One of the things I really struggle with in my teaching is the issue of vocabulary. How do I choose what my students should know? How much vocabulary should I give them? How should I present it? What kinds of activities should I design? What and how should I assess? How do I deal with gaps in their knowledge?
I like the idea of student selected vocabulary a lot, but despite everything I know about SLA and proficiency, I am still a what-ifer. What if the students don’t bother to do what I ask them to do? What if they don’t study the vocabulary they select for themselves? What if they can’t complete an activity I’ve designed because they don’t have the words? What if it’s just easier to give them a darn list?
I’m sure there are solutions to all of these things but my analytical mind can’t seem to come up with a way that works for everyone that is both engaging and effective and that oh, yeah, still allows me to hit 90% TL every day.
Today was possibly a middle-ground of sorts. After some Personalized Questions and Answers regarding my French 3 students’ attitudes and preferences about travel, I asked each table group (4-5 students) to come up with a list of vocabulary words in either French OR English (based on their prior knowledge) that they thought were absolutely essential to either talk about travel or to use WHILE traveling. They did pretty well for about 5 minutes, but then I noticed they started to get stuck just thinking of isolated words, so I told them to come up with categories for the words, and then see what was lacking in each one. My idea was that we would then build our unit vocab list from their brainstorming and perhaps they would feel like the words and phrases were more personal. Here are some of the categories they came up with (and honestly, some of these I never would have thought of without them!):
Places to go/things to do
Important things to bring
Courtesies and cultural customs (seriously, they came up with that one!)
Tomorrow we’ll add some “essential” vocabulary to each category – I’m not sure how much we’ll come up with but I feel like these categories may sequence quite nicely if I put my focus on one category at a time rather than ask them to memorize the whole list in a given time frame (which I really never do, but big lists can be overwhelming!). It may seem like a lot but they’ll have the resource to pull from and use whenever they want throughout the unit.