Learning and Teaching Vocabulary to EFL Students. Songs and Rhymes in Primary School

Term Paper, 2019

17 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of content


1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Background
2.1. The Importance of Vocabulary Teaching to EFL Learners in Primary School
2.2. Ways of vocabulary Learning and Teaching
2.3. Songs and Rhymes for Vocabulary Teaching and Learning

3. Methodology

4. Analysis: Evaluation of two Examples

5. Discussion

6. Conclusion

7. References

Abbreviations used in this paper:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Introduction

“No amount of grammatical or other type of linguistic knowledge can be employed in communication or discourse without the mediation of vocabulary.“ (Schmitt, 2000). This quotation already underlines and stresses which significant role vocabulary occupies. It implies that no other information can be communicated without vocabulary teaching.

Through experience, it repeatedly becomes evident that learning vocabulary at school is something that gives children little or no pleasure and is even almost a compulsion. It is, therefore, important to promote the motivation of children at an early age through appropriate and well-chosen activities leading to the teacher occupying a prominent position.

This paper will deal with the subject of learning and teaching vocabulary in the EFL classroom at primary school and hence provide a detailed overview of the most important aspects. Specifically, the role of songs and rhymes will be discussed, leading to the research question to what extent these are suitable to support vocabulary teaching to children. The task of this paper is to find out to which exemplary types of materials can be used in the classroom to motivate the children and support the learning of vocabulary. Also in the curriculum songs and rhymes are mentioned several times. Thus, at the end of the school entrance phase, the children should be able to learn words in context with songs and rhymes and connect verbs with movements (Schulentwicklung NRW, 2008).

The approach is choosing both an exemplary song and rhyme, which are going to be examined relating to the information presented in the theoretical background. Ultimately it will then be highlighted and explained what possibilities songs and rhymes for learning and teaching vocabulary offer as well as how the selected examples relate to the curriculum.

The following three subsections will outline the background knowledge required for the analysis in the main part. After the analysis, the results are going to be discussed and the research question is answered. All the important findings of this paper are then briefly presented in the conclusion.

2. Theoretical Background

2.1. The Importance of Vocabulary Teaching to EFL learners in Primary School

The question that should be asked at the beginning is why it is essential to introduce vocabulary to children at a young age. Lefever states that since English is in the position of being the lingua franca, nowadays, children are confronted with the English language even before entering primary school through various types of media. Especially in an increasingly globalized world, young L2 learners must acquire suitable vocabulary. This is required for children so that they can meet their ability and desire to express themselves and their feelings (as cited in Hestetraeet, 2019, p. 220).

Since vocabulary is used to indicate children's performance at school as well as successful learning and is also crucial for participating in a lot of social and professional roles, it hence plays an important role in the life of every person who uses language. In many countries, mastering English is further perceived as necessary for professional communication and offers improved opportunities for young people. (Enever, 2011).

For this reason, attention is primarily directed towards teaching English at school right from the start in many European countries (Enever, 2014). Learning vocabulary has come to the fore, and building a useful vocabulary is at the center of foreign language learning in primary school (Cameron 2011). According to the curriculum (Schulentwicklung NRW, 2008) the children have to acquire a limited repertoire of words and phrases in primary school.

For learning and using grammar, vocabulary learning can also be a helpful tool, which is already evident in the quote stated in the previous section. It states that no grammatical knowledge could be communicated without vocabulary. Consequently, it is closely related to grammar learning and can, therefore, be used as an instrument of support. In addition, children want to convey meaningful information and use phrases instead of individual words. These phrases already contain grammatical properties, which the children are not yet aware of. Grammar is therefore closely related to lexis and, since both sound and words form the basis of language learning (Batstone 1994: 8), it can be stated that "language consists of grammaticalized Lexis not lexicalized grammar" (Lewis 1993: 89). With this concept of so- called “lexicogrammar“, the focus in language teaching is, therefore, on the primary carrier of meaning, namely the words.

Especially developing a basic vocabulary in early childhood is helpful for further learning of children but can also be ineffective if certain aspects are disregarded (Cameron 2011). This will be explained in more detail in the further course.

