The Irish National Organisation of Teachers of English (INOTE) held our annual conference in Portlaoise on 12th October. This is always a good day to be an English teacher and this year’s conference was a vintage one. Fresh from the triumph that was the previous weekend’s ResearchED Dublin, Julian Girdham delivered an inspiring keynote address on the building blocks of English as a subject discipline. Also in the main conference room, Frances Rocks demystified the Leaving Cert marking scheme and Patrick Huff spoke on the importance of cultural capital and gave an impressive list of book and podcast recommendations. The indefatigable Norma Murray stepped down as chairperson and will be very much missed at the personal as well as the organisational level. The morning also saw the launch of the INOTE magazine.
Selena Wilkes and Claire Madden ran workshops – on creative writing and the CBA1 respectively – in the afternoon. I would have loved to attend both, but was taken up with my own talk on vocabulary. I will put the link to the presentation below. It owes a great debt to Alex Quigley’s “Closing the Vocabulary Gap” which definitely won the “most recommended book of the conference” award. There are also some examples of exercises based on Beck, McKeown and Kucan’s “Bringing Words to Life”.
The basic points of the presentation are:
- Vocabulary is important.
- It’s best to teach vocabulary from context so appropriate lexical challenge is a key factor in text choice.
- Select the words you think are most useful and teach these explicitly.
- It’s probably better to teach easily confused words separately rather than try to teach “the difference between….”.
- Make up your own simple definitions rather than have students look up new words in a dictionary.
- Having a dedicated vocabulary section in assessments helps students to recognise its importance.
- Even though explicit vocabulary instruction is essential, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Independent reading holds much larger potential for vocabulary expansion. Teaching every child to read needs to be a priority for every school.