“Let’s play with vocabulary!”
On 6th of April I – Venetia Dariou of Team IV – held a workshop for all school teachers of the secondary and primary schools. Fortunately, a lot of participants came to my workshop – eleven Lao teachers joined it on a very hot Thursday afternoon in the Lending Library in Sikeud. It was the last workshop of our group before we had to leave in the spring.
In order to build on the workshop on vocabulary held by Pauline and Kerstin from Team III, I chose the topic „Teaching Vocabulary – a variety in methodology for diversified English lessons”. As Pauline and Kerstin had given the teachers a lot of didactic theoretical background, I continued with more methodological input. Therefore, I created a handout with a repetition of what had been done already and, for methodology, added several vocabulary activities for the classroom. These were activities like card games, puzzles, and Bingo.
First of all, we prepared a mind map about basic teaching material to revise old material from the last workshop. The teachers formed groups of six people and created a mind map about basic teaching skills they have to be aware of when they teach vocabulary in a foreign language. Afterwards, they had to present their results in front of the plenum: These included ways to use body language and movements, real material, different voices, and clear and slow speech.
They still remembered a lot of techniques which are important for teaching vocabulary, for example, facial expressions, gestures, and movements in order to “explain” (contextualize, semanticize) words or language chunks, or realia such as pictures and photographs to convey the meaning of new vocabulary.
So now let us play with vocabulary! Our “work stations” were split up into five stations. There was one German volunteer at each of the stations as supervisor to help the Lao teachers by explaining the introductions to the activities or the rules of the games. The aim of this material was (is) to present new language or to practise and revise vocabulary or sentence structures. The games demand the use of different skills, i.e. speaking, listening, reading, and writing, but also guessing and mediating.
In one example, students have to create a character and complete a worksheet about this imaginary friend without showing it to their classmates. Then the rest of the class starts asking questions about this person: “How old are you? What is your favorite color? What is the color of your hair?” This game would fall into the category of speaking, writing, and guessing, and it serves to practice question forms. Another game would be to go through the commands of a board game and take turns by throwing the dice and moving one’s game piece along the board. In this case, the commands were adapted from the usual “miss a turn”, “skip three”, or “go back home” to basic classroom language: “sit down, open the window, open your book, stand up”, and “turn off the light, please”. Vocabulary games also teach children about the importance of taking turns, following rules, being polite, sharing, winning, and losing, which are all very important at this age.
The crucial question for the teacher always is: What sort of material is suitable for teaching precisely this group with its present level of English? No learner group is like any other, so teachers need to recognise and understand the particular needs and characteristics of a particular group in the first place. They then also need a wide range of methodological choices – of course they also need to know about them – and in the end they need to be self-confident enough to adapt textbook material or try out something completely new. Good textbooks give us teachers guidance, of course, but we have to make the right choices by ourselves.
In our present teaching situation, it is always helpful to start with themes within a real given context and to use realia, i.e. pictures or photos on flashcards. Therefore I chose topics like “family”, “introducing yourself”, and “food”.
With hindsight, I can say that not all topics we use to teach English in our Western world are appropriate or usable in Laos or other Southeast Asian developing countries. For example, “holidays and travel” is pointless because none of our teacher-students has ever been on holiday, outside of Laos, or even their village. (Editor’s note: This workshop was conducted before four of our student-teachers went to study at Hilderstone College this summer. For this learner group, the topic would be interesting in the future.)
Also, it is not only pointless to teach this topic because there can be no exchange of information in the classroom, but the tasks involved include writing postcards, for example, or an essay about one’s last holiday – things which none of our students will ever need to do in reality. In the Lao classroom, this would not be authentic but artificial language learning. Also, when we write to friends and family from abroad, we would post photos or send messages or create a gallery online – but a postcard?
At the end of the workshop, I received good feedback: This was useful teaching material for them. I’ll be excited to see how this works out in their English lessons in the future. The material will probably need revising by the next team (Team V) in the autumn, but as we started working together with folders and notes and sorting material by subject in folders I am hopeful to see a huge improvement.
In the end, we took a group picture together outside. I was happy about my successful “Teaching Vocabulary Workshop” – and we also had a lot of fun together. To all my helpers, thank you for being such a good team!
Text by V. Dariou
Photos by R. Dengler & V. Golla