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Teach ESL Students to Improve Their English Vocabulary with Dictionaries

Helping students to improve their English Vocabulary can be tricky. There are several reasons why students sometimes seem not to improve or develop their vocabulary.

Often, some of these reasons are that they overuse translating dictionaries, or they are at an intermediate level and they have reached a plateau.

Other times, students feel like they can get by with what they already know, and they are not challenged enough in class in order to take risks and use new vocabulary.

A great technique for students to develop and increase their vocabulary is to increase the availability and use of dictionaries in class and for homework assignments.

It is important that students learn how to improve English vocabulary by themselves.

In order for students to see dictionaries as a valuable resource, they not only need to learn how to use them but also, they need to make use of them for different activities during their course of studies on a regular basis.

The more the students use this tool, the better they will be at using it and the more value they will find in it. What’s more, in the course of looking up a certain word, they might stumble upon other new words that catch their attention and they might be tempted to read the definitions.

It is important to remember that looking up a word in a dictionary and/or reading its definition does not guarantee that a student will learn this word and use it in their next writing or speaking assignment.

It is important that students understand the word and its meaning in English, and see the word used correctly in an example. These are the minimum steps for students to develop a comprehension of the word.

How To Improve English Vocabulary By Forcing Students To Take Risks

Following the development of the comprehension of the new word, students must be encouraged – and sometimes even forced – to take risks and use the new vocabulary they have come in contact with.

When a student can use a new word successfully, it can be said that the word has then been added to the student’s personal vocabulary.

In order to help students take risks with their vocabulary, a teacher must purposefully create activities, tasks and assignments with this clear aim. Sometimes, students – especially in the beginner and lower intermediate levels – learn the language at such a fast rate that teachers might overlook vocabulary development as a necessary aim.

However, in order to continue this fast-paced learning, vocabulary development needs as much attention as the four major skills and grammar.

Activities To Improve English Vocabulary

The following suggestions and activities can help teachers keep vocabulary improvement in the forefront.

  1.  Word walls can be set up in the classroom, where the new words focus on a particular unit, week or period of time in the course are put up or displayed. They can be referenced and pointed out during several classes, and their constant presence will facilitate the first step of the vocabulary learning process.
  2.  In order to teach students how to improve English vocabulary on their own, students can be asked to keep a personal vocabulary book or a personal dictionary where they add any new words they have learned or any new words assigned per unit. This can be done in an agenda book, an Excel spreadsheet or on a wiki that the whole class can share and collaborate to. Whichever the medium, it is important to be consistent and to ask students to use this personal dictionary and maintain it updated.
  3. One word per day can be assigned for an exit card. Each student must use one of the new vocabulary words in a good sentence in order to be able to leave the class.
  4. Similarly, a great way to improve English vocabulary is to use entry cards. Entry cards can be given out with new vocabulary words and students can be asked to describe the meaning of the word or use it appropriately in a sentence before being allowed to enter the class.

When the focus on vocabulary improvement is present, students will rise to the challenge and they will figure out how to improve English vocabulary to meet their needs.

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Related Articles:

Teaching Vocabulary with Dictionaries: Frameworks, Levels, and Activities

How to Introduce New Vocabulary

Teaching Vocabulary Fundamentals: Context and Different Levels

Teaching ESL Students to Use Dictionaries with Dictionary Games

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