Tovkach O.V. The problem of forming and developing English vocabulary of future primary school teachers

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Товкач Ольга Володимирівна – студентка Педагогічного інституту Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка, спеціальність «Початкова освіта», кафедра іноземних мов і методик їх навчання Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка

Стаття присвячена проблемі формування і розвитку словникового запасу англійської мови майбутніх учителів початкових класів. У статті визначено важливість накопичення словникового запасу для успішного здійснення акту комунікації; запропоновано декілька ефективних навчальних стратегій, які викладачі можуть використовувати у формуванні та збагаченні словникового запасу англійської мови майбутніх учителів початкової школи.

Ключові слова: словниковий запас, збагачення та розвиток, спілкування, ефективні навчальні стратегії, майбутні учителі початкової школи.

Статья посвящена проблеме формирования и развития словарного запаса английского языка будущих учителей начальных классов. В статье определена важность накопления словарного запаса для успешного осуществления акта коммуникации; предложено несколько эффективных учебных стратегий, которые преподаватели могут использовать в формировании и обогащении словарного запаса английского языка будущих учителей начальной школы.

Ключевые слова: словарный запас, обогащение и развитие, общение, эффективные учебные стратегии, будущие учителя начальной школы.

The article is devoted to the problem of future primary school teachers’ English vocabulary forming and developing. The importance of the accumulation of vocabulary for the successful communication is outlined; several effective instructional strategies which teachers can use in forming and developing English vocabulary of primary school teachers are proposed in the article.

Key words: vocabulary, growth and development, communication, effective instructional strategies, future primary school teachers.


Problem setting

Vocabulary is the body of words that make up a language, and the importance of its development cannot be overstated. Someone may wonder why it is important to teach vocabulary. We consider that there is a very clear answer to that question. First of all, comprehension improves when you know what the words mean. Since comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading, you cannot overestimate the importance of vocabulary development. Secondly, words are the currency of communication. A robust vocabulary improves all areas of communication which are listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Last, but no least, when students improve their vocabulary, their academic and social confidence, and competence improve, too. In turn, a deficit in vocabulary knowledge causes comprehension problems, and comprehension problems prevent students from improving their vocabulary knowledge on their own. Therefore, intensive vocabulary instruction can be, to our mind, effective in turning this situation around.

Last scientific researches and publications analysis

Before the mid-1980s, vocabulary learning was considered to be a “neglected” area of second language learning and teaching. But since 1990 vocabulary studies have received increased attention judging by the number of publications in the field. Different aspects of the teaching vocabulary problem have been studied by U. Mykhailyshyn, V. Yanson, S. Olejnik, S. Ghadirian, C. Robbins, S.L. Nist, R. Goulden, J. Allen, J. Read, P.Y. Gu, B. Laufer, M.J. McCarthy, V. Pavicic, R.A. Carter, L.C. Ehri, F. Melka, F. O’Dell, A. O’Keeffe, S. Rott, N. Schmitt, A. Sökmen and other scientists.

Thus, S.L. Nist and S. Olejnik in their investigations have studied the impact of dictionary use on vocabulary growth and found that definitions in the dictionary were not very helpful to students and that they did not use them very productively, if at all. J. Allen, C. Robbins, and L.C. Ehri contended that vocabulary growth is the result of the extensive amount of reading that occurs in a balanced reading program that includes read-alouds and think-alouds; shared, guided, and independent reading experiences; and fictional and informational book readings that focus learners’ attention on meanings of unfamiliar words in context.

As we can see, the concern of teaching and developing of English vocabulary has always been and continues to be an important goal in teaching and learning English as a second language.

Formulation of the article’s purpose

Every teacher knows how important vocabulary is. Students have to learn thousands of words which English speakers use. For many years, unfortunately, programmes, which prepared future primary school teachers, gave little attention to techniques for helping students learn vocabulary. But today this problem is getting topical as more and more learners realize that communication stops if they lack the necessary words. As we know, traditional vocabulary instruction for many teachers involves having students look words up in the dictionary, write definitions, and use words in sentences. Word lists, teacher explanation, discussion, memorization, vocabulary books, and quizzes often are used in an effort to help students learn new words. But these methods ignore the fact that research and theory tell us about word learning and sound vocabulary instruction. What is required, to our mind, is a clear and deliberate focus on facilitating students’ creation of meaningful contexts for the word meanings they are learning, and a frequent and consistent emphasis on helping them make connections to what they already know.

