Activating Vocabulary(‘Activity’ versus ‘Exercise’)

Last year I taught a course book which includes lessons called (Word Study). This provides phonetic help, grammatical function, part of speech and definition of the word. It also involves exercises at the end of the lesson which requires students to filling the gaps from a list of suggested answers. This year I used activities such as using visuals related to the selected words. I then asked my students to use these words in simple sentences. Some of them found it difficult at the initial stage but after interaction with other students, I noticed that they improved rapidly. I wish to discuss using vocabulary exercises and vocabulary activities so as to identify which one is more effective.

According Oxford University Press in an essay entitled “How activate vocabulary” the following differences between vocabulary exercises and vocabulary activities have been note:

“Vocabulary exercises tend to be controlled, testing the meaning and/ or form of items. They usually have a specific answer which is ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’, and they often perform the function of reinforcement.

Let’s compare this with vocabulary activities. This can be controlled or less controlled but the difference is that activities have a communicative goal as well as linguistic goal, and for this reason they require learners to interact with each other, giving opinions and sharing experiences”.

In conclusion, based on my experience with my students, I discovered that vocabulary activities proved to be more effective than exercises. Your opinion relating to this topic will be greatly appreciated.


2 comments on “Activating Vocabulary(‘Activity’ versus ‘Exercise’)

  1. Your experience matches my mine too.

    Yesterday, for example, we worked on writing formal academic definitions for words. The mixed level class, however, had some difficulties with the standard “term+ class + distinctive feature” formula. So we took one step back to take two steps forward. How?

    Students, working in small groups, created a large list of places where people could live – a house, a dorm, a cave, a castle, a mansion, a penthouse, a cottage, a villa, etc. The students further refined the list in small groups, and then chose four types of housing to give formal definitions. They also were asked to think about potential users, applications, materials, and advantages of different types of housing.

    Given the mixed level, I also allowed students to verify their answers with both electronic and online dictionaries in their groups. By allowing the students to authentically generate the vocabulary lists in a communicative fashion, the students seemed both more actively engaged and appeared to enjoy a lesson that could have been on the dreary side. They exchanged ideas and clarified the definitions. They also gained far greater comfort in the original task of writing definitions while expanding their working vocabulary.

    Bottomline: picking a strong theme, and asking students to speak in small groups while working on vocabulary lists led to a successful communicative lesson.

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