Help me be a good vocab tutor.
October 10, 2007 7:37 AM   Subscribe

I need your advice on how to help an adult English speaker expand his vocabulary to excel on the GRE.

I'm going to be tutoring an adult for the first time in a couple days. He is studying for the GRE and wants help expanding his vocabulary. I believe he is a native English speaker, and if not, he's definitely fluent.

I scored highly on the verbal section of the GRE (98th percentile), so I'm confident in my knowledge of the material. But, I don't have a great deal of experience with tutoring, and I've never tutored someone my own age before. How can I be a good teacher? Do you have any good tips or tricks for helping non-verbal people expand their verbal skills? Any specific things I should avoid? Any hints, advice, or personal experiences would be very much appreciated.
posted by crackingdes to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I used the Barron's Essential Words for the GRE when I studied for mine. 3 months before I used the list, I scored 620 on a mock test. When I took the actual GRE, I got 730 (99.7th percentile). So yeah, the book and a stack of flash cards will do wonders for your friend.

When you tutor him, I suggest you help with the reading comprehension. But for increasing vocabulary for these types of standardized tests, he might just have to sit down and do some rote memorising. Many of the words you find on the harder questions won't appear too often in daily reading.
posted by reformedjerk at 7:51 AM on October 10, 2007

Best answer: There are lots of books (many available at the library) that may give you some teaching tools as well as exercises and things that can help your student. This one looks particularly helpful.

I'm a verbal-exceller myself (typos on AskMe not withstanding) and I used to tutor students on the GRE. I found it harder to teach vocab, which comes very easy to me, than I did to teach math, with which I struggled. There's something about being able to step back and observe my processes (in math) that made it easier to explain, as opposed to "just knowing" the answer intuitively.

Be very patient with your student, and experiment with different strategies. Flash cards are a start, or record an MP3 (if he's more audio-oriented), or crazy visualization, or alliterative sentences for examples. Have him draw pictures or write the word and definition five times, if he's a more kinetic learner. Review some basic prefixes and suffixes (ie mal- or bene-). Email or SMS him with words of the day so it's ever-present, not just during "study time."

Let us know how it goes!
posted by nkknkk at 8:13 AM on October 10, 2007

I teach GRE and have found that it is impossible to "teach" vocabulary. Either the student studies the words or doesn't. You can introduce him/her to whatever techniques that the program has for guessing, but the fact is, you need to learn 1000 words for every 100 point jump you need to make on the test.
posted by k8t at 8:23 AM on October 10, 2007

Sign up for daily word emails.

You'll get 4 new words a day, in context, with pronunciation. I used these, in conjunction with the Barron's guides, and they worked really well.
posted by fake at 8:54 AM on October 10, 2007

Best answer: When I took the GRE, I prepared for it about a year in advance. A huge amount of that time was spent assimilating vocabulary. I'll describe my technique, and hopefully it will work for your student.

With vocabulary, I find that self-study is the most important piece of the puzzle--no one can teach you vocabulary, it's something you have to slog through on your own, and it requires a genuine interest in words. If you can cultivate that interest, it's not hard to start memorizing new words rapidly.

My typical study pattern involved flashcards. I highly recommend the portable, keyring style flashcards sold at Myndology.

I would start by selecting words randomly from lists in GRE prep books, and filling out the flashcards until I had completed an entire keyring (somewhere in the area of 80 - 100 cards). Then, I would take about 10 to 15 cards and write and rewrite each word with its definition (or in an example sentence) until I had them set into my short term memory. It would take about 15 minutes per dozen words. I simply repeated this until I had done all 80 cards, and then I carried the keyring with me everywhere and went through them religiously. On top of this, I made a point to use the words as regularly as possible in both my speech and personal writing.

To supplement this, I read a lot of higher-level print media, and always carried a dictionary. Whenever I stumbled across a word I did not know, I would look it up, write it down, and add it to my flash cards. I also spent plenty of time developing mnemonic devices for each word (this can be incredibly helpful). It doesn't matter what the mnemonic is, or if it has anything to do with the word at all: the only thing that's important is that it triggers a memory of the definition.

In the end, I had gone through something in the order of 10 decks of flashcards, and scored a 98 percent on the GRE. I found that for the verbal section, the vocabulary was the most indispensable part of my study, and it really came into play on test day. Best of luck to you and your student!
posted by dead_ at 9:35 AM on October 10, 2007

I do many of the things you guys listed, and I never took a GRE! I am a word "fan" to. I just use Word a lot [bungling at best (thanks for the links, Dead) ]. One thing that increases your vocabulary, is (as many of you know) crossword puzzles! If one learns to like them You'll keep the juices flowing as well as keep you sharp. Even after the GRE! I'm impressed with your scores, but their just bragging if you don't have a well thought-out, coherent, point delivered with eloquence, clarity and an economy of words.
posted by Student of Man at 2:12 PM on October 10, 2007

One thing I didn't really see mentioned above is that you can use this as training for real skills beyond the GRE, and increase the number of words you're working on, without increasing the amount of work.

Instead of memorizing tons of specific words and definitions, focus on the roots that are the components to those words. This will get through anything of Latin or Greek origin that the GRE has, and teach how to think about words that aren't specifically in the GRE realm.

Bonus: If you're not a memorizer (I'd rather not...) this also turns vocabulary into a problem-solving type of learning.
posted by whatzit at 3:12 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

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