QUESTION 1: At this point in your teaching, where do you stand on vocabulary lists?
@alenord: At this point, vocabulary lists are more encumbering to my students than helpful, especially on the front end of instruction. I find that in creating a list or using one created by a textbook or other source students don’t attend to words and expressions used during comprehensible input with the same intensity as when the listening or reading is the primary source for vocabulary. In other words, when we give them a list THEY no longer NEED the words. They have them on a sheet of paper somewhere in their notebook. They are not desperate to know them in order to communicate. Also, when I used to make vocabulary lists for my students I had a tendency to overwhelm them with longer and longer lists of words because I was afraid I was going to forget some vital word necessary to their communication. Now I see I was just jamming their circuits up with too much information. Now, we brainstorm vocabulary we need for a communicative task, read to learn vocabulary, listen to learn vocabulary or look for vocabulary in new situations we experience in class.
@sonrisadelcampo - My experiences with long vocabulary lists of themes provided in textbooks is that very few students are learn the vocabulary in that manner . If they do remember the words, they can’t use them in context. Therefore, I discontinued using vocabulary lists in my classroom. Instead, at my school, we focus on teaching high frequency words at each level through stories and comprehensible input activities.
@yeager85 - I still use vocabulary lists but have changed the way I approach them. I don’t do quizzes that assess whether or not they remember every single word on there. I think anymore, the way I approach it is that I’m going to provide them with a list of words that might be relevant to them and they can use what they want. If I’m trying to get them to talk about their interests, for example, and they remember only half of the list, but they’re able to communicate, I’m fine. I’ve also started leaving space on the list for them to add words that they want. (Granted, this is just for my lower level classes: 1&2. Now that I think about it, I don’t use a list in level 3). It’s been a bit hard for me to break from because I think they need some sort of structure AND I think in lower levels there are words and phrases that are absolutely rudimentary and they DO need to have exposure to. But more than anything, the list is just a resource, a “here’s a place you can turn to when you need to find words you can use” and not as much as “memorize every one of these” type things.
@fravan--I don’t hand out lists anymore. Backwards planning has been a huge help with this. I look at what I want them to be able to do at the end of the unit. For example, the unit I am introducing tomorrow is, ¿Qué es un buen amigo? (What is a good friend?) At the end of the unit, they should be able to describe their best friend. They should also be able to talk about what their best friend does for fun. Tomorrow, we will brainstorm a list of adjective that describe their best friend. Using this list, they will describe their friend. They will use the same list to describe various famous people. Santa Claus, Barack Obama, Miley Cyrus, etc… The list they brainstorm is recorded and shared with them via google docs. I put the list in a shared folder that they can all access. As the year progresses, I see fewer and fewer students using the lists when we talk and write. Ironically, the good students are ones who use the lists. They still have the idea that there is one right answer
@sraslb - I stopped using vocabulary lists completely more than 4 years ago...after having used them for 20 years. For several years prior to that time, I had been phasing out the use/frequency and emphasis on lists. Vocabulary lists are just that, lists. We don’t talk “in lists”. I don’t know why it took so long for me to lose them, and the quizzes associated with them. Like so many other content areas, kids are going to memorize “a list” simply to take a quiz, and then promptly forget the vast majority of it. My curriculum is now all theme-based, and the vocabulary that I choose to incorporate is used on a daily basis, with great input from the students. They (or their interests and questions) help to dictate what the vocabulary will become. Does this make it messy when teaching more than one section of a class? Of course it does. I keep a running, constantly changing list of words on the word wall, some are only in Spanish, others are Spanish/English. The word wall is for the vocabulary that they are requesting. The vocabulary that I have targeted prior to starting the unit rarely makes it’s way to that wall. It does take some getting used to. The students that I get in Spanish III and IV (unless they’ve had me the year before), are not accustomed to functioning without a list. However, they quickly learn that they are capable of great vocabulary retention without having it.
@natadel76 - I stopped teaching from the textbook a few years back. It wasn’t “cold turkey”, so I weaned my dependance on lists as I progressed in my understanding of proficiency-based classroom. Along with lists disappeared vocabulary games and quizzes. Now as I create my own curriculum, I set a few key functional phrases and expressions that I want all students to know (they are usually written on the board). The rest of the terms the kids get as comprehensible input based on authentic resource/theme usually accompanied by pictures. For example, as we tackled the question “How meals in France are different or same to the meals I eat?”, my beginner students got “they eat” / “I eat” / “one eats”, “for/at breakfast/lunch/dinner” in front of them on the board. The rest of the vocabulary I introduced by presenting the pictures of one typical French meal and typical American meal at a time. They listened, read, answered comprehension questions, presented own statements etc. I usually do make a list of key vocabulary items AFTER this and post it on Quizlet so the ones who want/need extra practice can access it at their own time.
@Ashida_Linda My story is similar to @sraslb I have been teaching for 29 years. For most of those years it was just engrained in us to use vocabulary lists. During the last several years it just wasn’t making sense because it was so de-contextualized. So I started just embedding the vocab study as a part of all of our reading and listening (input), equipping students with skills to pull meaning from context. Sometimes pre-reading and pre-listening activities would highlight 3-5 key words that students would hear / read. I also agree with @fraven that backward planning is a huge help. For example, recently students were worked in small groups to plan a cultural presentation on Day of the Dead. They knew that the end goal (backward planning) was the presentation. They knew the rubric expected “rich vocabulary”. Students formed groups to find quality videos on Day of the dead. Each group became an expert on one video. They filled in a Google Doc with the key points / details and the key vocabulary. I never gave them a list ahead of time. Each group completed their section of the Google Doc. All students used the Google Doc as a resource for other videos to watch and for key vocabulary they would learn IN CONTEXT! :-). Then as a class we used the vocab list to evaluate “Is this “rich” vocabulary? What is missing? What are the synonyms that we can use to increase our use of rich vocabulary, etc. So, gone are the days that I “waste” time (days!) teaching the “Day of the Dead” (substitute any topic there) vocab list, quiz them, and then get to the reading and listening. INSTEAD, it is embedded into their listening (reading) practice and then they are expected to use this vocabulary in their performance assessments. They remember it so much better from the authentic context. Here is the link to one of the Google Docs: https://docs.google.com/a/d214.org/document/d/1b-4_rLCg3KE9ECUR20USZDvQyE8Mtu8T_BS8IjZoHT8/edit (This activity was done with AP Spanish, but could easily be done with other levels.)
These are the experiences and views of teachers who are teaching language with the goal of proficiency. I hope you can learn from our experiences and points of view. Next time we explore the moment we realized our methods had to change. Stay tuned, and...