No! Post-Teach Vocabulary!!
In the red corner, we have Pre-Teach. In the blue corner, we have Post-Teach vocabulary....
Who do we cheer for!?
For any CELTA certified teacher, most of us say "pre-teaching vocabulary is the cornerstone of understanding." For any of us non-CELTA certified teachers, we say "what's pre-teaching or post-teaching vocabulary?"
What is: Pre-Teaching and Post-Teaching Vocabulary anyway?
Just so all of us are on the same page: Pre-teaching vocabulary is the methodology form of taking keywords which the teacher thinks will find problematic for their students in understanding a task which they will force them to undergo, usually ruthlessly unconscious of the perverse emotional impact on their studetns.
Post-teaching vocabulary is a part of the methodology toolkit where teachers assign a task to students and then later clarify any points which the students might have found interesting - in a way that will make them more intelligent, better people and a global outbreak of peace, free love and good will.
The war is on!
Both camps strongly believe they're right. Understandably so, because technically they are. I think all teachers in ESL should be studying a language so they can understand this problem.
Pre-Teach Vocabulary +1
This is a common problem with people. They think, this is the way - and that's it. Pre-teaching vocabulary has it's place, especially with low-level learners. Elementary, pre-int and sometimes intermediate level students should be taught some tricky vocabulary before a reading, listening or speaking activity so they have words to work with and understand.
It's vital for students to understand at this framework to keep high levels of autonomous learning and intrinsic motivation, with that little extra help from us.
Post-Teach Vocabulary +1.5
If you're preparing a student for any of the Cambridge Exams (primarily in this case the FCE, CAE or CPE) then pre-teaching vocabulary is by far one of the worst methodologies you can be using - as most exercises, especially the reading and speaking parts - test a student's ability on inference.
If you're pre-teaching vocabulary - then these skills needed for their exams are being minimized by your over-ambitious training. In these cases post-teaching is by far the hands down methodology of the day.
Not only does post-teaching help students develop in the sense of contextual learning but it also helps them develop their problem solving skills. I remember talking with a colleague about a group of CAE students he taught at the end of an academic year - and while waiting to be let out of the building which someone had locked them into - he realized how many practical English skills they were missing.
At that point, no pre-teaching strategy is important or not.
The real test of our teaching is if our students will be able to deal with real life situations outside the classroom.
That, is what we should be preparing them for. Problems, shortcuts and effective communication which continually gets better.
Pre-Teaching 0, Post-Teaching 0
Pre-intermediate is the most important group you can teach. It's at this level they complete a function framework of our language and begin moving into a "Hey! I can kind of have a conversation in English... Done!" The problem with this attitude of course is they'll stop learning and eventually forget English if you don't inspire them. That topic I will save for another post, but for intermediate students they should be able to start grasping key vocabulary and trying to learn from context the possible meaning of words.
With such a heated debate on pre-teaching and post-teaching vocabulary, I think that most educators don't really understand that even if you've taught a person a word or phrase a while back - you need to check their understanding and comprehension of your teaching methods. This is a form of non-verbal feedback which you should be aware of. If a student isn't able to use any of the vocabulary you've taught - regardless of whether it was pre-taught or post-taught - then we as educators should go back to the drawing board and rethink our strategy for teaching.