#ELTchat summary (5 Oct 2016) – How do we help students record new vocabulary?

By Maria Conca- @MConca16




This week’s #ELTchat discussed various ways to help our learners record new vocabulary in the classroom. Participants shared ideas on what they do to encourage learners to record and process new vocabulary, but they also exchanged views on why recording vocabulary is so important in language learning/teaching. Unsurprisingly, many of the ELT chatters had similar experiences of problems they have encountered with different learner types and suggested possible solutions.


Encouraging learners to record & organize new vocabulary


@SueAnnan  said that her students are given little vocabulary books in which they record new stuff in, but she is unsure how much they learn from that.


@SueAnnan  thinks that learners need to use their records or will end up losing that material. In her experience, @SueAnnan has noticed that learners make endless lists of random words or phrases that they never actually use. She gave an example of a student who spent ages looking for a word s/he had noted down but could not recall.


@kamilaofprague said that her students create topic related portfolios, which they will later use for the exam.


Mconca16 confirmed that vocabulary lists are often recommended for exam preparation and @eltplanning added that helping learners organize and reflect on vocabulary is very important when preparing learners for demanding English exams e.g. Cambridge First (FCE). @eltplanning often uses colour coding, word families, derived words etc.


@fionaljp said that the best way to encourage record making is to get learners to share their ideas on how they record and how important they feel it is. If strategies are coming from them, it’s a good starting point – @fionaljp explained.


Mconca16 wondered how vocabulary is organized, once it has been recorded, and whether teachers have strategies to guide learners to do that effectively.


@SueAnnan also asked which specific tips teachers give on how to record.


Some useful tools & apps mentioned 







  • Grids with some criteria for recording new vocabulary e.g. word families, were suggested by @SarahSmithELT, while Mconca16 suggested teachers should help learners associate a word with something that will promote recalling e.g. sound. This is particularly important after doing a worksheet or a speaking activity.


  • @SueAnnan said that she had a student with a box for his vocabulary, he moved each week back when he had learnt the new words. This shows that recording vocabulary isn’t always visual or written, but it can be done using different strategies e.g. oral or practical.


  • @SarahSmithELT pointed out that it’s important to use the whiteboard effectively if we want our learners to record vocabulary accurately. Also, @SarahSmithELT added that it’s more useful to see words in context. Therefore, learners should make notes of whole sentences, including pronunciation features and examples too. @SueAnnan added that research shows that learning words in set is not always efficient.



Writing down whole sentences takes time and motivation. Mconca16 asked whether teachers allocate time in their lesson to record vocabulary at all, as she feels this is crucial. @SarahSmithELT  said she used to be afraid of silence while her learners were scribbling down. After her Delta, she has learnt to incorporate vocabulary recording in all lesson stages. @SarahSmithELT  also said that she thinks it’s crucial to increase learner autonomy by encouraging students to read and record vocabulary out of class.


Problems encountered & possible solutions


How can teachers motivate students who never write anything down? @SueAnnan wondered. She also asked how teachers react to learners taking photos of the whiteboard. Is that recording? @fionaljp thinks it’s still an excellent idea, whereas @EAPstephen thinks that will not help if learners will never look those pictures again.


@SueAnnan  raised the question how to deal with learners who don’t write anything down, possibly because they just do not like writing (as Mconca16 also pointed out).


@fionaljp said that, again, motivation should come from students and that teachers should give them a reason to explore and organize at their own pace.


@MConca16 and @EAPstephen used similar ways to motivate learners to make records by giving them time limits or a challenge e.g. write three words you remember/you should know from a text/activity or you have 5 minutes to write words down from the whiteboard.


@ELTplanning finds games more motivating for both recording and recalling vocabulary through creative speaking practice e.g. memory palace or making up stories with notes. This is a great idea to get learners to revise and use vocabulary in context.


Different learner types work differently with vocabulary. @SueAnnan asked if teachers do different things with adults and teens.


@MConca16 finds it harder to work on strategies to record new vocabulary with teens and @fionaljp confirms that with teens it’s very different.


@SarahSmithELT gives teens more time to record vocabulary by allowing them to draw pictures, which they think will help them remember it.


@SueAnnan feels that adults would not be motivated to use drawings. They are usually quite good at recording vocabulary, especially Business students. Adults tend to know best what to do – @SueAnnan said – although they tend to write down nearly anything they hear ( @MConca16) . This is why @MConca16 thinks that it’s important to offer adult learners some guidance on criteria for recording/organizing new vocabulary more effectively. Surely, as @fionaljp suggested, the key is to highlight to our learners the value of recording and processing vocabulary for better learning.


Tools and Apps to create games, multiple choice, test your memory activities



Further reading on teaching/learning Vocabulary


@SarahSmithELT mentioned Norbert Schmitt http://www.norbertschmitt.co.uk/

@fionaljp  mentioned Scott Thornbury  https://scottthornbury.wordpress.com  and his V is for Vocabulary teaching https://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/v-is-for-vocabulary-teaching/


Summary writer 


MariaConca – @MConca16  is a CELTA and Delta qualified EFL teacher, teacher trainer, DoS and academic manager in Italy & the UK.