Some TTO schools work with PIFs (personal idiom files), particularly with first year classes. PIFs are a kind of glossary that a pupil keeps adding to - often in the form of a notebook or computer file - containing key terms for each subject and other important vocabulary that a pupil comes across. It is a list of words which learners need to learn and use actively.
Learners are helped if the entries in their PIF indicate more than a given definition from the teacher or textbook. It helps if learners write down, for example, the word, the meaning and the way the word is typically used in English; this will help them to retain the words better.
PIFs can be a great tool for learning vocabulary, but they do need to be worked with regularly in order to encourage learners to recall and recycle words, and to encourage them to work actively with the meaning of particular words. So here are some suggestions for how to get more out of PIFs.
BLUE AND RED CARDS
Each student receives ten small cards, five in one colour (say, blue) and five in another (say, red). They write five words from their PIFs on the blue cards and their definitions on red ones. They swap sets with another learner and try to match the cards. This activity can also be done with the learners working intially in pairs or small groups and using more words.
Students work in groups of 8-10. They each write ONE word from their PIF on a card – a totally random word, or a word related to a topic. The first learner starts a story, using the word on his/her card. The next learner continues the story using his/her word. They continue until everyone has contributed a sentence to the story. The final sentence should conclude the story.
Students shout out words from their PIFs; the teacher writes them on the board. The students then have the task to make categories out of all the words on the board and to give each category a heading.
NICE AND NASTY WORDS 1
Students shout out words from their PIFs; the teacher writes them on the board. The teacher writes two headings on the board: Nice words and Nasty words. The students then make a list of the words under the two headings in their notebooks. They then have to explain to their neighbour why words are nice or nasty.
NICE AND NASTY WORDS 2
The teacher writes the headings nice words and nasty words on the board. Students think individually, using their PIFs, about which word they want to put under the heading. The teacher invites students to write words from their PIFs under the headings: one under each heading, and to explain why they find the words nice or nasty.
Students draw a plan of their bedrooms. They put 20 words from their PIFs on to their plan: they must have a reason to put the words in the chosen place. They then explain to their neighbour why they put the words where they did.
Students pick out 20 words that they feel they need to review. They put each word on a slip of paper, and on each slip they also write the name of the person they would like to give the word to. They have to write 20 different names and have a reason for their word gift. They then mill around in the classroom and give their words away. If the receiver doesn’t understand it, the giver should explain the meaning and the reason for the gift.
SPELLING PRACTICE 1
The teacher borrows a PIF from a student and dictates 10 words to the class, for spelling practice.
SPELLING PRACTICE 2
Students swap PIFs and dictate ten words to each other, for spelling practice.
(Ideas adapted from: Morgan, J. & Rinvolucri, M., Vocabulary (Oxford: Oxford University Press))