Teach them how to learn

When teaching vocabulary it’s said that not more than 12 items should be taught in a single lesson, but what I’ve discovered is that it’s not the number of words that determine the quality of producing the target vocabulary later on, but it’s the way the students remember it.

I’ve done some research on this topic and I’ve concluded that students don’t really have the understanding of learning as a process or in other words they don’t know how to learn.

The keyword method

This is my favourite method of all times. It’s easy and fun to apply in the learning process. I’ll introduce the sequence of this method that I like to use; however, it can vary depending on your class, students and vocabulary you choose.

Presentation of the target vocabulary

There are let’s say 10 words that your students need to know at the end of the unit. Those are completely new words that they’ve never heard of before. I usually let my students to discover the meaning and the form of the new vocabulary themselves. They work in pairs and I let them use the dictionary to find out the meaning of the words.

Introduction of the key word method

Long term memory is our objective, because this means they’ll be able to recognize and produce the target vocabulary in their own sentences later on.  This is when you introduce the key word method. Start  with the three basic components of the method:

  • the target word
  • the key word
  • the mental image

The target word is the word you want them to learn, the keyword is the word that they have the association with (it could be in English or their native language or even another language that they know) and the mental image is the connection or the mental picture they have between the target word and the key word.

For example,

The target word: a bulletin (an official statement issued for immediate publication)

The key word: a bullet

The mental image: The statement should be widespread very quickly so that everybody knows it at once, immediately. The news will spread like a bullet – very quickly reach its destination.

There are no rules concerning the key word, it could be anything that students associate the target word with.

I would like to share some interesting key words and mental images that my students have come up with.

For the target word „ arson” one student used „Assorti” candies as a keyword as the particular candies had a stinging effect on his/her gastric. Some students also used some characters from the animation movies like, for example, one student chose a character from The Simpsons movie – Ned Flanders as the keyword for the target word „slander” and according to the movie Ned Flanders was very often slandered by Homer Simposon.

Placing the target vocabulary in the students’ memory

This sound very mechanical, however, as you have already seen this unique mnemonic method has nothing to do with memorizing things by heart. This is pure combination of the new vocabulary and personal associations.

So the next step after introducing the essence of the method let the students work on their own key words and mental images. Set it as homework for instance and begin the next class with splitting the class into groups and ask them to share their ideas with their peers. A very productive and entertaining discussion will take place.

After sharing the ideas you can continue on working with some practical vocabulary exercises as well as you can test them on how well they recognize and produce the target vocabulary.


The keyword method is a fun way to learn and remember the new vocabulary. Guide your students through the learning process, but don’t hesitate to give them the responsibility for their own learning!



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