Monday, April 16, 2012

Memory Strategies for Vocabulary - Associating/Elaborating

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.


“This memory strategy involves associating new language information with familiar concepts already in memory” (*1, p. 60).  I've used tricks like this for myself for years, like the "I'm a genie” trick to remember how to spell imagine (im-a-gin-e) and coraz√≥n (Spanish for heart) is the core of a person. "The associations can be simple or complex, mundane or strange, but they must be meaningful to the learner" (*1, p. 41). 

My associations with the word "Fly"
Even though I use it for my own language learning, I don't know that I've ever used this strategy in my teaching. It seems like such an obvious strategy for learning words that I've just assumed that students would do it on their own. Now, after actually thinking about it, I'm not so sure they do.

With the large amount of vocabulary we cover in class, is it a good idea to spend time elaborating on words during our time together, or is it better to model the strategy and to leave the responsibility for using it with the students?

For in-class strategy use, I think a free association exercise might be helpful (there is a good explanation of an activity here). After listing associations, students have to explain the connection to the target term. For more advanced students, maybe a Semantic Feature Analysis activity would be helpful. A Semantic Feature Analysis chart “can examine related concepts but make distinctions between them according to particular criteria across which the concepts can be compared.” There is an example here with presidents and features of their candidacy and campaigns, but the same structure can be applied to words that are similar in meaning, or related in topic.

For out-of-class activities, the association/elaboration strategies could be a good homework assignment to populate a vocabulary list of the most difficult words to remember. Have the students choose one or two words each from the discussion and then create an association or elaboration device for it. Pull everyone's words together to make a list for everyone to study.

Do you know any other ways to incorporate association or elaboration strategies into vocabulary learning? What's worked for you?

1. Rebecca Oxford, Language Learning Strategies, 1990.