The Unnecessary Vocabulary Problem

OK, I hold my hands up, I admit it. I overload my students with vocabulary.

Pictgooseberry2ure the scene. It’s an hour into a 2 hour long lesson on negotiating in English, and the conversation suddenly takes an unusual turn.

The word ‘gooseberry’¬†inexplicably crops up. I’m not going to write that down am I? It’s not in the slightest related to negotiations or the workplace…

But it is a lovely word and what if the student ever wants to make a gooseberry pie (using an English recipe) and can’t identify the fruit? What if he ever wants to describe an uncomfortable ‘three’s-a-crowd’ situation?

So I write it down. At the end of the lesson the vocabulary sheet is dotted with miscellaneous words like this, and the student must revise them all for next lesson.

The following week the learner remembers gooseberry but he doesn’t recall some of the important expressions like ‘to drive a hard bargain’. I think we might have a problem here.

So what should I do? Should I divide my vocabulary lists into ‘general/ professional’ columns and tell the learner to focus on the latter, or should I omit general vocabulary entirely?

I’d love to hear your advice on my vocabulary problem, especially if you also work in the business English domain.


4 thoughts on “The Unnecessary Vocabulary Problem

  1. I agree. This is a tricky problem. On the one hand, they don’t need to know it because it’s unrelated, but once they hear it they become curious and want to know. I have a couple of thoughts but I’m not sure if they’re really great ideas. You might challenge them to look up the word outside of class and tell you its meaning in the next class. But like in your example they could focus too much on this word and not revise the ones they need to know. Another choice might be to not explain it then, but write it down. Keep a list of all the words like this that come up and in a future class take a few minutes to go over them. Or you could just give a quick verbal explanation but don’t write it on the board.


    • Hello,

      Thanks for your comment.

      These are good solutions. I especially like the idea of keeping a list of miscellaneous words to look at in future classes. I could write the words on pieces of paper and have the students choose one at the start of each lesson. That way the random vocabulary isn’t completely ignored but is confined in a way that allows us to focus on the target language of the lesson.


  2. I teach to adults and recommend for the revision of vocabulary. One of my B1-level students suggested this morning to create sets of words they checked to give a presentation after having read a text at their level from a platform. They are creating sets per topic/context in fact. The sets can be shared easily and they can see the new words again and again and have as many revisions as they want. They can also create their own ” vocabulary to be revised” sets and create their own revision exercises.


    • Hi Claudette,

      I didn’t know about Quizlet. I just had a play around and think this could be a really handy way to revise vocabulary at the beginning of my lessons. It’s a bit more dynamic than the teacher asking for the meanings of words! Thanks for the recommendation.


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