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Vocabulary Lists for lower levels

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Kim Dammers's picture
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Vocabulary Lists for lower levels

Cambridge provides free access to PDF lists of vocabulary associated with/ appropriate for (at least) their lower levels (young learners levels), KET and PET. The KET and PET are aligned with lower CEFR levels (Cambridge has been in on the development of CEFR, so the alignment should be pretty tight). If you subscribe to the free newsletters from Cambridge, you will get access to the lists (today's newsletter came with the links to them), but they are also accessible on the Internet if you know how to search for them.

Once you have these, you can use them as targets, modify them, compare them to corpora (corpus.byu.edu/coca etc. and BYU's words and phrases; Google n-grams) and the NGSL (New General Service List): www.newgeneralservicelist.org.

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Thanks!

Thanks for the tip Kim, I appreciate it. I'd definitely like to incorporate some more vocab teaching into my classes and I was looking for something to get started with.

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Using them in class?

Kim-I'm wondering how you'd go about using these kinds of things in your classes? I'm really new to teaching and while I think that vocab is a huge part of making progress in a language, I don't really know how I'd go about making use of something like this.

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Teaching vocabulary

Briefly: There are two primary ways I incorporate the vocabulary. Especially for beginners and other low-level learners, I use a list in tailoring my lesson plans. I make up a sub-list of words to be learned (not strictly in the order in the list, but juggled around a bit so that the lesson makes sense and there is a minimum of interference from words) . Then, in the lesson, some of the words are explicitly taught (I mostly use TPR and TPRS at this level, enhanced with games and songs) and others are built into the phrases and sentences used. The words (often taught in phrases) are re-cycled though-out the class and then in later classes. I keep a list of words taught and the classes in which they are reviewed (or at least used). I use a spreadsheet for this.

For more advanced students (and older ones at a some-what earlier point), I assign a number of words per class. In the first class or classes, I have already gone over memorization techniques and methods of incorporation and retention and concepts such as collocation and register, so the students should know how to learn the words on their own. Then, I either start with a quiz on the words or go into the next lesson, being sure to use the vocabulary both as content and, where possible, in teacher talk. How-ever, if the students in the class have come from a mixed background and it is a general or an EAC course, I give them the list of target vocabulary and have them self-test and let them set up their own individual learning schedules, but telling them that they should be sure they really know words they aren't studying, since they will be responsible for the whole list. Even in a situation like this, I keep at least a rough record of target words the class uses and make a point of using ones I figure most students will need work on (for simple meaning or for collocation, pronunciation or other area).

There are at least two fun (to my mind at least) and useful free self-testing sites for students to get an estimate of the size of their vocabulary. These two have different approaches, so compare them before using: http://testyourvocab.com/ and my.vocabularysize.com.

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Thanks

Kim-thank you! I really like the idea of keeping track of which ones you've taught them and then making a point of using them again in class through things like teacher talk.

I'm going to check out those sites-I think my students will find it really fun to test and see where they're at.

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Teaching Vocab

Kim, I'm wondering if you see vocabulary as more of a thing you can work on in class, or if it's something that students should focus on at home?

I have a feeling you're going to say that both approaches are needed, but in your opinion, which one is more effective?

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Vocab

On the subject of vocabulary, I'm wondering what you think about this scenario. At my public school here in Korea (elementary school), students are given vocab lists with the Korean word translation and then the transliteration into Korean. This results in the most ridiculous of pronunciations I've heard in my life. I've argued with various co-teachers until I was blue in the face but to no avail. Is this not such a terrible thing and I'm making a big deal out of nothing?

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Vocabulary : Dolch & difficulty tests

A while back, I mentioned some useful vocabulary lists. Another, shorter one is the Dolch 220 list. It consists of the 220 most commonly used words found in first through third grade reading material. Excluding nouns, these words are said to be about three-quarters of individual occurrences (excluding nouns, which are listed as an additional 95 words). Even though the list was complied in 1936, even the nouns seem to be what I would expect today (except for maybe a few changes such as "deer" instead of "squirrel"). There many online places that give the list. One that has colorful charts of them is http://www.k5stars.com/printables/Sight_Words_Summary.php.

A bit related to vocabulary are readability tests, Most of these are based at least in part on vocabulary in one way or another, either against something like a frequency or recommended-core list (e.g., BYU's lists of the BNC etc. or the GSL) or against the text itself (i.e., how much repetition of the same words there is). The tests are usually indexed to some readability scale such as U.S. grade level. Some of the most commonly used are the ARI, SMOG, Coleman-Liau Index, Dale-Chall Readability Formula, Flesch-Kincaid readability test, Flesch Reading Ease, Some, maybe most, of these can be found online so that a C&P will give a score almost instantly.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Fry Readability Formula, Gunning-Fog Index, and the Lexile Framework for Reading.

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Teaching Vocabulary

Jackie: I was traveling and din't see Your post until today since Yahoo blocked my ESL101 e-mails and I just came across them in my spam file.

