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An alternative to vocabulary tests?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by RugbyRuth, Jun 2, 2020.

  1. RugbyRuth

    RugbyRuth New commenter

    Hi there,
    all this time in lockdown has made me question the way I set homework for my pupils. I work in a coastal school where we have a high number of children with SEND and quite a weak cohort overall.
    I have been setting vocabulary tests for pupils as homework but feel that this has not been effective or engaging.
    However, pupils do need to learn vocabulary for their GCSEs!
    Would anyone have any ideas on how to set vocabulary learning but in a bit more of a dynamic and engaging way, rather than what I have been doing (10 words from German into English and 5 words from English into German, with a maximum of 20ish words set)?
  2. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    When I taught German to lower attainers, I made extensive use of phrase-, sentence- and paragraph-length texts containing key vocabulary in authentic settings. Five of these German word knowledge tests I created using these short authentic texts from newsprint and online sources are posted at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0Bw7z_4bLjOOEZmV3Q0RpX0hkbjg. They are based on the topics of House & home, Interests and hobbies, Leisure, School life and Self, family and friends. Hope this helps.
    bonxie likes this.
  3. RugbyRuth

    RugbyRuth New commenter

    Thanks for that and the very quick reply. Did you therefore give them a list of words that would come up in the test and then use reading exercises to test their comprehension? If so then I really like this!
  4. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Yes, I made a direct link between the vocabulary to be mastered and the content of the exercise designed to establish that the lexical items had been learnt. The key to this approach is to present vocabulary in its natural context rather than introducing it as a list of discrete items with a tenuous connection to the overall topic.

    It's very easy to make a list of words and phrases with English translations, handing students the same on a piece of paper. Relatively harder to locate authentic chunks of text illustrating meaning but well worth the extra effort (Google is your friend). It's educational for the teacher as well as the student to see how basic words are used online and in print within phrases and sentences. I found out, for example, that obituary notices were a particularly fertile source of family relationship vocabulary. Every person is somebody's son or daughter, father or mother, cousin, uncle or aunt. Once you start hunting for words in context, you get more of an inkling where to find the "mother lode" of key words and phrases for a particular vocabulary group.
  5. veverett

    veverett Occasional commenter

    I give classes a text and ask them to underline the words they remember from the list they were learning. If they can't even spot them, then I know they haven't even looked at the list. Or do the same with me reading text aloud and they have to write down the words they hear that they know were on the list.
    And then we can start to work on understanding the words in the sentence...
  6. Jonntyboy

    Jonntyboy Lead commenter

    Context certainly helps, and @veverett 's trick with text is a good idea for spotting the ones who haven't bothered.
    But ultimately, learning a foreign language is about learning grammar and vocabulary, and there comes a point where you have to bite the bullet and ask the students to engage in precisely that.
    The idea that there is some magic way to avoid the hard work and effort is moonshine, I'm afraid.
    That said, there are ways of making things both easier and more interesting than simply providing a list and saying "learn".
    Patterns are paramount: anything that allows the brain to grasp a concept in more than one way is a massive boost, so therefore learning 3 letter and 4 letter words in small groups, or e.g. in German five words beginning with Sch or all the modal verbs together, or in Spanish 5 words that include "ll" are all simple and basic ideas that will help. Visual stimulations are great, and pictures with words work, as we know. If you write "ojos" on a whiteboard you can easily make it into a face with eyes and a nose, and if the kids then draw it in their books they will never forget the Spanish for "eyes".
    If you can introduce some sort of challenge along with this, it's even better - the "beat the teacher" games where they have to say which meaning you get wrong, or stay silent when you make an error, and the old favourite "splat", in two or three teams, are all brilliant.
    Context was mentioned, and so many foreign languages have patterns within context groups of vocabularies that this is often easy to do - sports, family, food, buildings etc.
    You could make up rhymes - I remember still from Latin "if a fact be the cause or a fact you'd concede, quamquam and quod the indicative need" - though that's grammar too, of course.
    Better, you can ask the kids themselves to come up with rhymes and good ways to remember things - they enjoy the challenge and can come up with some amazing ideas, often very visual, that you haven't ever thought of. In fact rhymes are one of the best ways - a simple one like "manzanas, melones, naranjas, limones", especially if chanted with pictures appearing, involves multiple brain stimulations and is guaranteed to be remembered better than a simple list. If you challenge them to say it as quickly as they can, they'll have a go and enjoy getting tongue-tied...
    Another way is to act out the word - often this works well with verbs or things regarding a person, so for example tengo frio - you have the kids miming shivering with cold because it's freezing; gripe, they grip themselves hard to stop themselves shaking to pieces with flu.
    Let the class clowns or the best actors get into this, and they'll love it - I remember one lad acting out "j'ai envie de vomir" so well that I actually thought he was about to be...
    The other good way is to introduce vocab within a story: sometimes the storyline has to be a bit corny, but they don't seem to mind, and every teacher knows that the one thing that will settle a class is the phrase: "listen, I'm going to tell you a story now". If you emphasize the words in the story that you want them to learn, they'll get them much more quickly, again, than a list. The problem with this is that it's time-consuming to prepare, but once it's done, it's done for multi-uses.
    Finally, repetition. It's established beyond doubt that it's better to do six lots of 2 minute learning over six days that one block of 12 minute learning on one day. So keep the repetition coming, and you'll be surprised how well it will stick.
    I hope some of that has been useful, but again, I emphasize that in my opinion, having learned and taught five foreign languages, there is no magical way to avoid learning vocab! Just more interesting, and, for most students, more efficient, ways to do it...
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2020
    agathamorse and BrightonEarly like this.
  7. ChocolateChunk

    ChocolateChunk New commenter

    How do you give the words to the students? Do you provide these on a hard copy and in Google Classroom?
    What words do you ask them to learn? Are these new words all the time? If so, I would then suggest 'only' giving them the same 200 words over and over, your non-negotiable ones like "there is not", "it was sunny", "I went" etc.Use that same list and increase by a 100 for the Year above and so on. That would give you a list of 10 up to 20 tests overall that you can vary. Sort them out by genre: modal verbs, past / future / conditional tense, time phrases etc.
    I have observed that learning completely new words has not helped much for their literacy and level in general, but the high-frequency words had much more of an impact on their Speaking / Writing.

    I would suggest using Quizlet as it has a variety of activities which would tackle different preferences for learning: https://quizlet.com/latest
    Most topics are usually done already by other users, so you can use them for your own students. It will also allow students to take their time and the test is auto-assessed and tells them where they were successful or not.
    If your school provides Chromebooks / tablets to students, they can play Quizlet Live in teams the lesson before the test? They could use their own phone device if you can trust them with these.

    I have not trained Brainscape but it is also popular in some schools: https://www.brainscape.com/
    They need a google account for that, but that is very quick to create.

    For the actual test, you could:
    - Set the students in random teams by Module: whomever scores the highest number of points gets a prize of your choosing. You could also do that across all classes with your colleagues to make it more competitive. That would also promote MFL above your own class.
    You could use Class Dojo for that and show them their progress on a regular basis?
    - Ask students to set themselves their own minimum grade per Module. If they are successful, they get Reward Points?
    - Challenge your more willing students to use some of these words in their next paragraphs.
    pascuam49 likes this.

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