Monday, 02 February 2015 12:33

To Pre-Teach or not to Pre-Teach Vocabulary?

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To pre-teach or not to pre-teach vocabulary.

I recently discussed this with my fellow teacher trainers. Should we pre-teach vocabulary in a receptive skills lesson?

I'm in favour of this as it will make it easier for students not to get caught up in a bottom-up approach (i.e. getting stuck on individual words with an unknown meaning) when reading or listening. Pre-teaching/ checking meaning/ providing a glossary of words that are essential to doing the tasks, in my opinion, is part of activating prior knowledge on the topic and setting context. 

However, some colleagues would argue that this pre-teaching is exactly what you want to avoid as it goes against a top-down approach and thus post-teaching vocab would be more beneficial.

What do you think?

Read 4360 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 November 2016 16:47

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  • Comment Link Antony Atkinson Wednesday, 16 November 2016 16:45 posted by Antony Atkinson

    But perhaps the more successful reader actively uses bottom up techniques in decoding meaning to move more quickly through a text. Who are to know what they need to know?

  • Comment Link Bruce Monday, 16 March 2015 20:07 posted by Bruce


    I wouldn't advocate pre-teaching vocab, except when it is a by-product of a skills exercise such as teaching vocab from context, for a number of reasons.

    If the vocabulary is selected by the teacher he or she is at best guessing as what the students know. The range of lexis that any random group of learners can bring to the table is pretty considerable, so the teacher selection will at best be haphazard and missing the mark.

    For many texts the chosen lexis will probably only represent a small fraction of the unknown words anyway, so there will be plenty of vocab that students will focus on in the text.

    I think you can pre-teach vocab 'til the cows come home, but bottom-up readers will still be bottom-up readers. Learning some vocab will not change the way students process text.

    As ever, it is the suitability of the tasks to the learners' levels that will determine the success of the reading, not the text itself. And in any case, we probably get caught up in the dichotomies of top-down versus bottom-up processing when we should probably include activities that allow for both approaches.

  • Comment Link Rebecca Friday, 06 February 2015 18:34 posted by Rebecca

    This is a good question, Xav.

    I think that I would have to say that I can see positives and negatives in both.

    If you are teaching with authentic materials, it would most likely be best to set up the lesson in such a way that the students can focus on parts of the text that do not trip up on unknown words. Therefore, pre-teaching vocabulary may not be needed.

    However, there are, of course, different ways of pre-teaching vocabulary, some really drawn out and detailed, while others are done more concisely. I think it really depends on what kind of lesson you are doing, what your objectives are, who your students are, and how they preform. These are, of course, things that we have to keep in mind regardless of what and how we are teaching.

    I know this does not answer your question, Xav, but I do think that it again highlights the fact that to pre-teach, or not to pre-teach is, in fact, the question.


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