Introducing Vocabulary

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One of the most important steps to storyasking, that I neglected for a long time, is introducing the vocabulary–as in spending time introducing it, not just giving students a list. As I focus on this step of the process this year, I am already noticing gains in comprehension by students that struggled through much of last year.

Part I: Presentation 

The purpose of the presentation phase is simply to establish meaning. TCI teachers are sometimes criticized for translating terms for students, and I reject it! If you are able to use translation to establish meaning, do it. It is fast and accurate. Gesturing is not fast. Gesturing is ambiguous. If you can, translate!

  1. Write the words in Spanish on the board.
  2. Have the students repeat the term in Spanish.
  3. Write the English translation next to the Spanish, leaving a small space in the middle.
  4. Draw a picture that illustrates it in-between the Spanish and English.
  5. Point to the picture and say the term in Spanish.
  6. Ask, “¿Cómo se dice «Spanish term» en inglés?” (How do you say «Spanish term» in English?)
  7. Teach or cooperatively develop a gesture for the term.
  8. Repeat for each new term, returning to the previous term(s) before you move on to the next.
Part II: Contextualization
I never did this step until I saw Carol Gaab use it in her curriculum. Brilliant! I would skip right to questioning and wonder why my students’ heads were spinning! Show the students several examples of each target term in comprehensible context. If you’re like me, this means planning ahead and writing several sentences that include each term because I can never seem to think of good examples on the fly! They should be sentences that the students can understand with the help of the “key” that you’ve created on the board.
Part III: Questioning
Here is the fun part 🙂 Again, it is always good to plan ahead and have several questions written that are COMPREHENSIBLE and include the target terms. The more open-ended the questions can be, the better–although I find that I often need to follow up an open-ended question with one or two yes or no’s in order to get their creative juices pumping (Ex: What makes your head hurt? Does Justin Bieber’s voice make your head hurt? Math homework?) Usually, they will start contributing ideas after one or two yes or no questions. Circle responses and reflect them back to the class for discussion!
I rarely introduce vocabulary and start stories on the same day, not really on purpose, but that’s how it usually works out. I like it that way, anyway, because I can use the terms in the next day’s bellwork, which allows the students time to remember what they learned the previous day, and gives some opportunity for more PQA and pop-up grammar before we get into the story. (Learn how to ask a story here.)
What are some of the strategies or patterns that you use to introduce vocabulary?


  1. Do you think there is any difference between “new vocabulary word” and “target structure”? In other words, if I were trying to introduce new noun/adjective vocabulary in preparation for an upcoming story, do you think it would be best to stick to three new target words at a time? Or do you feel that one could successfully introduce more “new vocabulary” in a single lesson, if there are no new accompanying grammatical structure to worry about? We are getting ready to work on personality traits, and I am wondering how many different adjectives I should try teaching before moving into the story. (Since I’m just starting to tinker around with storytelling, I’m a little worried about trying to come up with a brand new interesting story for each set of 3 vocab words we need to cover.)

    Many thanks for any advice/guidance you can offer!


    • I think that it is almost always best to limit target structures to 3 at a time. That being said, many of them (including personality traits) don’t require as many reps as others. Use different spins on PQA to get in repetitions of the traits, then dive into the story with some real, quality target structures (that could include new vocabulary words but often include a word with a little more ‘meat’–like a high frequency verb). So instead of “simpatico” (nice/kind), you could use “parecía simpática” (she seemed nice/kind).


  2. I usually show a PowerPoint and have students create flash cards. While they create I ask questions and circle student responses.Then, we do silly TPR commands that combine structures with thematic vocabulary from text . After introducing vocabulary/structures, I have students illustrate sentences, that I read in Spanish. They enjoy sharing their pictures and competing to best represent the sentence. I always try to include different celebrities/characters (sponge bob quiere dos hamburgesas) and while they create their masterpieces, I circle the statement and pick a photo to share before going to the next statement. We then start a PQA session. Finally, we play a game that is also photo based ,a game board or tic tac toe grid , that contains photos and students compete to create a simple sentence with the structure and new thematic vocabulary we have to cover from the text. Students love a good competition. As an exit ticket, I read statements for students to translate.


    • Not really! The ‘Questioning’ is the only part that would be added to. You can do anything to provide comprehensible input that contains the target structures–MovieTalk, games (Mafia, for example), discussions, TPRS, PQA….anything!


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