Memory is the process by which we encode, store and retrieve information. When we have conversations our short term memory is activated to remember what the speaker has said and to respond coherently. We also activate our long term memory to use the language we know that is stored in our brains. As the old saying goes, “use it or lose it”. Memory is quintessential to vocabulary acquisition and, ultimately, to become competent users of languages.
I can’t explain how hard I try to push my students to “study” vocabulary. It needs to be studied, repeated, revised and revisited and there are no magic shortcuts for it. In my post Vocabulary Lists, I suggest ways in which students may record and study vocabulary with and without technology.
However, I also insist that, when doing so, they should try to attach the words to an experience. This experience may originate from a use of a given lexical item from a tweet or a Facebook comment that has called their attention (and then they will be absorbing context, co-text, collocations and grammar associated with in the process), or they can link it to a personal experience.
And that is the problem with memorising the “list of irregular verbs”. There is no experience attached to it. Drilling the verbs and repeating them like a parrot will ultimately lead the students to remember them but there is no guarantee that they will use the language they know. Quite sadly, I know many Spanish native speakers that, when memorizing this list, will go through it in their heads and -whether consciously or unconsciously, I am not quite sure of- will mispronounce many of these verb forms (/drɪŋk dræŋk dru:ŋk/). Delivering the string of forms is what matters to many students. And we all know that an important part of “knowing” a word is pronouncing it properly and not only in isolation, as words are connected and bump into each other.
So here is an activity that you can try for your students to activate those words and attach memories to them. Ask your students to have a look at the list of irregular verbs (most likely provided in their textbooks or they can look for it on the internet or you can display on the board). Then ask them to write ten full sentences about important events that took place in the year they were born in. The key verb form in each sentence must be an irregular past simple or past participle form. If they are allowed to use internet connected devices in class, then allow about ten minutes for research. Otherwise, the research will have to be done outside class hours. These are relevant sites: http://www.thepeoplehistory.com, onthisday.com or they can go to wikipedia and type the year.
And this is the list of ten sentences for the -irregular- year I was born in:
- The first ATM was put into service.
- Elvis Presley got married.
- A ticket for the cinema in Spain cost 30 pesetas or 21 dollar cents.
- The Concorde flew for the first time.
- I was born on a Tuesday.
- Gibraltar held a referendum on staying with Britain or joining Spain.
- The Beatles wrote Sergeant Pepper’s
- The first issue of Rolling Stones magazine came out.
- The Green Bay Packers became the first team to win the first Superbowl.
- Manchester United won the Premier League in England.
What an interesting year! Can you guess which year it was?
Finally, invite your students to create an infographic or padlet with this information or a colourful poster to decorate the classroom.