Activating schema is an essential part of introducing new vocabulary. In most cases, the majority of the vocabulary that your students end up using in a lesson comes directly from you and the materials you’ve chosen. Introducing vocabulary is usually best done in context. It’s not so effective to start a lesson by giving your students a list of 15 new words and having them read their definitions. At that early point, they haven’t activated their prior knowledge and they are not clearly seeing the purpose of the words. Instead, introduce the theme and get the students thinking about what they already know. In linguistic terms, we call this activating schemata (link), and it is a crucial early step. Start with a short discussion between pairs or groups, for example, that will elicit from students what they already know about the vocabulary in that scheme. In this way, you and the students know where they are and where they need to go. This is called diagnostic assessment, and it’s a necessary part of effective teaching.
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