Thursday, May 10, 2012

Using Vocabulary Notebooks to Promote More Accurate Use of English Part 1

I teach a general English class to freshmen once a week at a different university to where I usually work. The theme of the class is "Global Problems" and I would call it content-based where students are reading, writing, speaking and listening to English. In years past there has been some explicit language focus but content and promoting students' communicative strategies was prioritized. This class is a one-year long class and for the past couple of years I have enjoyed a close relationship with my student and have seen them grow intellectually and increase their confidence in using English. Some students, also demonstrated improvement in their writing and speaking but actually there were too many students who, to be frank, began the class as lousy writers and speakers and ended the year that way without demonstrating much improvement.

Throughout the years I have used vocabulary notebooks in the class to encourage students to use vocabulary learning strategies. Here is an example of an entry (Click on the image to see an enlarged version):

Example entry for the vocabulary notebook
The vocabulary notebook is designed to help students learn the necessary information to be able to use a word, not just understand it. Nevertheless, looking at students' past writing, I do not think that they used the notebook the way that I intended. They recorded word information for the sake of recording it but for example, but they did not apply any of the good habits they were supposed to develop in their real-life English usage. For example, when writing a word they did not know well they did not confirm beforehand things like what prepositions could be used with the word, what the word means and when it is used, or what collocations the word has. I wanted students to become their own editors when using English. This year, I have decided to make more of an effort to encourage students to use vocabulary notebooks as a way to improve their written and spoken English. This is what you would call action research which consists of the following cycles:

1) Identifying an issue, problem, or puzzle we wish to investigate in our own context
2) Thinking and planning an appropriate action to address the concern
3) carrying out the action
4) Observing the apparent outcomes of the action
5) reflecting on the outcomes and other possibilities
6) repeating these steps again

In my next post, I will talk about the issue or problem more specifically and then action I plan to take using the vocabulary notebooks.

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