Recording Vocabulary

In most lessons, we deal with vocabulary to a greater or lesser extent, but are we helping students to remember and use this vocabulary after the lesson is finished? Students can often be seen dutifully scribbling away, compiling long lists of completely unrelated words and phrases. Everyone has preferences as to how to record and remember things, but the chances are, these lists are not the most effective or useful way of recording information for the majority of our students. Let’s look at some alternatives and how they can be integrated into tasks and lessons.

What information should be included when recording vocabulary?


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There are numerous ways to include a record of the meaning of words or phrases. The most effective way may depend on the word. These could include one or more of the following: a definition in English, a translation, labelling a picture, or giving an example sentence which exemplifies the word.


In order for students to be able to reproduce the word orally after the lesson, a visual of the pronunciation is useful. This could include phonemic script for the whole word / phrase, or perhaps more helpfully, of just any problematic sounds or notable features. Students also need to be able to correctly reproduce the word stress, so any written record should include this.


Students need to know what kind of word form something is if they are to use it correctly in a sentence. Is it a verb, a noun, an adjective etc.? It could also be helpful, where verbs are concerned, to record the past simple form and the past participle form. For phrasal verbs, it would be very helpful for students to record if it is separable or inseparable and whether it takes an object or not. For nouns, we can help students by ensuring they record things like the typical article that goes with the noun, whether it is countable or uncountable and how its plural is formed.


Many words are often found partnered together – this is called collocation and it’s one of the things that makes for natural speech and writing. For example, the verb do collocates with the word homework. We don’t say make homework in English, but do homework. This is another thing students need to remember, so include it in written records.


Some words carry with them either a more positive or more negative connotation. Consider the words thin and slim. Which has a more positive connotation? Slim. Thin implies that a person might need to put more weight on to be considered healthy. Where a word has a connotation, it is both something we should check students know, and something we should encourage them to record.

How can we record?

Imagine you are teaching a lesson where you want students to be better able to use a group of words related to the topic of crime.

Let’s put all the previous points together and see what difference they could make to our students’ ability to use the vocabulary they have recorded at a later time. We must of course remember that students are individuals and there is no ‘one size fits all’ way of recording vocabulary. However, helping students find the alternative that they are most comfortable with and which allows them to more effectively retrieve what they have studied is likely to be positive. In addition, as we will discuss, the very act of recording vocabulary items can be a learning task in and of itself.

Word families

Students record as many forms of the word as they can. Since the hard work in terms of meaning has already been done, they are getting more knowledge for less input. They can also go back to this record and add information / update it as they learn, e.g.

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Incorporating recording of vocabulary into vocabulary learning tasks

By making the recording of the vocabulary part of clarification or a practice task, we are helping to make the words and phrases more meaningful and probably being more time efficient, as we achieve two things in one activity. This could be done in several ways. For example, the word families and mindmaps could be given to students blank, or partially completed and they work individually or in pairs to complete them. In addition, we could employ activities such as categorising. See the example below.

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We may choose to take a test-teach-test approach with vocabulary. When we do this, we can adapt the test, to ensure students are left with a useful record, either by giving them information such as the stress, sounds and form on the sheet (see the example below), or we could ask students to add this information once they have completed the test (in this case a matching activity).

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  • Get students used to the idea that there are different ways to record vocabulary and encourage them to experiment
  • Record vocabulary systematically yourself, both on handouts and the board
  • Try to incorporate recording of vocabulary into language tasks

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