Day 5 – the new cohort

I had fun today – did you?

While without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed”

(Wilkins, 1972:111)

Test test and test again….?

Today at 8.35 the first students started dripping in. As I hadn’t seen them last week I was very pleased to see them this morning. The topic was vocabulary: a topic I love! I was first curious to know how their first week at their placement schools had gone. Most of them were still thrilled to have started their future careers though there was a certain amount of criticism regarding a couple of the teachers.

I started the lesson with a test, in fact, the lesson was full of tests. First I asked them to write a sentence using the word I had written on the board “bear”. Of course it was a trick (I wanted the verb, they all but one went for the noun!). Then after a brief quiz (to check they had internalised part of the theory they had to read in preparation of this class) I moved on to a Gaelic test. Why? Well to demonstrate that vocabulary learning is not easy if you can’t hear the language (they were allowed one minute to read it) and don’t get to practise it in various situation. Being the highly intelligent students they are, they did a really good job even though there are not many logical connections between Gaelic and English or Dutch.

        • Ciamar a tha sibh? (how are you)
        • Tha gu math (I’m well)
        • Is mise Louise (I’m Louise)

After a brief discussion (to put them off a little and give them more of a feeling of being in the same position as their pupils) I then asked them to write down the sentences on their mini whiteboards.

Intelligent? How?

We then went on to test which of our intelligence is dominant (ok, I know Howard Gardner is not exactly pro-testing your intelligences in this way, but it’s a convenient way of introducing a complex topic to make sure student teachers are aware that the way they prefer to learn words is not necessarily the only way!). Here’s a photo of the students checking out their results (cleverly copied on the back so you can only see it when you lift it up to the light – oh the joys of photocopiers!).

Then a brief psychological test followed using two lists of 14 thematic words – to demonstrate that our brains actually invent words that we didn’t actually hear. This was followed by a discussion on what that means for vocab: the pros and cons of offering vocab thematically.MI test

Examples from the one of the word lists* (translated from Dutch): haystack, syringe, injection (the word we invent is ‘needle’)

Glossaries followed: research done by Paul Nation and some of my students involving a comparison of the use of glossaries and word lists. Using a Burns poem (have loved his work since I was first introduced to it at primary school in Scotland) I ‘immersed’ the students in Burns + glossaries (in much the same way they could help their pupils read Shakespeare – who is still compulsory reading at many/most secondary schools over here).To a mouse

After that we moved onto standard text analysis and various ways of helping children ‘notice’ and learn words in a text.

I ran out of time and so didn’t get round to doing everything I wanted. This is a recurring problem with me – I always try to cram too much into each lesson, mainly because I only have one lesson per topic and try to give the students as much info as possible before sending them out into the wide world.

What essentials did I miss? What would you scrap and what would you add?

* if you’re interested in receiving the original article with these words (nb it’s in Dutch, I can help with the translation), then send me a message with your email address.

Preparatory reading for the students:

  • Brown, H.D. (2007) ‘Form-focused Instruction’, Chapter 22. In: Teaching by principles. An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy, pp. 435-440. White Plains, NY:  Pearson Education.
  • Kwakernaak, E. (2009) Didactiek van het vreemdetalenonderwijs, chapter 13, ’Woordenschat’, pp. 279-329.
  • Schouten – van Parreren, C. (1993) ‘Psychologische aspecten van het leren van woorden in een vreemde taal’. In: Levende Talen, 476, pp. 5-9.


Burns, Robert “To a Mouse” (

Gardner, H. (2000). Intelligence Reframed: multiple intelligences for the 21st century. Basic Books.

Nation, I.S.P. (2000). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oxford, R.L. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. Bosten: Heinle and Heinle Publishers.

Wilkins, David A. (1972). Linguistics in Language Teaching. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


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