Sunday, July 21, 2013

More on Vocab Notebooks -- and Cards

In an earlier post, I reflected on the use of vocabulary notebooks.  I concluded that learners need to be taught a specific way of organizing their notebooks, that they need to be given time to work on their notebooks during class, and that we need to use the notebooks regularly in class activities (give learners a need to keep up with them).  Eventually, individuals can personalize their notebook-keeping but they need to see the utility in the process first.

How did I do with these conclusions over the last month? Well, I was OK with showing learners a method of organizing, and I reinforced this by using the same format on the board when discussing a new word. I also gave folks time to write in their notebooks.  I didn't make sure each learner had set up a notebook -- I think many just embedded vocabulary notes in their regular notebook -- and I didn't include the notebooks in activities often.

In continuing to mull this whole process over, it occurred to me that a vocabulary notebook is somewhat "schooly".  When learners get home, it probably gets dumped on the desk with other class materials and is probably looked at only when (if) they do homework.  It doesn't seem to lend itself to frequent reference during the time between classes.

What if learners used a small notebook that they could carry around day to day?

These are all about 4.5x3 inches (114x82 mm) in size.  The 50-page "composition" books are very inexpensive -- you can get a 3-pack at the dollar store for a buck.  The 140-page spiral books have unlined paper and the pages can be torn out and used as flash cards.  I think I got them on sale at an office supply store for $1 each.  They're a bit bulkier, but would easily fit in a backpack or handbag.  Not only can small notebooks be used for vocabulary study at any time, they can be used to jot down interesting or confusing language as it's encountered.  (Homework this week is for learners to observe language around them and bring in something interesting to share with their classmates.  I'm going to do it too, and it will be a standing assignment for the weekend.)

If learners have a smart phone, they don't need a notebook.  They just need to find the app that suits their needs (and use it!).  I can see using the "reminder" app that comes with the iPhone to note new language, maybe checking an item off when it's been clarified or transferred to a notebook for further study.  Any notebook app could be used for study.  Put the word at the top of a page and the definition far enough down that you need to scroll to see it.  There you go!

I've also been continuing with reading books on teaching vocabulary (click "vocabulary" in my word cloud for earlier notes).  I finished the Graves book, though I admit I skipped the last section which dealt with "Empirically Validated Vocabulary Programs for ELLs".  The programs are designed for children and don't seem useful for adult learners.  Now I'm trying to read How to Teach Vocabulary by Scott Thornbury.  The reason I'm saying "trying" is ... the book's so packed with practical material that I keep opening to random pages and getting caught up imagining how I can use whatever's on that page!  I'm sure I'll have more to say on the book in another post sometime.  Meanwhile, one idea in Thornbury's book, also described in Games for Language Learning by Wright, Betteridge and Buckby, caught my eye.

It seems as if vocabulary cards could serve many, if not all, of the same functions as a vocabulary notebook.  But they're much more flexible.  Learners can alphabetize them, categorize them, carry them around easily, use them to quiz each other and use them for games.  I can join in the act by making a set of vocabulary cards for the classroom.  In fact, I like the idea of making two sets.  That way, two groups can use a set at the same time or both sets can be used together for a game or other activity.

Here is a pencil bag I got on sale at an office supply store for (probably) a dollar.  Inside are 50 or 60 3x5 index cards and several kinds of clips.  Personally, I think smaller cards would be easier to use. Maybe we could cut these cards in half.  The clips can be used for the 10 or so cards a learner wants to take out and carry around for this week's studying.  In the classroom set, the clips might have another use.  I'm thinking of having one-sided cards (keeping the backs blank).  Word and definition would go on separate cards and be clipped together.  Then the cards can be mixed up and learners can pair words with definitions.  They can also be used with card games where the backs need to be blank.  Each word could slowly accumulate additional cards for synonym, antonym, collocation, gap-fill sentence, etc.  Both of the books listed above offer a variety of games and activities to be used with vocabulary cards.  Here's one to add to the list (not in either book).  It's a reworking of a popular kid's game.

thanks to Tom Magliery
Use 2 sets of 12 pairs of cards (48 cards in all), a pair being a word and its definition, a word and its opposite, etc. Deal out 5 cards to 3-5 players and put the remaining cards in the center of the table. Players take turns asking: Do you have the definition of “economy”? or Do you have the opposite of “create”? The card holder says “No.” or “Yes, the opposite of “create” is “destroy.” and hands over the card. If no match, the requester must “go fish” (draw a card). If they draw what they were looking for, they can continue, otherwise play goes to the next learner. When a player gets all 4 cards (2 pairs of the same word), they have a “set” and can set these cards aside. The player with the most sets at the end wins.
To wrap up, there are also flashcard apps.  I've taken a brief look at a basic one called Quiz Maker  by TouchMint that seems pretty good.  With this app, you can create different decks of cards.  You can quiz yourself on either "side" of a card.  You can add hints, and you can evaluate yourself -- I haven't given it a good try yet, but I presume that the cards you mark as "don't understand very well" will come up more often during quizzing.  It appears that you can share your cards with other by email ... hmmm, I feel a classroom activity coming on!

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