Engaging Vocabulary Activities for Young Learners

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Do your students enjoy learning vocabulary? It is certainly one of the first steps in learning a new language. A few simple strategies can help our students learn vocabulary meaningfully and productively.

 Presenting the new words

Picture cards can be a very effective way of introducing vocabulary. One method is to point to a picture, say the word, and ask students to repeat it. However, this is a passive approach that doesn’t motivate children to learn — and it doesn’t build their deeper thinking skills.

One approach that provides active learning and deeper thinking is as follows. Let’s assume you are introducing words from Magic Time One Unit 10, which introduces the following pets:

rabbit     dog     turtle     bird     frog     cat

Before class, attach the picture cards for this vocabulary to the board face down (with the back of the card facing the students). Explain to students that you have six pets that you want to introduce to them.

Peel back the first card to secretly look at the first pet. Turn to the students as you imitate the shape or movement of the animal (such as a hopping rabbit, the wagging tail of a dog, or a slow-moving turtle).

Some of your students may know the English word for the animal, and will call out its name. If they do so correctly, nod yes and reveal the card. If not, say the word as you do the action (for example, say frog as you jump like a frog). Then reveal the picture card. When you show the picture card, say the word twice, first pointing to the picture, then to the written word beneath it. Continue in the same way with all six cards.

Another way to do this would be to bring in stuffed animals, pulling them slowly out of a bag until students are able to identify them. You may also do a “slow reveal” of the picture card, sliding it up from behind a book until students are able to guess what it is.

The above activities allow students to tap into their prior knowledge – this will tell us what they already know. It also gets them to think about the subject of pets – as they guess the animals, their brains are thinking about which animals could possibly be pets. This simple activity then becomes a critical thinking activity that engages students far beyond memorization.

Producing the new words

In the next activity, we want to move to more productive skills – with our students actually using the language. Remember that this can take time – students need to move through the receptive stage first. However, this activity motivates them to use the language more quickly.

Let’s assume you are using the set of words from Magic Time One Unit 11, which introduces family members:

grandmother     mother     sister     grandfather     father     brother

Let’s also assume that we have taught these words using one of the activities described above. Our next goal is to get our students to produce these words while using their critical thinking skills.

Attach the family picture cards in random order across the board so that students can see the family members. Then draw a simple picture of a girl on one side of the board, and a picture of a boy on the other side. Ask students to tell you which picture cards belong on which side. This requires students to say the words (grandmother, father, etc.) as they point to them. Then attach the picture cards under the boy or girl, but not in any particular order.

photo 1

Next, invite students to pair up the family members. To do so, point to the mother card as students say mother. Move the card to the top of the board as you say “mother and . . .” Students point to the father card as they say the word father. Then place the two picture cards together on the board. Continue in the same way with sister – brother and grandmother – grandfather.

photo 2

Students can each have their own set of six picture cards, which they can make themselves, or which can be copied from the Magic Time Picture and Word Card Book. You can ask students to classify the cards at their desks, in the two ways described above. You can also ask students to classify and arrange the cards in other ways — from oldest pairs to youngest pairs, for example, or in ABC order. With other picture card sets (such as classroom items), students can arrange the items in other ways, such as from biggest to smallest.

Songs and chants

In Magic Time, we also practice vocabulary by putting the words into chants and songs. This gives students an opportunity to produce the language as they chant and sing along. It also helps students build comprehension of the words. Chants and songs make learning fun and memorable.

Predicting and producing vocabulary

Finally, for Magic Time users, the following activity is very engaging for students, allowing them to predict, think about what they know, and use the language productively. This is normally done after the chant is taught to the students:

On the first and third pages of each unit in Magic Time, students are asked to “Listen and write the number.” Normally, students listen as the narrator on the CD says, “Number One,” followed by a word. Students then write the number “1” in the white circle next to the correct picture in the large scene. This serves as an assessment to see what students know. Click on the link below to see sample pages from Magic Time One Unit 7.

MT1 U7

To make this activity more productive, first put the six picture cards on the board facing the students. Draw a white circle next to each picture card. Pause the CD, and ask students to guess what they think “Number One” will be. Each student needs to point to a picture card and say the word. Write each student’s name beside the picture cards they choose. Then listen to what the narrator says on the CD for “Number One.” Of course, students are listening very closely to see if their guess is correct. If so, they cheer! All students then write the number “1” in the correct white circle in their student books. With the CD paused, students then try to guess the second word, and so on. You can keep track of each student’s correct guesses if you wish. With a large class, this activity can be done with partners or with teams.

These are just three ways to get your students to think more deeply as they use the vocabulary words meaningfully and productively. These activities go beyond simple memorization and comprehension – they allow students to tap into their prior knowledge, to understand relationships, and to predict. They require active participation and active learning, which means happier and more engaged students.

Happy Teaching!

Kathy and Chuck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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