Yes, you are right: I believe both at home and in class learning should be practiced. At the lowest level with young learners, only in-class learning is used (I am talking about EFL students, not kids in an ESL class, where they have English out-side the class-room). For more advanced and older students, more of the burden (sorry) falls on the student's independent acquisition and review. That said, I am a real fan of extensive reading and extensive listening/watching in class. I prefer not to spend very much time explicitly working on vocabulary once an adequate base has been established.

When I teach ESP, e.g., biz English, I give students a list of words for each class period ahead of time (e.g., in the course syllabus or one or more periods before). They are tested on these (preferably self-tested at home) before the period content begins. Then I go into a task-based-learning class so that the words are not explicitly taught. How-ever, since I co-ordinate my task and topic with the vocabulary sub-list (e.g., banking), I am able to use (reinforcing) a lot of the vocabulary in the warm-up and introduction, and the students soon see that the target vocabulary is what they need to use to efficiently complete the task. At the end of the period / task, I might go over the more troublesome words, though ideally I integrate the content that has been learned with the vocabulary so the students work through the summary explicitly indicating the concepts AND the terms they have learned. Of course, I give the students the opportunity to ask me about any words or phrases, e.g., by contacting me during office hours or e-mailing me, but also being open to questions and discussions of words in class. For task- and project/based learning vocabulary, Linguahouse has lists and sublists for some fields, e.g., business, which are of manageable sizes.

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And one more

The Fry list (e.g., http://www.k12reader.com/worksheet/fry-words-complete-list/) is a list that has about 1,000 words, presumably based on frequency and divided into school grades up to sixth or so.

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Extensive reading + listening

Kim, I think you must have really amazing classes! I'm sure your students are learning so much.

My university students here in Korea always ask me how they can improve their English skills and the first thing I tell them is to start reading English books/newspapers/magazines and watching TV or movies, or listening to the radio, A LOT! It's usually not the answer they want to hear because this requires some serious investment of time. However, I do think it's the best way for students to achieve fluency. It's certainly better than "free-talking" with someone, chit-chatting about the same basic topics again and again, which is what they usually want to do!

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Extensive reading

Jackie, I found that students voluntarily read all the sorts of glossy magazines I pretty much abhor: People, Us, Glamour, illustrated novels/comic books, and (at least this one is not so bad) Cosmo. The girls in particular couldn't get enough of fashion, clothing, and celebrity doings. While they were drawn to the pictures, they had to READ to find out if KayHi married Mr. ArfArf or what-ever. Unfortunately, my department and college did not support the purchase of such material, so I had to stock up every time I visited the States.

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Intensive classes

Kim, do you teach intensive classes of some kind where you see your students for many, many hours? I see mine only for 2.5 hours a week and am given a textbook to teach so feel like I don't have a lot of time for extras like focused vocabulary teaching or free-reading time.

I love that you brought your students back Cosmo and People, etc!

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Contact hours

Jackie: I am no longer in Korea, so my comments are past tense. In the last position I had at my university, I was in a new college where we taught in blocks. So, some of my courses were about twelve hours a week ( three hours four times a week, with the students having one home-study day, copying Harvard's model). But it certainly was not all peaches and cream: the administration kept pushing test-prep, and when kids (sic) did not attend enough hours, instead of failing them, we held them over into vacation days, teaching them for full days (six or eight hours, I think). Our non-test-prep classes were marginally better in terms of improved test scores, but the administration wanted "the Korean way": drill grammar and other test-targeted teaching.

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I understand

Kim, that sounds pretty intense. I think a lot of the universities in the Middle East are set-up this way as well, like the 1-year preparatory/foundation course before students begin the real courses.

Was it rewarding to see the students for so many hours a week? I'm sure you could see real improvement. Or, did you guys get tired of each other by the end?

Totally understand about the Korean grammar/test-targeted teaching. I've had so many classes where the admin say something like, "Oh, students just want to improve their conversational abilities" and then hand me a textbook that's all grammar/vocab.

Or, "Just do free-talking, but there's a TOIEC speaking test at the beginning and end of the course. I hope you can improve their scores."

Frustrating!

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Jackie: I really enjoyed

Jackie: I really enjoyed seeing my students so often. And I certainly saw improvement, even day to day. * Because I taught courses in one of the majors, as well as English and liberal arts, there were a few students I saw as much as six class hours on some days, plus evening chats!

I am still in touch with my some of my students. For example, this week-end one girl wrote me that she was back from her semester abroad in Japan or China and told me she'd gotten a 910 on TOEIC thanks to me.

*But the last semester was a bit frustrating because in my EAP class I gave in a bit and did nto teach the capstone material I had wanted to.

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Sounds nice!

Kim, that sounds great. I'd love to be able to see improvement in my students day to day. I'm currently teaching at a university and while I see my students for about 2.5 hours a week (a decent amount of time!), unfortunately there are 25-40 of them in a class so it's nearly impossible for me to have any sort of 1-1 interaction with them. And, I have 4 classes, so even 5 minutes a week talking to each student (5 minutes x 120 students = 600 minutes = 10 hours!) in my office would be more time than I'm wiling to spend.

It's one of my major frustrations and I often wonder if I'd enjoy teaching more in a kind of intensive program like the one you mentioned.

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