21 December 2010

Another way to integrate more vocabulary practice and learning into TOEIC lessons

Another way to integrate more vocabulary learning into TOEIC lessons
Charles Jannuzi
University of Fukui, Japan


Today's third period class (after lunch, from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.) was Comprehensive English Communication II. This course  emphasizes reading, vocabulary, and TOEIC reading and is complementary to Comprehensive English Communication I (which focuses on listening, vocabulary, and TOEIC listening).

The TOEIC reading practice unit that we were doing was themed on 'Health', and this theme then selected vocabulary related to that theme (e.g., patient, symptoms, surgery, dentist, etc.). Each unit in the textbook starts off with a list of key vocabulary items and asks students to translate them into L1 (for most, that's Japanese or Chinese). However, rather than simply start out the unit with this vocabulary activity (which is typical of many of the TOEIC practice books marketed for EFL in Japan), I thought it would be beneficial to elicit vocabulary from the students in a whole class activity, with the hope that their own vocabulary and phrases would ANTICIPATE much of the vocabulary that was being practiced and tested in the textbook unit. This was acheived by holding  whole class activities that went as follows:

Whole Class Activity One

I handed out sheets of blank B5 paper to all the students and told them to fold theirs in half. Next, I divided the board up into two equal halves. At the top of the left half I wrote, "How can we prevent colds and the flu?" Then I wrote an example response below the heading. For example, "Eat a balanced diet." On the top of the right half I wrote, "How can we recover better from colds and flu?". Then I wrote an example response for this heading. For example, "Drink lots of fluids, like water, tea, chicken broth, sports drinks, etc.". Then I got 6 students to respond to the 'prevent' heading and 6 to write something for the "recover" heading.

Then I corrected and read out loud all the responses that were on the board under each heading. I also added some information that I thought might interest students but had not been written on the board yet (e.g., Studies now show that many people don't get enough Vitamin D in the winter and this could be a reason why we get sick then. So we might improve our health by taking Vitamin D supplements in addition to Vitamin C).

This is also a good time to cover cultural similarities and differences. For example, the E. Asian equivalent of the American 'cold cure', chicken soup, is often rice gruel, which could include many of the same ingredients (if the broth is a chicken-based one). Also, Japan is a country with many different types of citrus fruits, so it is always an interesting area of vocabulary to see if we can find translations and/or western equivalents. For example, there is the Japanese mandarin orange called 'mikan', but also citrus fruits like 'hassaku', 'iyokan', 'yuzu', 'shikuasa', etc. During this particular class, a student from Korea also pointed out that the Korean dish, 'kimchee', (made from fermented cabbage) is a very good source of Vitamin C. I then observed that in the US I was used to eating a lot of the German dish 'sauerkraut', which is also made from fermented cabbage and contains a lot of Vitamin C. Also, many Japanese try to eat one pickled plum/apricot (Japanese 'ume') a day to get enough Vitamin C. 

Whole Class Activity Two

Activity I was followed by another whole-class activity on the board. This time I asked students to list the typical symptoms of a cold versus the typical symptoms of the flu. After students listed the most typical symptoms under each heading, we could then as a whole class isolate and discuss the similarities and differences between colds and the flu. For example, both might start with a feeling of  'general malaise'. That is a similarity. However, high fever, nausea and severe joint pain are more typical of the flu. These are differences.


After the two whole-class activities, students then did the TOEIC Reading unit that was themed on 'Health'. Much of the vocabulary that came up in the two activities did anticipate the vocabulary selected for the unit.

See also the earlier article:


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