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Using Literature - How to Learn Vocabulary

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How to Work on Language Using Literature
(First draft for Year 5 – Oct 21, 2006)
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Reading Comprehensio Tip. Practice this, it's good exercise for Reading and Listening Comprehension Exercises. When you read, try to visualize as much as you can, for when you do, you’ll be reconstructing life situations which you know about (you will be using your knowledge about life and people), and which can help you with “extra” information to decipher the meaning of particular words, so as to say.

Dictionaries come later on. As you start reading, don’t look up words you don’t know (at least, not often). Try to visualize and work out (infere) meanings. This tip doesn’t involve not working on language, though. In our Second Step you'll find tips for working with your English-English dictionary. (Don't use a bilingual dictionary unless you have used the English-English dictio before AND tried to work out the meaning, by visualizing or inferring).

Mark paragraphs or parts in the book with a key word or phrase identifying the topic, like “Traveling by train” or “On the train”, “Describing city life” or “Cities”, “Describing people” or “People”… Then select words, phrases and sentences you could be using in your life. You can USE them, exploit them, designing different kinds of exercises.

Here are some examples of my own work with the novel Therapy, by David Lodge (Penguin, 1995).

Two things first – When do you decide on what to work on?
After reading quite a bit!
After having read 30, 50 pages (Part One has about 130 pages so you could divide it into 3 chunks), and having written down on the margin key words to identify topics of your interest, select which topic would be good for you to work on (e.g. which description, that of a journey by train, that of bustling city life, that of describing people…), which means: select the language you can start using in your daily life as a student or as a person!

Language Target: Identify topics of my interest and use the language in the book to learn to talk/write about them!

Procedural Tip: Whenever you copy any of the language material write between brackets the number of the page it is in.

FIRST STEP. In your first reading, just jot down the topic on the margin. Below a topic skimming from pages 1-50, more or less.

Charities (5-6)
Going to your GP (6-7): good language for me to learn!
Having an Operation (7-13): useful language to describe getting to a hospital and all the process before the operation and all that.
More on Health (14-18)
People’s descriptions (19-21, …) Use this to revise modifiers and all.
On relationships (28-31; 49-52)
Sleep & Getting Up (31-2)
Daily Journeys by Train (32-3, 34, 37…) Very good language for me to learn!
Cars (34-7)
Places to live in:
* City street life (Charing Cross, 38-9, 41; description of traffic jam, 38)
* Outside the city centre (Rummidge, 39-41...) More: Read about suburbs in wikipedia,
Eating out (42-3, 44, 45, 46)

SECOND STEP. Later, one day, leaf through the book and work in your notebook: select useful language, look words up, etc., read aloud and repeat aloud or even drill with the language you want to learn. Here are some ideas, you can fit them into the former topic classification too.

to wear your hair in a pony-tail (27). Drilling: to wear it in a bun…
Find examples in book on the description of hairstyles: frizzy black curls (30)

You sit in front of the telly holding your breath thinking … (29)
A is terrified that Z’s going to get into sex and drugs any minute now (30)

Assessing things
We’ve had our ups and downs (28)
It’s such a hassle that it’s not really worth the effort (34)
I’d rather not be involved (49) - though this was also a petition!

On the train

I’m writing this on my laptop on the train to London (32)
Description of having a coffee on the train at 32-3
Passing passenger who leaves them open ASSUMING that they will close automatically (33)
The train is approaching Euston. The conductor has apologized over the PA system for its late arrival (37)
Having meals
I poached from Amy’s dessert (45)

Health phrases
Allegedly harmless to health (32)

THIRD STEP. Read your notes aloud now and then. Use that language when you use English.


Noticing grammar stuff – adjectives and other modifiers. Notice the modifiers accompanying nous and adjectives and used in descriptions:

past participles: tempered steel (3), unwatched telly (4), a giant-sized plastic beaker (32), absent-minded spells (33)
present participles (compound and simple): piercing pain (3), central-heating timer (3), fading afterburn (4), refreshing sleep (31), ankle-bruising boots (31), automatic sliding door (33), passing passenger (33), litter-producing pedestrians (38), a long-standing relationship (44),
adjectives (compound and simple): red-hot needle (3), mysterious pain (5), lukewarm tea (31), upright position (33), a dodgy knee (37)
adverbs (accompanying adjectives): (sitting) perfectly still (4),

noun phrases: some freakish twitch of a nerve (4)

Foreign borrowings/loans
Cojones (Spanish, 39)
Stupido (Spanish, 42)
Angst (German, 43)


Lists of verbs with a following example of their use IN CONTEXT
To hanker after something (29) – jot down the example in the book, examples in dictionaries, other examples

Synonyms/Sentences expressing the same ideas, and explaining things in English:
Tip: This year you need to use English-English dictionaries, and read aloud their entries.

A dodgy knee – a fucked-up knee
Naff – useless
Nifty – apt, pleasant, agile, stylish

Semantic Fields

Dirty! Mud and spittle, scattered whatever, discarted whatever, litter-producing whatever, detritus (38)

Make Your Classmates Suffer!
Prepare a Vocabulary exercise, more focused in sentences and phrases than in words, but you can also include single words. Some ideas...

Ask them where a certain VERY USEFUL sentence is! (Give them a hint: It’s between page X and Y), or where whichever passage is. Ask them to find phrases and sentences where whichever word appears…