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Teaching Vocabulary and Ways

to Retain It

Khmelnytskyi National University

February 21, 2012

Carol A. Haddaway,
Sr. English Language Fellow, Ukraine
Vocabulary forms the biggest part of the meaning of any
language, and vocabulary is the biggest problem for most
learners (McCarthy as cited in Fan. 2003, p. 222).

In communication, vocabulary is often more important

then grammar (Davies, 2000, p.59).

Learning new words and how to use them is not a simple

matter and can be quite challenging but working with
words can and should be enjoyable and fun for learners
(Davies, 2000).
What is Vocabulary
A balanced vocabulary program
How to teach vocabulary
Some teaching techniques
Vocabulary development strategies
Academic words
What is Vocabulary?
Words/items (mother-in-law, post office, ice cream)
Word families (base words and their derived forms)
child, children, childhood, childish; teach, teacher,
teaching, taught
Phrasal verbs
take away, put on, figure out, look up, pick up
digital photograph, hot summer
call it a day, hot under the collar, cold shoulder, hit
the road running, piece of cake
What does it mean to Know a word ?
Layers of Word Knowledge Examples

Denotation Dictionary e.g. dog - domestic animal
Connotation dog to British or Arabic people
Degree (strength of a word) The conflict annihilated /destroyed/damaged. the
Fixed phrases (word partners) forth and back; tall, handsome, and dark
Grammar, Spelling (look) Pronunciation (sound)
Verbs Think, thought
Nouns Mouse, mice, information, advice
Adj. or verbs with prepositions Responsible for, remind someone of
Word Parts
Prefixes/suffixes sub, un, able Substandard, ungrateful
Appropriate Forms
Formal/informal Weep or cry, variant/variety, dinner
Direct/euphemistic I heard that your uncle died/passed away
What Vocabulary Should We Teach?

Vocabulary Items that are:

Frequent (West General Service List first
2000 head words of English)
Important (Academic Word List 570 word
Needed for Classroom Tasks & Activities
Regular (common patterns or features)
Easy to learn (cognates)
Must consider level & needs/interests of learners
Must answer students vocabulary questions
(Richards, Nation, Genesee)
How Should We Divide Our Time
in Teaching Vocabulary?

Teach each of these for about the

same amount (25%) of time:
(Nunan, 2004. Online course on Teaching Vocabulary
Learning from Input (L, R)
The content has a
message that
students want to
focus on.
listening to a story,
having a
extensive reading,
watching TV
The man and the mango tree
Learning from Output (S, W)
Opportunity to use
the words
Attention to
vocabulary, accuracy,
and appropriateness.
Focus on
Say/shout the word first-
Playing Cards
Turn the card over and the first player to say/shout the
corresponding word collects that card


FORUM VOL 48/4 2010, P. 28

Language-Focused (Deliberate)
Looking for patterns, dictionary work
Vocabulary strategies
Word cards
Intensive reading
Focus on vocabulary and aspects of grammar
and discourse features, while learner get to
practice language-learning strategies.
Fluency (speed + skill)
All 4 skills
Use known words & grammar
Encourage lots of use
Time pressure to perform faster
Focus on communicating a message as they'd
have to in real life,

Tell ------ - Dice game

Sit in groups of 4
Role the dice. The highest number starts
Take turns asking each other questions. e.g. you roll 6, the
person to your left says, tell me 6 things about yourself
Then person who asked the question rolls the dice and
continues like this.

Vocab Dice Game - examples
English words
1 thing about yourself
2 things about your family
3 things about your best friend
4 things about your hobbies
5 things you wish you had
6 of your favorite movies
4 things about money, food, restaurants, things you like to do
Adjectives that describe you
Your favorite website
Reasons why you like Facebook
How you plan to make money
Favorite childhood memories
What are you good at
How Should We Teach Vocabulary?

Focus on important words

General Service List, Academic Word List

Give simple, clear explanations & translation

as needed

Use concept-checking questions to check


Provide repetition over time

Teaching Problem (1)
Teacher: The new word is important.
The stress is on the second syllable. OK,
repeat important
Learner: What means?
Teacher: OK just repeat important

(Thaine, 2010)
Teaching Problem (2)
Teacher: OK, our 12th new word for
today: who knows what we call someone
whose job it is to take care of a building?
Teaching Problem (3)
Teacher: So here on the board is the new
word Ive written up wallet. So what
does it mean?


