ask students what vocabulary they are familiar with related to what you are teaching. For instance, if you are teaching a lesson on transportation, you might ask students what words they know that are related to transportation. Students may say words like “bus,” “train,” “walk,” etc. Write these words on the board as the students state them.
As the teacher, you will pick the key words that you want your students to learn from your lesson. If students do not know some of the lesson’s words, you can use the words in conversation with the students to help them understand the meaning of them without explicitly providing a definition. For example, in your transportation lesson, you can use the words that the students already know and that you have listed on the board to explain the meaning of “to travel by” in a roundabout way. You can ask a student, “Do you travel by bus to get to class?” Students will likely understand the meaning of the word from the context of your question.
You can also explain the meaning of words by asking students for synonyms or the opposite word for the vocabulary they need to learn. Another method is to act out with gestures the definition of the word. Using pictures, maps, posters, etc. will help students to grasp the meaning of new vocabulary words as well. They will then have something visual at which they can look and gather information.
It is important to remember that students may not grasp the concept of the words you present to them. Therefore, you should check to make sure they understand the words by asking them questions that use the words you want to check. Just repeating the words doesn’t mean that the students understand what they mean.
Students’ understanding of the world around them, their experiences, and their previous knowledge of vocabulary can make your teaching job easier. It also makes your lesson more engaging and interesting for the students. They will remember information more and be able to recall it in the future more easily.