2.2. Wavs of Vocabulary Teaching and Learning

Since there are many sources about the subject of vocabulary learning and teaching, this section is going to deal with the essential facts and provide an overview of the current state of knowledge. Knowing how children learn new words is vital in order to adapt the lessons to it and to develop suitable methods and activities. For understanding how children memorize vocabulary, this term must be defined at the beginning.

Traditionally, vocabulary is considered as a single word that has a specific position in sentence construction. However, vocabulary consists of more than just individual elements. In this connection, the term multiword unit is used (Schmitt 2000). They are also often referred to as chunks or formulaic language defined as phrases in which the words regularly occur together. Learners grasp the multiword units as individual elements and are therefore in the category of item learning instead of learning rules which would fall under the category of system learning (Schmitt 2000).

These provided multiword units can be used immediately by children to express meaning as well as their individual needs (Wray 2000). As a result of prompt usability, there is little or no processing involved and therefore leads to more considerable fluency with speech production (Schmitt 2000). Children employ chunks in situations where they interact socially with other people and apply them for different purposes. This includes getting things done for example “Can Iplay/have (...)?“, demonstrating their membership in a group such as “Have a good evening!“ but also their individuality, e.g., “Yes, I know that“ and to secure control over their learning development for example “Canyou say that again?“. The listed functions make it clear that it is crucial to equip learners with lexical phrases when teaching EFL, and there is also a need for including instruction on them in language teaching (Schmitt 2000 & Wray 2002 ). Also the curriculum states that children should therefore be offered a series of formulaic phrases for certain situations which they can use in a reproductive manner. Moreover children have to be capable of answering common questions with chunks to participate in conversations (Schulentwicklung NRW, 2008).

Chunks represent the most straightforward and most functional linguistic means to perform language functions and make proper and explicit use of language easier. Because formulaic expressions appear so frequently that they are easy to memorize, their importance continues to increase. Another advantage is that they can also be broken down into smaller units, thereby providing additional vocabulary for teaching, but can also be left as an unanalyzed whole (Schmitt 2000). Therefore it becomes evident that the teacher has an important role because he needs to be able to choose the most appropriate phrases since the number of words children can learn is limited. This selection is made based on the frequency of occurrence, age appropriateness, constituting these words that are needed to express experiences and ideas, and accessibility meaning whether the words are easy to learn. The availability of words depends on how difficult they are to pronounce, the complexity of meaning and length of the word (Zangl & Peltzer - Karpf 1998).

Now that the meaning of vocabulary has been defined, it must be explained how these are learned and internalized. The words and chunks are stored in a persons mental lexicon. It describes the word memory in the brain consisting of a network of grammatical and semantic relationships between a significant number of words. The mental lexicon differentiates between three kinds of associations. With clang associations, the words are similar in sound. Paradigmatic associations assign a word to other words of the same class, derivations, or word combinations. Lastly, syntagmatic associations concentrate on different word classes, such as verb-noun or adjective-noun pairs (Schmitt 2000). The importance is, therefore, to teach these associations in meaningful contexts to support the learner in the formation of the network within the mental lexicon, which in turn helps the learner in language production. According to Nattinger (1988: 75), vocabulary is stored as phrases, not as a single morpheme, and will be withdrawn from memory as a whole.

Cameron (2001: 76 - 80) states that knowing a word is not limited to a single aspect but includes several, for example, phonological knowledge meaning hearing and pronouncing the word correctly or pragmatic knowledge which is using the word in the right situation. Firstly, children always come across the pronunciation of a new exposed word; the use in the right situation will develop with age as they do not yet have enough world knowledge to understand the full meaning of a new word. Younger children tend to make syntagmatic connections, such as connecting a noun with a verb, whereas older children draw paradigmatic connections and know the link of words in classes. As a result, knowledge of a word is a question of degree, not only being everything or nothing, contributing to a shift from syntagmatic to paradigmatic connections in a child's cognitive development. This is of importance because the mental lexicon is divided into these different levels.

