A few years ago, when I was teaching an intermediate writing course in an intensive English program, one of the experiential objectives of the course was to help students build their vocabulary by having them keep a function-based vocabulary notebook. Since the curriculum in that program was brand new, I was one of the first-generation instructors teaching the class, and I, as with the other teachers in the program, was not really sure how to go about that objective.
As it turned out, “function-based vocabulary” simply meant transition words. I thought it was a great idea—to have students keep a separate notebook by adding transition words they learn in classes and from readings. However, I knew that not every student would be able to neatly organize their vocabulary in a notebook, so I decided to prepare those notebooks for them. The preparation was minimal, but the outcome was great.
I designed a booklet in a Word processing document, so students would write function-based words of the same category (e.g., words to emphasize, words to give examples, compare-contrast words, words to add information, words to show sequence) on one page and example sentences with these words on the other page. Both pages had the same layout: a title and lined space for students to write. The number of pages corresponded to the number of the categories of the function-based words plus some extra pages for other categories that students may find on their own.
I printed out the pages and put them together in notebooks (I also designed a simple cover page). Since I did the binding myself, the notebooks didn’t cost me much.
Throughout the semester, my students were keeping their notebooks by adding transition words that they learned in their speaking class and found in their readings, so they could use them in their writing. I also encouraged them to write down their own example sentences and not to copy sentences from the Internet.
At the end of the semester, I received positive feedback from the students about their function-based vocabulary notebooks. They said they were able to pay more attention to those words when doing their readings, which in turn helped them use those words in their own writing.
If you need more information on this notebook or if you would like to receive a template of the notebook that I designed, please let me know and I will be happy to send it to you! What other ways do you see that your writing students could use these kinds of notebooks—or what variations on the notebooks could be beneficial?
UPDATE, 12Feb2014: Download my Function-Based Vocabulary Notebook (.doc) template.