Can a big yellow pencil, a small blue pencil, and a red rubber pencil help your students accelerate their language acquisition? According to a recent study by University of Iowa, children who are exposed to similar but distinct objects like these three pencils can master new vocabulary twice as fast as children who only see similar objects.
The study found that 18-month-old children who were allowed to play with similar but distinct objects (a red cereal bowl, a metal mixing bowl, and a tiny plush toy bowl) learned an average of about 10 new words a week. Those who only played with similar objects (a matched set of cereal bowls, for example) learned an average of only 4 new words a week.
In other words, variety can help kids understand new concepts and master vocabulary more quickly. Lynn K. Perry, a doctoral student at University of Iowa and lead author of the study, concluded that “when teaching a new concept or a new word, it might be better to teach it through several different ways or examples or toys. It looks like the variety helps them [children] learn that concept sooner and maybe understand other concepts, too.”
So what does this mean for your students? Although the study focused primarily on toddlers, this technique can be applied for anyone acquiring language—English learners, early childhood education students, struggling readers, or students with disabilities. And by giving them opportunities to interact with various forms of the same objects, you can help your students acquire English more quickly.
Here's an easy way to use variety to accelerate language acquisition: take advantage of the Imagine Learning English activities that use variety to teach words and concepts. Here are three activities you can play with the whole class to get everyone learning new words.
For lower-level readers:
- Help your students master new words by playing “Word Videos,” a vocabulary activity in Level 2 that shows three different images for each new word or concept taught. Once students have been introduced to new words, test their knowledge by playing “Cool Cars.” They’ll use contextual examples and cloze sentences to review the new vocabulary and build their very own car.
- Teach academic vocabulary by playing “Word Alert” with the whole class. This Level 2 activity introduces each new academic vocabulary word with three videos that teach the word in different ways. Then have students practice putting the new words into cloze sentences by playing “Galactic Goal.”
- To pre-teach words or phrases in context, play “Word-a-Tron” for the whole class before reading the corresponding leveled text. For example, complete Lesson 1 in “Word-a-Tron,” which teaches these phrases and words: hide and seek, entrance, and ancient. Then read “A Party Surprise,” where the vocabulary words your students just learned will appear in bold.