If you start thinking in different classes, learners will first use the middle of a particular word hierarchy. Specifically, this means when teaching vocabulary, the basic level word, i.e., the most used word, should be introduced first. At a basic level, the experiences that children have had with the world play into the concept and vocabulary development, being used as a starting point for vocabulary learning. For example, “cat“ is the basic level word, “pet“ would be under the superordinate level, and “Persian cat“ portraying the subordinate level.

Different types of words, such as function and content words, are stored differently and in other areas of the brain. For function words, which include modal and auxiliary verbs, articles, and prepositions, the networks are of less importance for remembering and understanding. They require different teaching approaches and are learned incidentally in different contexts of discourse. Content words that represent nouns, verbs, or adjectives, can be taught more directly, and meaning can be explained (Cameron 2007: 82).

It must be understood that the mental lexicon takes, and the vocabulary learning process takes a long time to develop as well as being a challenging task. It is not something that can be completed, but a cyclical process in which more and more words are learned, and thus the existing knowledge about the use and meaning of a word constantly expands (Cameron, 2000, p.74). The more words are discovered, the easier it is to acquire them, since the retrieval skills are slower and collocational links in the L2 are not as strong as in the L1, which is, according to Gairns/Redman (1986, p. 88), called the word-frequency effect. As the density of the semantic network increases, it will be easier to integrate new words into it.

Moreover, only being exposed to a word is not enough for the acquisition of it (Hestetraeet, 2019, p.230). Kieweg (2005, p.21) even states that not one single new word can be learned in a lesson. The more mental work there is when learning a word influences how a word is stored in the mental lexicon. Increased thinking expands the chance of memorizing (Cameron, 2001, p.85). This is also known as the hypothesis of deep processing, according to Craick & Lockhart (1972). It is, therefore, important for L2 learners to recycle and practice new vocabulary over and over again in different activities and intervals. However, the words are already used before a complete understanding, because if one used a word after all possible meanings were understood, the vocabulary of every person would be minimal (Schmitt, 2008, p.334). Concluding, learning vocabulary is not only adding up words but instead building on existing knowledge.

In addition, according to Hatch and Brown (1995: 372), several learner strategies play a role in learning vocabulary. These include owning sources for meeting new words, having an image of the form, either visual, auditory, or both, attaining meaning, making memory connections between the form and meaning, and use of the word. Furthermore, Schmitt (1997) divides children's vocabulary learning strategies into discovery, where new vocabulary can be looked up in a dictionary or guessed from context and consolidation, where words are learned by heart or asking another person to assess you. It is the task of the teacher to equip the children with these learning strategies.

Nation (2013, pp. 1-2) proposes the following four different approaches for balanced vocabulary teaching: meaning-focused input, for example, where the children listen to stories or watch films; meaning-focused output, which involves spoken interaction; language focused learning, which is the explicit study of high frequency words; and fluency development, that focuses on recycling the already known vocabulary. Especially interaction can support vocabulary learning because when children interact with each other to solve tasks, their attention is focused on language properties. It is also crucial that the language learned is meaningful to the children, causing them to be more actively involved and therefore motivated (Richards&Rogers, 2014, p.90). This is also emphasized by Pinter (2015, p.119), who explains that learners motivate each other through interaction to produce better quality output.

So it was pointed out that there are many factors to consider when teaching vocabulary and that school has a significant impact on children's knowledge development as it introduces them logical thinking (Cameron, 2000, p. 79). A dialogue between the teacher and student is necessary as well that the children are shown that they have a say in which vocabulary is relevant to them. The teacher has to recognize that the choice of tasks has a decisive influence on a children's vocabulary development and must, therefore, always be selected carefully.


Excerpt out of 17 pages


Learning and Teaching Vocabulary to EFL Students. Songs and Rhymes in Primary School
University of Münster  (Englisches Seminar)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Vocabulary, EFL, Young Learners, Teaching vocabulary, Primary school
Quote paper
Ina Bongert (Author), 2019, Learning and Teaching Vocabulary to EFL Students. Songs and Rhymes in Primary School, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1004938


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