Viv Quarry's Site

Organising the student's notebook and learning vocabulary

When a student finishes their English course, the only physical results of the work covered (unless an internationally recognised examination has been passed) is a text book and work book with all the exercise completed, and the student's personal vocabulary/grammar notes, which in most cases are also virtually useless after the course has finished.

Why 'useless'? The reason why someone isn't very likely to pick up and read a completed text book is obvious, but the utility of the student's notebook will depend on how it has been organised - a simple list of new words with the only relationship between them being the order in which they came up in class, makes practical use of the notebook impossible unless the student has a photographic memory, which unfortunately, most EFL students don't have.

So, how does the EFL teacher help make the student's personal vocabulary and grammar notes something which may be used as a reference tool in the future, long after their English course has finished?

Over the years, I have developed and refined a system which seems to work. Before the first class, I ask the student to bring an A4 sized notebook of 200 lined pages. In the first class we number the pages 1-50 (odd numbers only) while practicing the pronunciation and spelling of ordinal numbers (pre-intermediate +) or cardinal numbers (pre-intermediate -). I mark page 50 with an adhesive label of the type used for business mailing, so that it can easily be found, then give a presentation of the English alphabet on this page. It's also a good idea to mark a page somewhere in the middle of their notebook with another label (use a dividing page if the notebook has these), and on this tab, visible when the notebook is closed, write "Hwk". This will indicate the page which will be used to write the student's homework exercises.

The next stage is to set up the vocabulary index. Draw a margin down the left-hand side of page 1, then two parallel lines about 1cm apart down the middle. Each line is numbered in the margin with the vocabulary areas beside the relevant page numbers. 

Vocabulary index

Organising the vocabulary index is an excellent way to practice the English alphabet (teacher spells the categories, the student writes them) providing that how the student is spelling words can be closely monitored.

Once the vocabulary index has been set up, any new words can be put in the appropriate section (most vocabulary pages will have a margin down the left for the part of speech - n, v, adj, adv, prep, pron, etc., with the exception of pages 16 & 18.  These pages are divided into four columns - on page 16 'country, nationality, the people & a person' and on page 18 'crime, criminal, verb, means') and pages 30 & 31 which don't need margins.

If teaching beginners, I use a slightly modified vocabulary index. The space before 'Family' is to fill in 'Birth, marriage, death +..' when these items come up later in a course (beginners and elementary students can use the same notebook through both levels).

Beginners vocabulary index

I usually do a song to finish off the first class, then in the following class we number pages 1-33 at the back of the student's notebook (even numbers). Any problems with ordinal numbers can be added to page 30 at the front. I put the ordinal number as a digit in red, then write it out in letters with a reference to the pronunciation page when ready. Finally, the index of special areas of difficulty is copied to page 1 at the back of the notebook after drawing a margin down the left. Put the number 1 on the very top line of the page or all the categories won't fit in one column.

On the metalanguage page I ask my students to copy my 'metalanguage' worksheet. Non-verbal  communication expressions and social English expressions also go here.

The articles page is divided into four quadrants. In the top left students write "I must use 'The' with:" in the top right "I mustn't use 'The' with:. The same pattern is repeated in the bottom two quadrants with "A/An".

A margin is drawn down the left of the 'False Friends' section. The same format is used as on Viv's false friends worksheets (see vocabulary worksheets in the 'practice your English' section of this site).

On the first page of 'Gerund or Infinitive', three columns are drawn with 'Gerund (doing)', 'Infinitive (to do)' and 'Infinitive without "to"' at the top. The other page is used for special cases like 'try' and 'remember'.

Idioms and Slang are listed on this page. A margin is drawn and the categories 'I' (idioms), 'S' (slang) and 'OE' (old English) used.

Index of special areas of difficulty

Again, here's a modified version for beginners and elementary students Index of special areas of difficulty - beginners

Viv has designed a Vocabulary Database to help you learn and test the words in your notebook. For more information about this program and how to obtain a copy go to the link below.

Viv's Vocabulary Database

For more help on learning vocabulary, go to Viv's 'Learning Vocabulary worksheet.

Learning Vocabulary