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An Internet-Based Vocabulary Lesson

Writer(s): 
Christopher Sullivan, Musashino University

Quick Guide

  • Key Words: Vocabulary, Internet, corpus, news
  • Learner English Level: High intermediate to advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: High school and above
  • Preparation Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Activity time: 40-50 minutes
  • Materials: Computer, printer, and Internet access

Holden (2003) introduced the use of an online corpus to teach vocabulary. Two other useful resources for teaching vocabulary can also be found on the Internet: online dictionaries and online news or magazine articles. The following directions describe how to create a vocabulary lesson/worksheet by using all three of these resources together.

Please note that certain web pages may not allow material to be copied or reproduced without prior permission. Be sure to check each site's terms of usage before using any of its material.

Preparation

Step 1: Find a news article online geared towards your students' level. For higher level learners, authentic news articles can be used. If you do a search using the keyword news you should be able to find plenty of sites with articles. For lower level learners, a set of links to simplified articles can be found at teams.lacoe.edu/documentation/news/news.html. Copy and paste the article to your word processing software.

Step 2: Choose six to eight words from the article that you think your students have not encountered before, or are likely to have problems with. Take these words out of the article and replace them with a blank, thus creating a cloze passage. Depending on the level of your students, you may choose to remove every instance of a word, or just the first time that it appears.

Step 3: Locate an online dictionary by doing a quick web search, and use it to find the meanings of the words you identified. Copy and paste the words and their meanings into your word processor. Create a matching exercise by mixing up the words and meanings, then placing all the words in one group, and all the meanings in another.

Step 4: Next, find an online corpus by doing another search. Once you have found one, check and see if it has a "collocation" function. By using the collocation function, you should be able to access a huge list of example sentences for any particular word. Cut and paste an example sentence or two for each of the words you chose into your word processor. Again, replace the original words with a line to create set of cloze sentences. You can choose sentences that match the definition of the word taken from the online dictionary, or you can choose a sentence that reflects a different meaning of the word.

Step 5: All of the above activities you have created can now be arranged into a two-page worksheet. On the top of page one place Activity 1, the definition-matching activity. Under this put Activity 2, the cloze sentences taken from the corpus. These two activities should take up most of or the entire first page. On the second page, place Activity 3, the article/cloze passage.

Procedure

Step 1: Have the students match the words and the definitions. Go over the correct answers, and make sure that everyone can now understand the meanings of the words before moving on to the next activity.

Step 2: Next the students should attempt to fill in the blanks in the cloze sentences taken from the corpus. Again, check the correct answers with the students. At this point it might be a good idea to examine the sentences in detail to see if the words retain their original meanings, or take on new ones.

Step 3: The students should now turn to the article and again try to fill in the blanks with the correct words. Here the students can compare and contrast the uses of the words in the article with their uses in the cloze sentences, as well as with their original meanings. Do the uses and meanings match, or are there differences? If there are differences, can the students come up with alternate definitions?

Here is a brief example using a set of three words taken from the first paragraph of a news article:

Activity 1

  1. prevent
  2. estimate
  3. software
  • __ to stop something from happening
  • __ a computer program, a set of instructions a computer uses to perform a task
  • __ to guess or predict something

Activity 2

  1. You must have ________ incorrectly; these numbers are all wrong.
  2. Most of his money is spent on books, computer ________, and cigarettes.
  3. Again, they tried hard to ________ another occurrence of the disease.

Activity 3

Every year, almost one billion dollars worth of damage is caused by computer viruses, experts ________. Most of this damage could be ________ if computer users regularly updated their anti-virus ________.

Conclusion

By the time the students have finished the above three activities, they should have a fairly good idea of some the meanings and uses of the new vocabulary. The lesson can also be expanded upon in many ways. For example, the teacher could ask the students to: analyze and define additional vocabulary from the article; rewrite or summarize the article using the same vocabulary; or form groups and debate or discuss the main points of the article. Once the students are used to this sort of activity, you may be able to encourage them to create similar material on their own. If your school has a computer room and Internet access, you could give your students a list of some useful URL's, and ask them to partner up and design their own vocabulary worksheet which they could then give to the rest of the class in a subsequent lesson. As well as introducing an element of student-centered learning into your classroom, this might also help reduce your own preparation time!

References

Holden, C. (2003). Find out for real. The Language Teacher, 27(10), 17-19.

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