USING REAL OBJECTS FOR VOCABULARY TEACHING
For helping students understand the meaning of a word, we often find that a picture is useful, if it is big enough to be seen by all members of the class. But real objects are better than pictures whenever we have them in the classroom. When there are real windows, doors, walls, floors, desks and clocks in the classroom, it is foolish not to use them in our teaching. But in some classes, unfortunately, the students seem never to be asked to look at them, point to them, walk to them, touch them, only the textbook pictures are used. This is a waste of excellent opportunities. In most cases, a picture of something is less helpful than the thing itself.
There are a few exceptions, however. The exception include articles of clothing. Shoes, shirts, skirts, dresses, etc., are usually present in the classroom; but when we show meaning of such words we should be careful about calling attention to clothing which is worn by members of the class. Such attention may make the wearer feel uncomfortable.
This problem does not usually arise with less personal kinds of objects: eyeglasses, sunglasses, wallets (or billfolds), handbags, umbrellas. Several of these can often be found in the classroom; other objects can be brought to class often be found in the classroom; other objects can be brought to class easily enough: a can opener, a pair of scissors, a box of paper clips, a toothbrush, a bar of soap, buttons of many colors and sizes and of various materials. The general recommendation is this: For showing the meaning of an English noun, use the real object whenever possible.
There are exceptions to the recommendation for real objects, however. These exceptions include (1) clothing that members of the class are wearing, and (2) words like man, woman, boy, and girl. In many situations, it seems awkward to point to individual members of the class while saying, “He‘s a boy; she’s a girl”. Pictures of persons or stick figures (drawn by the teacher or a student) are more suitable.
For similar reasons, teachers often prefer to use pictures for introducing words that name parts of the body. The best sort of picture for this purpose is a simple, impersonal line drawing:
Notice that an arrow has been drawn to each part, which is to be named, and each arrow is numbered. Notice also that the English names for the parts do not appear on the drawing yet.
On the day when such words are to be learned, the teacher (or a member of the class) makes a large copy of the drawing on the blackboard. The students are given a minute to look at the drawing, and to copy it – and also to wonder what the English words for the parts of the body are.
Now they are ready to learn that arrow 1 points to the head. The teacher says the word and writes it above the arrow beside 1. As each part is named, the student writes the English word on the numbered arrow on his copy of the drawing.
This is the first step toward learning English names for the parts of the body. But it is only the first step. We have not yet created in the student’s mind a feeling of need for each of those English words. We have not convinced him that it is important to learn a new word for something he can already name in his mother tongue. For that purpose, we may again use a series of commands. (Each should begin with please if we wish to demonstrate courtesy while teaching vocabulary.) Commands are given – perhaps first in the students’ language, quietly, to one or two who demonstrate the action. They should be standing with their backs to the rest of the class. After the meaning of each command has been shown, the teacher repeats it in English. Groups of students stand and perform the actions. Each action involves a part of the body, which is named by one of the new words:
Raise your right hand.
Put your left hand on your head.
Touch your neck with both hands.
Put your hands on your knees.
Put both hands on your shoulder.
Put your right hand on your left knee.
Bend your knees and touch the floor.
Touch the floor near your left foot.
Put both hands on your legs.
Sit down and put your hands on your knees.
For practice in saying the new words, a number of students may be asked to play the teacher’s role, giving the commands. Even those who do not actually say the words, however, benefit from this kind of experience. They have many opportunities to associate familiar actions with the English words that name them. Furthermore, it becomes important to the student to notice whether he hears neck or knee, for example, when a command is given.