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Lesson 1: Vocabulary and content - How to remember it

This lesson contains some theory on how to learn vocabulary more efficiently and how to be able to summarize articles/stories briefly. There are also two different exercises based on the theory presented. The theory section is extremely short and introduces only the basics of the ideas of elaboration. If you feel like reading more on the subject, there are several articles (and some books) on the subject written by Irene Kristiansen. Your local library may help you find them.

People have different ideas about the ways of learning vocabulary in any language. Some people may feel they are truly studying only when they are sitting at their desks for hours on end, trying to read the same list of words over and over again. Irene Kristiansen has, however, found a way to help us remember words in an easier way.

There are many levels of knowing your vocabulary: you may recognize a word when you see it, you may be able to spell it correctly but would not use it in your normal speech. And then you, of course, know words that you recognize, spell correctly and use in your everyday English. But which of these levels would you really call "knowing" and "understanding" a word? That question is something we will never be able to answer correctly, because every student has their own opinion of this. However, we might be able to agree on this: when you can use a word in its proper place in its proper meaning, you really know the word. 

To help you remember words, you may invent tricks of your own, of course. In this lesson, you should try to look at things objectively and with an open mind and see if some of the ideas presented here might be of use to you personally. This lesson also contains exercises because it is through practice that you can really understand how these systems work and what they can do for you.

Photo: Flickr / CollegeDegrees360 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From a word into a sentence into a story

As a word, 'elaborate' means to explain in more detail, and that is exactly what elaboration as a system does. When you are reading a list of new words, it might be impossible to remember even as few as ten words although you read through the list several times. But if you instead, while reading the list, write a story around the words using the whole list, it will become easier to recollect the words when you need them. Remembering will become easier because you have a context in which you have placed these words, a situation which links these new words into something familiar, something you already know and remember. Of course, this is only to remember them in the beginning; when you have used the words in question many times in your everyday language remembering them will become automatic.

Now put this information into practice. If you want to test if the theory put forward above is true, you can try to learn the list of words below without any context. Read the list of words for 30 seconds and then try to write down as many of those words as you can remember without looking at the list again. Allow yourself to recollect for about one minute and then check your list. Repeat this three times and then see if you remembered all the words and if not, which words you couldn't remember. Also, it might be interesting to see if the words you did remember were always the same.

Here is the list of the words :

tweet, root, laundry, horse, lightning, conservation, household, event, burst, landscape

After this, take the second list of words below and write either sentences or a whole story around them using all of the words on the list. Next, read the story you have written a couple of times and then try to write the list of words again without the story. Allow yourself about one and a half minutes to remember the story and the words. How many words did you remember this time?

set, resident, juice, baggage, willow, character, mold, fireworks, toad, inspiration

Photo: Flickr / Giusi Barbiani (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Exercise 1.1 My results

Your task is to add to your portfolio the results of the experiment presented in the lesson, the story or the sentences you wrote, and your explanation of the results. If your results show that you remember the words better read as a list, explain why this might be the case. If your results support the theory about writing a story to remember the words better, give your reasons for that as well.

Tehtävä arvioidaan S/K.

Add your text in the box below. Your teacher will assess this exercise as part of your portfolio.

Photo: Flickr / umjanedoan (CC BY 2.0)

Larger pieces of text

A short story like you wrote above may seem easy to recall, but what happens when you have larger articles, letters, news, or other texts and you have to report the main points of these pieces of information to your fellow workers or to your boss? You have to have notes to support your memory. How to write the notes is totally up to the person doing the task, but here are some examples.

It is said that a picture says more than a thousand words. That is why drawing up a map of the main points of e.g. an article would be a good way to remember all the important things about it. It does not really matter what the map looks like as long as it is clear enough for you to read in front of the group of people who have come to hear you speak. The map can be in the form of a circle, a tree diagram (= story grammar) or a mind map (= käsitekartta). Mind maps are also very useful when writing something of your own like a composition.

A circle might have only questions in it or it may contain more information depending on the purpose it has been made for. This method works well with stories about a certain person and things happening to him.


A story grammar is extremely efficient when trying to summarize an article on almost any given subject. It works well with stories but also with newspaper articles. The title can well be the title of the article/story and it can include more main points than in the example given above. The main points should, however, be chosen in a way that really presents just the main points of the article/story. For example, if there is a news story about a person, one main point could be his/her background/family details, the second main point could deal with the presented event that this person is going through, and the third could cover the consequences of this event. It is also possible to use pictures to enlighten the idea.



 Exercise 1.2 London's West End

Go to this webpage: London’s West End

Summarize the content of what is said about London’s West End with the help of the methods explained in the lesson. You do not have to use both methods: just choose the one that suits you and/ or your article better in your opinion. Submit your summary as a short text or provide a link to your mind map in the answer box below or submit a photo of your mind map /diagram below that.

Tehtävä arvioidaan S/K.


Otavan Opisto / Tarja Männikkö, Arto Silén ja Heli Viitanen

© 2015 Otavan Opisto