The aim of our research is to determine the effective instructional strategies which teachers can use in forming and developing English vocabulary of future primary school teachers.

The statement of basic material of investigation

It should be noted that there are few things teachers may have forgotten, but need to remember about words and word learning to be effective teachers of vocabulary and their content area.

Firstly, English is a huge and unique collection of words. It’s a fact that English is three times larger in total number of words than German and six times larger than French. Three out of every four words in the dictionary are foreign born. Thus, we are sure that it will be a good thing to invite students to create their own lists of words and the definitions they think will soon be added to the dictionary. A teacher may have his or her students find these words in our spoken language, their readings, the news, and other media.

An English teacher may also give students a passage that contains words like good, nice, said, and happy and have them work in pairs using dictionaries and thesauruses to find substitutes for these overworked words. Then, have students rewrite the passage and share it with the group to show how they have made it more interesting and powerful. One more suggestion for classroom practice is to have students edit one another’s works using dictionaries and thesauruses to find and suggest more descriptive words.

Secondly, the rules of English are simple and consistent compared to other languages. Despite the belief that English is a highly irregular language, it is, to our beliefs, actually quite orderly and constant. Twenty-one of 26 alphabet letters are consonants with fairly consistent pronunciations, while 5 vowels vary in the way they are said. In contrast, the Russian language has 32 alphabet letters and the Japanese and Chinese alphabets contain thousands of characters representing many more than the 44 sounds in English.

Hence, here are some suggestions for classroom practice related to the abovementioned idea. An English teacher may invite a teacher of another language to speak to his or her students or co-teach a practical class to demonstrate the similarities and differences between English and another language. An English teacher may also invite students who speak another language or are learning a language to talk about the differences and similarities they notice between English and the other language.

An English teacher should teach his or her students the prefixes, roots, and suffixes which appear most often in English and are constant in their meaning and pronunciation. When students know one prefix, root, or suffix, it definitely helps unlock the meanings of other words with the same prefix, root, or suffix. For example, knowing the root “aud” means to hear can help students understand the meaning of audience, auditorium, audition, and audible.

Thirdly, it is proverbially that language proficiency grows from oral competence to written competence. Typically, the words and concepts students absorb and use as they listen and talk are the foundation for what they will read and write later. Broad word knowledge enables students to communicate in ways that are precise, powerful, persuasive, and interesting because words are tools for analyzing, inferring, evaluating, and reasoning. As a result, students with large vocabularies tend to be articulate and possess the confidence that is sometimes not exhibited by students who lack vocabulary and conceptual knowledge.

In this case we can advise an English teacher to read literature aloud to his or her students, stopping to explain and talk about words they may not know. We believe that the best is to hear literature read aloud because the richer the words student hear, the richer the words will be that they can read and give back when they speak and write.

Another idea is to play oral games with content vocabulary so students can explore pronunciations, visual display, and meanings simultaneously. A teacher should encourage students to ask about words they don’t know. He or she should also include small-group discussions and oral presentations in his or her teaching so students can listen to one another and use content area vocabulary in speaking before they use it in writing. Then, a teacher may have students work together to write “paired sentences” as a way to develop their concept and word knowledge. For example, a teacher may give students two terms and ask them to talk first and then write about how they are similar and how they are different.

Fourthly, words are learned because of associations that connect the new with the known. When students store new information by linking it to their existing schema, or network of organized information, there is a better chance the new word will be remembered later [5, p. 336-338].

Things to do about this idea may be as follows. An English teacher should engage his or her students’ prior knowledge and related experiences before teaching new words to introduce a chapter or content area selection. For example, before reading a selection on Communication Cyberspace, he or she should teach the word blog, define it (an online journal), provide the word’s derivation (blog comes from web log), and show a picture of someone seated at a computer composing an essay or report to post on their personal website.

A teacher may use the K–W–L strategy (know, want to know, and learned) [1, p. 564]. First, he or she should list what students already know about the word and what they want to know about it. After a teacher has taught the word or students have read it, he or she should make a list of what they learned about the word.

Then, depending on students’ abilities, either individually or in pairs, a teacher may have them create three-dimensional words [3, p. 528]. On paper, a teacher has students include a definition, sentence, drawing, and real object to represent the word. Then has students peer teach their words to one another in small groups or to the whole class and post their work on a bulletin board for review and reference.

