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Key points to consider when deciding which vocabulary students should learn, as well as different approaches for teaching and learning vocabulary.

Module 4 - Topic 1 Learning Summary


Vocabulary Learning Strategies

Vocabulary TeachingStrategies

Which Vocabulary Should Students Learn?


Given the incredible amount of vocabulary learners must know to read and listen to texts unassisted (~28,000 - 34,000 words), 'Learning Vocabulary' (n.d.) recommends narrowing the batch down to three types of vocabulary, specifically for academic study:

  1. General vocabulary suitable for academic study
  2. Academic vocabulary
  3. Subject-specific vocabulary

1. Which Vocabulary Should Students Learn?

Overview of Vocabulary Types

Words which are only used in a specific subject area, or "general words that have a special meaning in academic contexts" ('Technical vocabulary,' n.d.).

Subject-Specific Vocabulary

Broadly comprises general words that can be used academic contexts, listed vocabularies (Academic Word List (AWL)), and subject-specific words ('Academic vocabulary,' n.d.).

Academic Vocabulary

Also called 'high-frequency vocabulary,' this is "vocabulary that occurs frequently in all kinds of texts and everyday language" ('General vocabulary,' n.d.).

General Vocabulary

Additional Vocabulary

Other teachable vocabularies include:

  • Word families and their prefixes/suffixes - "A group of words which are 'related' by a common base word" (e.g., create -> creator, creativity, etc.) ('Features of vocabulary,' n.d.).
  • Formulatic phrases or lexical chunks - "Fixed or frequently occurring combinations of words" ('Learning vocabulary,' n.d.; 'Lexical Approach 1,' n.d.). These include:
    • Collocations
    • Discourse markers (e.g., transitional signals in writing, signpost phrases in presentations)
    • Idioms and phrasal verbs, which are less common in academic writing

When planning to teach vocabulary, teachers should consider the following recommendations:

  • Frequency: Teach high-frequency words first. Then, teach strategies for coping with low-frequency words (Nation, 2005, p. 582).
  • Teach collocations as soon as possible, as "ready-made" chunks are more easily retrievable and are commonly used in English ('Collocation with advanced levels,' n.d.).
  • Incorporate Nation's (2005) four strands of vocabulary learning - fluency, meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, and language-focused learning - equally throughout your curriclum.

2. Vocabulary Teaching Strategies

Increasing the speed with which students can retrieve and use vocabulary they already learned (Nation, 2005, p. 586-9).

Fluency Practice

Giving "deliberate, decontextualized attention" to a word's form, pronunciation, spelling, and other features (Nation, 2005, p. 584-5; Greene & Coxhead, 2015, p. 38).

Language-Focused Learning

Students purposefully incorporate target vocabulary in speaking and writing products, as expected by the teacher (Greene & Coxhead, 2015, p. 38).

Meaning-Focused Output

Quick Reference

Nation's (2005) Four Strands of Vocabulary Learning

The teacher creates intentional opportunities for learners to meet new vocabulary in reading and listening (Greene & Coxhead, 2015, p. 37).

Meaning-Focused Input

Examples of Nation's (2005) Four Strands of Vocabulary Learning

A Sneak-Peak

  • The Frequency Principle - "[Teach] words that occur frequently" (Greene & Coxhead, 2015, p. 33)
  • The Repetition Principle - Prompt students to encounter new words "over and over again" using spaced retrieval (Ibid, p. 33-4)
  • The Principle of Avoiding Interference - Avoid teaching "lexically related words," such as synonyms, antonyms, or words with similar forms (Ibid, p. 34)
  • The Generation Principle - Have students use a word in a way that differs "from the way it was used in a source text" (Ibid, p. 35).

Teaching Recommendations from Topic 2

In the final part of this presentation, I focus on the actions of the learner when learning vocabulary.Topic 1 can be categorized into two learning strategy "considerations": concrete learning strategies, and a student's disposition toward learning new vocabulary.

3. Vocabulary Learning Strategies

Learner Disposition

Students should be aware that effective vocabulary learning includes the following factors:

  • Exposure to new vocabulary, whether incidental or intentional.
  • Depth of processing, or the theory that there's an increased likelihood of remembering a word if a learner puts forth the effort.
  • Involvement, which "stresses the need to study [a] word." The need should come from the student.
  • Manipulation, or using the word in output exercises.
  • Paying attention to new vocabulary.
  • Dedicating time to learning new vocabulary.

From 'Learning Vocabulary' (n.d.)

Train students on how to use a dictionary, and elevate their involvement by checking the meaning of a guessed word using a dictionary. Use bilingual dictionaries first (Ibid, p. 593).

Using a Dictionary

"Using this strategy involves learning a relatively small number of prefixes and suffixes...and being able to relate their meanings to the meaning of a word" (Ibid, p. 592).

Using Word Parts

When using word cards, prioritize high-frequency words, use spaced retrieval, and retrieve words both receptively and productively (Nation, 2005, p. 591).

Learning from Word Cards

That Learners Can Use Independently (Nation (2005))

Concrete Vocabulary Learning Strategies

Model and teach learners how to guess the meaning of unknown words using context and linguistic clues. Learners should know ~98% of the surrounding words (Ibid, p. 590).

Inferring from Context

Greene & coxhead, 2015, p. 32 (on 'word consciousness')

In short, vocabulary learning is a two-way street. "Teachers' responsibilities consist of planning, strategies instruction, testing, and teaching. Students' responsibilities are to use language, to participate in deliberate learning, and to take control of their own learning."