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English Teaching Info

Great English Teaching Strategies –
Using Better Vocabulary in Class

Big Boy/Big Girl Word Lists
by Frank Holes

Do you want your students to get into the habit of using a more sophisticated vocabulary and to avoid using simplistic or redundant words and phrases?

Are you tired of reading 'got', 'a lot', and 'thing' in your students' writing?

Would you like them to use the vocabulary words from your textbook, chapter, or unit?

This teaching technique, originally designed for middle school students, could be adapted for ESL students anywhere in the world.

A great idea is to use a 'Big Boy and Big Girl' word list. This is a set of specific vocabulary you want students to use in class, in discussions, and in their writing.

This name indicates that the students will be using bigger, more sophisticated and descriptive words that the 'big boys' and 'big girls' use.

On a wall of my classroom, I've put up a poster of the basic words I never want to see in my students' use in writing.

The six banned words in my room are: got, a lot, thing, something, anything, and like (as in “she was like … and he was like … and then I was like …”).

At the beginning of the year, I teach the kids about word choice and why it is important to use both specific and creative alternatives to the mundane words most of our students will use if not challenged.

We discuss the banned words and their definitions. Then we brainstorm and list alternatives to each banned word. This becomes the start of our 'Big Boy/Big Girl' list.

This poster is right next to the front board where I can add to the list. Big Boy/Big Girl words are added throughout the year, along with the alternatives.

Instead of 'a lot', students can use 'frequent' or 'often'. Instead of 'big', we brainstormed 'huge', 'gigantic', 'and 'humongous'.

The word 'thing' is the common stand in for virtually any noun, and could refer to a person, a place, an idea, or an object. In this case, have the students be specific in their naming of the 'thing', and use descriptive words and phrases instead of the simple banned word.

We also put together a list of banned words for speeches and class presentations.

Students are not allowed to use 'like' in their normal adolescent parlance, such as "I was like..." and "he was like..." or "like this and like that".

We also never tolerate terms or phrases like 'this sucks'. And the ever famous 'um' and 'uh' are not allowed. Instead we teach the students to pause and take a breath, then continue. Students lose significant points on these presentations if they say banned words.

You as the teacher can decide on what words you want your students to use or ban in class. This is a great opportunity to require them to use important terms and vocabulary from your curriculum.

And in short mini lessons, you and the students can brainstorm alternatives to many simplistic words, which reinforces the student's acquisition of the vocabulary.

Ok, now this is a great idea, but how is it enforced? Once we've had the mini lesson on word choice and discussed the list and banned words, I inform students that I will not accept any assignments in which I find a banned word.

The assignment automatically becomes a zero, unless the student fixes the problem. If they don't, the zero remains. Although this may seem to be a more time consuming task for the teacher, the students pick up on the concept quickly.

It may take you a bit more time and effort on the front end, but you'll reap bigger rewards the rest of the year as soon as the students pick up the habit.

Be sure to check out our website http://www.starteaching.com for more ideas, back articles, and other interesting educational items.

Frank Holes, Jr.

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