Sunday, May 21, 2006

Using Vocabulary Notebooks in English Class

This year, I have started using vocabulary notebooks for two English classes I teach outside of Iwate University. In this post I will talk about the vocabulary notebooks I use at the nursing school I teach at.

Last year in a class I taught at a nursing school, I gave vocabulary quizes every week that our class met. The main reason why I gave the quizes was because it was the way I had been taught Japanese and it was very successful in getting me to memorize many Japanese words. Although most of the words I learned were in my "receptive knowledge" and not my "productive knowledge", I slowly learned how to use the words after hearing them multiple times and trying to sue them myself. In the nursing school, I found that weekly quizes were effective for about 20 out of 40 learners in that they understood the words and could use them in writing. However, there were about 5 students who routinely got zeroes on the test and 15 students who would maybe get 1 or 2 of 5 words correct on a quiz and had very limited command of the nursing vocabulary we studied. I realized that some students in the class knew how to study words and others did not. So, this year I decided to introduce vocabulary notebooks to encourage students to develop strategies for learning words and to help them keep track of their own learning.

At the beginning of the year I asked students to purchase a binder and I created sheets with the kind of layout I wanted them to use to record their vocabulary (Click here to see what a blank sheet looks like). The idea for this layout came from an article I read by Schmitt & Schmitt (1995) in the ELT Journal and the Word Surfing Technique developed by Will McCulloch.
In the left column of the Front Page (Click here to see a sample), learners write the translation of the word they want to learn in Japanese. In the right column they write a key word or key picture which will help trigger their memory of the word.

On the corresponding section of the back page (Click here to see a sample) learners write the following in the left column:
1)The word they want to learn in English.
2) The pronunciation of the word in using the phonetic alphabet.
3) The part of speech of the word
4) Derivations of the word
In the right column learners can write a connecting word which is a word that is used often with the word they want to learn as well as a sentence containing the word.

Here are some ways we have used the vocabulary notebooks in class:
  • Students write dialogues referring to their vocabulary notebooks
  • Students create vocabulary quizes for each other using the sample sentences in their vocabulary notebooks.
  • Before we start a chapter in the textbook, I give students a list of words that I would like them to write into their vocabulary notebooks.
Right now, students are only writing words that I tell them to write in their vocabulary notebooks. Once we all get used to them, I will encourage students to write other English words they encounter into their notebooks and would like to learn. We will also probably start organizing the pages in our vocabulary notebooks in the near future.

Next week, I will collect the nursing students vocabulary notebooks and see how have they been used. I will teach this class once a week for 23 weeks this year, and we have already had 6 weeks of class. I want to encourage students to use the vocabulary notebooks but I do not want to overwhelm them to the point where they become discouraged. For this reason, I am moving very slowly with the vocabulary notebooks and not trying to suddenly force them completely on the students. I hope that by the end of the semester some of the students who seldom wrote down words before the class or were at a loss as to how to study vocabulary will think that making and mainitaing a vocabulary notebook was a good way to help them learn nursing English.


Guy Jean said...

You might be interested in a couple of sites I discovered recently, both on the topic of vocabulary acquisition. One is Loucky's
click on V for vocabulary and R for reading.
The other is an interesting vocab-checking tool called V-check
developed by Charles Brown and Brent Culligan of Tokyo Aoyama Gakuin.

JH said...

The above comment came from someone in the USA. This is not the first time I have received an obnoxious cowardly comment from someone in the USA. I am from the USA but sometimes I wonder why people in the USA do such stupid things and not people from other countries? From the hit counter I know that the few people who read my blog are from all parts of thew world and not just the USA.

Anonymous said...


thanks for your interesting article.
I am new to Japan too so I learn Japanese now so I searched how to organize my vocabulary too.

nice page!