The player's popularity has given him a

great deal of leverage with the owners of
the team.
Teaching Problem (4)
Teacher: Right, the word is jump. For
example: He likes to jump.


The foliage was think and I couldnt see the

Teaching Problem (5)
Sissors. Does everyone understand the
meaning of this word?
Teacher: Do you understand? Anya?

The Universal Declaration of Human

Lexical Sets
A cluster or group of related words
Words can be related in several ways
By topic: furniture, clothes, family
In pairs opposites: hot/cold, old/new
In pairs synonyms: slip/slide,
By superordinate: FRUIT
Hyponym of FRUIT: orange, apple, banana,
Word families: paint, painter, painting
Things that are cold
Things that are boring
Word families
KNOW: knowledge, knowing, known, knowledgeable
Phrasal verbs
get up
piece of cake
Why are lexical sets important?
We probably dont store words in our
brain in alphabetical order like a
dictionary does.
Memory: We apparently store words in or
brain in groups of related words (or
lexical sets)
If a new word can be hooked to words
which are already stored, it might be
easier to remember it
Word Associations
Cough Blue
Grass Pepper
Red Tea
Salt Kitten
Puppy Sneeze
coffee Green

Connect the matching

Collocations words that co-
occur with high frequency
Grammatical Lexical
Reason for Spend money
Account for Inflict a wound
Rely on Dense fog
By accident Deeply absorbed
In retrospect Dead fatigued?

Thematically related
Extensive ((joyful) reading
Read constantly! The more you see new
words used in context, the more you will
be able to recognize, spell and use them.

Is one way to become familiar with low-

frequency words
Using Context
To guess words in context, one must know
95% of the words in the text, i.e. 19 out of
20 words.

Knowing 98% (one unknown word in 50) is

considered an independent reading level

Since there is no time like the present, he

thought it was time to present the present.

(Laufer, 1989; Nation & Waring, 1997)

Prefixes and Root words
Many academic words have Latin or Greek roots so if
you understand the prefix and root meaning, you can
often guess the word meaning.

For example:
Sub = under
Marine = water

Submarine = a boat that can dive under the ocean

Word Building
Selective Dictionary Use

1. Do I need the word? Can I understand the text

without it? Is it a word I may find valuable later?
2. Does the context help?
3. Do the word parts help?
4. Does it help to pronounce it? Does it sound like
a word that I know?
Academic Vocabulary
Academic vocabulary must be taught simply
because it does not occur in daily interactions
and conversational exchanges

Academic Word List (most frequent university academic

words across several disciplines)
Practice with Academic Words

Accurate Emphasis
Attach Estimate
Analyze Injure
Conclude Predict
Reluctant Rational
Define Relax
Display Relevant
Find your match
Effective Strategies
Review words learned 2 weeks ago, 1 week ago, 2
days ago, yesterday


Convincing students to be independent
learners, responsible for their own
vocabulary learning represents the single
most effective teaching strategy.

(Hinkle, Tesol 2009)

Vocabulary Activities
Learning vocabulary can be fun

200 vocabulary exercises

Interactive vocabulary games

Interactive puzzles
Vocabulary quizzes/activities

Interactive vocabulary matching exercises

Vocabulary and grammar activities

Vocabulary and other activities for young learners

Vocabulary website from Ohio University
Word Lists & Frequency Lists

General Service Word List (most

frequent 2000+ words)
Academic Word List (most frequent
university academic words across
several disciplines)
(Coxheads Academic Word List)
Crandall, J. & Bickel, B. Whats in a Word?
The Importance of Vocabulary & Some Ways to Teach It presentation
Davies, P. & Pearse, E. (2006). Success in English Teaching. Oxford.
Decarrico, J.S. (2001) Vocabulary Learning and Teaching. In Teaching
English as a Second or Foreign Language, 3rd ed., edited by M. Celce-
Murcia. Heinle.
Hinkle, E. Teaching Academic Vocabulary and Helping Students Retain It.
TESOL 2009, Denver, CO.
Nation, P. (2005). Teaching Vocabulary. Asian ELT Journal
Nunan, D. (2003). Practical English Language Teaching. McGraw Hill.
Thaine, C. (2010). Teacher Training Essentials. Cambridge
Zimmerman, C. (2009). Word Knowledge. Oxford.
Zimmerman, C. (2011). Academic Vocabulary and School Success
presented at the 2011 TESOL Academy.