Seventhly, direct instruction in vocabulary influences comprehension, to our mind, more than any other factor. Although wide reading can build word knowledge, students need thoughtful and systematic instruction in key vocabulary as well. Instruction that engages students in the meanings of new words and their letter, sound, and spelling patterns promotes more effective word learning than just analyzing context. As students learn new words, they can use them to learn other new words and build independent word learning strategies [2, p. 606].

In this case we can advise an English teacher to teach students new vocabulary explicitly focusing on both meaning and word structure. A teacher should make connections with other words whenever possible because it helps build from the known to the new. For example, when teaching the word counterrevolutionary, he or she should relate it to revolt, revolution, act, and counteract to build on what students may already know.

A teacher should also have students keep vocabulary notebooks in which they illustrate a new word, write a paraphrased definition, and use it in a sentence. He or she should teach students to “chunk” multisyllabic words like prestidigitation (sleight of hand, trickery) to help them develop the habit of unlocking new words independently.

An English teacher should also have students creatively peer teach new words to one another in small groups before they begin a chapter or unit and encourage them to present their words in several ways, visually and verbally.

Eighthly, teaching fewer words well is more effective than teaching several words in a cursory way. While it may be tempting to introduce the entire list of new vocabulary from a chapter in a content text, it is more effective to teach fewer words well rather than several words less well.

Therefore, a teacher should teach struggling students no more than six to ten new words at a time because they might have difficulty retaining more than that. He or she should teach words students will need to know in the future and teach only words related to the main idea of new material. There is an idea to call attention to important terms that appear in bold or italicized print. Students should be shown that the meaning often follows the term or appears in the glossary at the back of the text. a teacher should also teach most new words before reading to enhance students’ comprehension and occasionally teach new words after reading to allow students to use their own word-attack skills independently or to let him or her know which words they had trouble with so he or she can teach these words.

And finally, effective teachers display an attitude of excitement and interest in words and language. Teachers who are curious and passionate about words inadvertently share their enthusiasm with students, and it becomes contagious. They are excited about words and language. They model, encourage, and engage students in wordplay, adept diction, and independent investigations into words to build students’ word consciousness.

Consequently, an English teacher should reflect on his or her vocabulary teaching. Is he or she excited about language and teaching or using new words? How does he or she most often teach new words? Are there other, more effective ways? Every language teacher should educate himself or herself about best practice vocabulary teaching: study new methodology materials, talk with colleagues about how they teach vocabulary and what works for them, read articles and books for new ways to teach vocabulary. And for sure, he or she must share his or her excitement with students about the fascinating nature of words and language by providing students with a Word of the Day, finding these words with definition, pronunciation, etymology, usage, and a quotation.


Hence, vocabulary is more than a list of words, and although the size of one’s vocabulary matters, it is ability how to use it which matters most. The best comparison in this case is to an artist’s palette of colours which can be mixed and applied to create powerful effects. Therefore, every modern English teacher should apply the abovementioned suggestions in classroom practice when teaching and developing English vocabulary of future primary school teachers. Teachers need to repeat vocabulary often, because students must work with a word or phrase many times before acquisition takes place, and educators must offer variety to keep the exercises fresh and to cater to different learning styles. Finally, teachers need to help students understand that learning is a gradual process that takes place in small, manageable increments over time, and to encourage them to seek additional information on their own, personalizing the learning experience and tailoring it to their own specific needs.

The prospects for further scientific research in this field we see in the compiling of a thesaurus of pedagogical terms for future primary school teachers.


  1. Donna M. Ogle. K-W-L: A Teaching Model that Develops Active Reading of Expository Text. – The Reading Teacher, Vol. 39, No. 6, 1986. – Pp. 564-570.
  2. J.F. Baumann, E.J. Kameenui. Research on Vocabulary Instruction. – Handbook on teaching the English language arts. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1991. – Pp. 604-632.
  3. K. Bromley. Nine Things Every Teacher Should Know about Words and Vocabulary Instruction. – Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 50(7), 2007. – Pp. 528-537.
  4. S.L. Nist, S. Olejnik. The Role of Context and Dictionary Definitions on Varying Levels of Word Knowledge. – Reading Research Quarterly, 30, 1995. – Pp. 172-193.

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