Thursday, April 12, 2012

Memory Strategies for Vocabulary - Grouping

Based off the feedback from one of my recently-completed courses, I've decided to take a closer look at vocabulary instruction and practice methods in the classroom, starting with memory strategies and strategy training.


“Grouping involves classifying or reclassifying what is heard or read into meaningful groups” (*1, p. 58). Possible group categories include meaning, word gender, grammatical category, conceptual similarities, or whatever other type of separation becomes obvious. Oxford also mentions that the "power of this strategy may be enhanced by labeling the groups, [by] using acronyms to remember the groups, or [by] using different colors to represent different groups" (*1, p. 40). 

The idea behind grouping is that it creates a link from one idea to another, and in that way, a word becomes easier to remember than when it is decontextualized and alone.

Usually, in the material provided for my courses, there is a short section on topical vocabulary or on vocabulary related to a specific language function. It would be very easy for me to write down sub-categories for words in class while we are having a discussion to elicit and practice the vocabulary, but I wonder if the grouping is more salient when the students do it themselves. Is the deep processing of vocabulary activated more by personally choosing the different categories for the words?

My plan to incorporate this language learning strategy in my teaching:
  1. Co-create a vocabulary list from the discussion topic or the text, etc. (or, maybe, bring in a list collected from the last class session)
  2. Put students in groups and have them categorize the words in any way they would like
  3. Have the groups compare their categories, and list the words that belong to each group
  4. Have a discussion about other possible categories or about more words that could be added to the existing categories
Here is a document explaining another list-group-label activity, very similar to the idea I wrote about, above. In the explanation, the author suggests that the grouping emphasis should be on meaning: “It is cautioned that semantic, meaning-oriented groupings be emphasized rather than those that focus on surface commonalities of words chosen for a grouping.” However, this activity was created for reading strategies to help young learners (in, what I assume, is their native language), and I imagine that even if meaning-based groups are better, that groups based on the type of word (nouns, verbs, etc.) would still be very helpful for language learners. 

Have you heard of any other ideas for grouping? Do you know any activities or games that incorporate this memory strategy?

1. Rebecca Oxford, Language Learning Strategies, 1990