Saturday, 3 June 2017

Word Anchoring

My philosophy of learning and by extension of teaching can be condensed in two words: word anchoring. This can involve different approaches depending on what you need to anchor, and the process is lengthy though not necessarily tedious—on the contrary it could be stimulating and inspiring.

Most of the time we try to teach words by simply providing a mother tongue equivalent and/or paraphrasing the word in English and illustrating meanings with examples. However, when this is feasible, we should be fortifying understanding by creating meaningful context in which the students should place the words taught. I regularly create gap-filling exercises for practising vocabulary which was presented in context before. It is at this stage that most questions regarding the use of the words arise, and it is the answers to those questions that solidify learning.

An alternative way of making words memorable is by looking into their origin. This sometimes leads to fascinating discoveries not only for the student but even for the teacher as we all learn so much by teaching.

Another powerful method of anchoring words is by rendering them multifaceted. The science behind a concept, a poem or literary extract focusing on this particular concept can result in a network of related words/concepts which allow for more profound and lasting connections to be created.

And, of course, images can speak volumes sometimes and further enhance our perception of words.

The diamond project
To illustrate what I have said, I will use a lesson I built around a recent news story about a diamond which will soon be sold at auction and might fetch as much as 350,000 pounds for its owner. The level of English for this project was B2 or, if this doesn’t mean anything, the students have been studying English for about 6 years.

Origin of word
The main word is “diamond”. It comes from the Greek word αδάμας, which is made up of α (can’t) and δαμάζω (tame). 

I asked my students to prepare a short presentation about what diamonds are, which led to discussing carbon allotropes, properties of diamonds and covalent bonds between its atoms which makes its melting and boiling point so high. We also explained that there are no electrons in diamond, which means it does not conduct electricity.

This may sound rather ambitious and too hard to follow but the point is my students in this particular group are in High School and could easily understand the terms because they were familiar with them in their first language and, I must say, keen on science, which made things much more fun.

Next I wanted to introduce some technical details about how diamond used to be cut in the past and how it is cut now as prior knowledge of this would facilitate their understanding of the news story and would require less mediation on my part when they were exposed to it.  So the terms dull and brilliant came up and weight maintenance at the cost of brilliance in the past in contrast with weight loss as the price for brilliance in the present.

To illustrate mount and mounted as opposed to loose diamonds as well as  cushion-mounted I provided some images. I did the same to explain car boot sale as the idea is foreign to my students.

shallow and deep cut
cushion-mounted diamond
loose diamond

Post-reading competition
After having read the story and getting everything clarified, the students were divided into groups and wrote some questions for the other group to test their memory of detail. While they were at it, they were not allowed to look in the text. This gave rise to quite a bit of animation while at the same time it served as the perfect motive to concentrate for the sake of winning.

Here is the link for the news story:

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