Happy St. Patricks Day! The day of green, leprechauns and shamrocks, not to mention green beer and getting pinched. On March 17th green is not just a color, it is a celebration of all things Irish. This fabulous Irish celebration couldn't be contained in just one country though, so celebrations have spread around the world.
Just as Saint Patrick's Day could not be contained in one country, the meaning of the word green cannot be understood just by looking at a color. Check out this site to see just how many colors the word green describes!
When Learning any new vocabulary word, a simple L1 to L2 translation is often not enough to really understand the more subtle meanings that a word carries with it. As language teachers and learners, If we want to truly understand a word, we need to understand how people use it and what hidden ideas and feelings are associated with a word.
In honor of Saint Patricks Day, I am going to explore ESL vocabulary teaching strategies using the word green as an example. Green is a great word because it is a simple word that is usually introduced to students in the first few weeks of a language course. Students usually memorize it quickly and use it as an adjective to describe many things. If we take the time to really examine it though, we can find many more meanings and deepen our understanding.
Vocabulary Strategy 1: Teach Multiple Parts of Speech
It is important when you introduce a new word to students that you take a moment to think about what kind of word it is. The words green, greener and greenest for example are adjectives. If you add an "S" to it however, it becomes "greens" a noun meaning leafy vegetables like lettuce and if you add "to" it becomes "to green" which is a verb meaning to become greener. Now, instead of learning just one way to use the word green, a student has many more to choose from and can use the word in more situations.
Vocabulary Strategy 2: Teach Common Collocations and Fixed Expressions
It is not enough just to know what a word means, it is also important to know what words usually go with that word and how the meaning of the words change when they are next to other words. The meaning of the word green for example, changes depending on its collocations.
As you can see, just knowing the most common meaning of the word green does not help students to understand what it means when it is combined with other words, in fact, it can make it confusing.
Strategy 3: Examine Idioms
I can not tell you how frustrating I find it when I am listening to or reading Turkish and I realize that I just understood every word someone said but I have no idea at all of what they mean. This often happens when people are using idioms.
Idioms can be frustrating or they can be motivating because they give us a peek into the culture behind the language. Students are often amused and fascinated by idioms and love to use them. I remember teaching a student what "under the weather" meant and getting an email from him the next week telling me that he could not attend class because he was under the weather. Some common idioms your students might enjoy that contain the word green:
Strategy 4: Teach Pronunciation
Whenever learning a new word, it is not enough just to learn how to read and write it. It is just as important, if not more so to learn how to recognize it when listening and pronounce it accurately when saying it. The word green is great because it can be used as an anchor word when learning other words that have the long "e" sound. One great resource that I love to use in my classes is the Color Vowel Chart. "Green Tea" can be used to learn how to pronounce more difficult words like beach or athlete by grouping them together.
Strategy 5: Teach Cultural Feelings about the Word
Learning what a word means in different cultures can help students avoid cultural fopaux when speaking or writing. It might be useful to know what green symbolizes in the cultures in which you find yourself. According to Shutterstock, green has the following meanings:
Fun ESL Activities Involving Green
Show and Tell:
Have students bring in something that they like that is green. They could choose several of the following things to talk about in their small or large group presentation:
1. Describe the object using at least 4 adjectives
2. Why is this object special to you?
3. Where did you get this object?
4. Who or what usually values objects like this?
5. What are 3 things you could do with this object?
6. What will happen to this object when you are finished with the presentation?
7. What is the history of this object? Where did it come from? Who made it?
8. What is the purpose of this object? Why does it exist?
9. If this object were a symbol, what would it be a symbol of?
10. Is this object plentiful or rare?
Create a puppet show using all green characters. Students must research their characters to find out who they are and what their personalities are like. The dialogue should reflect the personality of the characters and should center around a conflict or problem they are having.
Famous Green characters.
1. Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street
2. The Incredible Hulk
4. Kermit the Frog from the Muppets
5. Yoda from Star Wars
6. The Wicked Witch of the West From the Wizard of OZ
Green Descriptive paragraph or poems:
Give each student or group of students a different picture in which green is the dominant color. Students must describe the picture without using the names of the objects in the picture. They must describe the feeling, shapes and the color green. Then hang the pictures around the room, have students exchange paragraphs and try to match the paragraph they are reading with the picture.
As you can see, learning a new word is not as simple as just translating it from L1 to L2. Words carry a lot more with them than a simple definition can hold. I wouldn't recommend going into such detail for every single word students learn, but highlighting particular words once in a while and making learners aware of how much is really contained within a simple word can be really helpful. Really digging into words can also be an interesting way for students to learn how to research, present and become more curious about the language and cultures they are learning.
What are your favorite words to discuss in class? Do you have any triumphs, strategies or questions about how to teach/learn vocabulary? Please share them in the comments below.
For other great ideas related to Teaching ESL, check out these fantastic posts!
Hi, I'm Kia.
Teaching is my passion, I have been teaching for over 20 years in 4 different continents. One of the things I have learned over the years is that I am never done learning about teaching. Both teaching and learning should be fun and inspiring.
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