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VOCABULARY TEACHING: Some insights from the research Penny Ur 2012 1.

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Presentation on theme: "VOCABULARY TEACHING: Some insights from the research Penny Ur 2012 1."— Presentation transcript:

1 VOCABULARY TEACHING: Some insights from the research Penny Ur

2 General background It is generally agreed today that a wide ‘sight’ vocabulary is essential for proficiency (especially reading comprehension). How do we help our students acquire this? What can we learn from the research? 2

3 Agree or disagree? 1.Teaching vocabulary means teaching words. 2.You need to know about 85% of the words of a text in order to understand it reasonably well. 3.The most efficient way to learn new words is through extensive reading. 4.It helps you remember if you learn items in semantic sets (e.g. colors, animals). 5.The best way to teach the meaning of a new item is to get students to infer it from context. 6.Translation is a useful strategy in vocabulary teaching. 7.Learners need to review a new item about four or five times in order to remember it. 3

4 Teaching vocabulary means teaching words. 90% correct. Much recent research on lexical chunks / phrasal expressions, and their importance. Biber & Cortes, (2003), Dongkwang, S., & Nation, P. (2007), Koprowski (2005), Liu (2003, 2011), Martinez & Murphy (2011), Martinez & Schmitt (2012), Nation (2006), Schmitt (2003). See also English Vocabulary Profile 4

5 Compositionality It is useful to teach compositional phrases such as I don’t know, in the past, talk about, every time. It is essential to teach non-compositional ones such as go on, of course, make sure, by and large. These should be part of any vocabulary syllabus: probably about 10% (Martinez & Schmitt, 2012). 5

6 You need to know about 85% of the words of a text in order to understand it satisfactorily. Wrong. 85% not only does not ensure understanding the main ideas: it also does not provide sufficient evidence to help guess the unknown words. 6

7 Extract from Obama’s speech That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we renewed our focus on the __________ who __________ our nation. We have made substantial __________ in our homeland __________ and disrupted _________ that threatened to take American ____________. (86%) 7

8 That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we renewed our focus on the _________ who threaten our nation. We have made substantial __________ in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. (95%) 8

9 That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. 9

10 So how much of a reading text do you need to know? Researchers estimate 95%-98%. Ho et al. (2000), Huckin & Coady (1999), Schmitt et al. (2010), Staer (2009), The most recent studies suggest nearer 98% (Schmitt & Schmitt, 2012). But probably less for informal spoken discourse. 10

11 The most efficient way to learn new words is through extensive reading. Wrong. We learn new items very slowly through extensive reading. Bill Grabe found he learnt about 350 new items after reading 3 hours a day for 5 months, i.e. about 450 hours (Stoller & Grabe, 1997) Learners pick up about 1 word per 1,000 read (Zahar et al., 2001) 11

12 Further studies Waring & Takaki (2003): Learners learnt about one word for each hour of reading. There is a 50% chance of recognizing a new word 3 months later if it has been encountered in reading 8 times. Items encountered only once will be forgotten. Other similar studies or summaries: Cobb (2007), Laufer (2003), Pigada & Schmitt (2006), Schmitt (2008). Schmitt & Sonbul (2010): The importance of direct teaching of vocabulary during / after a reading text. 12

13 It helps you remember if you learn items in semantic sets (e.g. colours, animals) Wrong. Learning lists of words that all mean the same sort of thing and are the same part of speech is not conducive to good learning. 13

14 Research on learning semantic sets Tinkham (1993) Does it help learners to master a new set of lexical items if they are all members of a semantic set (same part of speech, same kind of meaning: e.g. clothes, animals)? 14

15 Learners were presented with two sets of items from an artificial language, and told their ‘meanings’; one set all related to the same domain, the other did not. rain =moshee car = blaikel frog = umau shirt = achen jacket = kawvas sweater = nalo shirt = moshee jacket = umau sweater = blaikel rain = achen car = nalo frog = kawvas 15

16 The learners consistently learned the unrelated items better. The research was later replicated, with similar results. Waring (1998), Erten & Tekin (2008), Papathanasiou (2009) But words linked to each other syntagmatically are learnt well. e.g. blue + sky is better learnt than blue + red + yellow… 16

17 The best way to teach the meaning of a new item is to get students to infer it from context.. Wrong. ‘Inferencing’ is not reliable (Bensoussan & Laufer (2005), Laufer (1997), Nassaji (2003). ‘Inferencing’ does not aid retention (Mondria (2003)) 17

18 Research on inferencing Mondria (2003) One group was asked to learn words through inferencing from a ‘pregnant’ context and verifying with a glossary, and was then given time to memorize. The other group was simply provided with L1 translations and given time to memorize. When tested, the two groups achieved the same scores, which were maintained in a delayed post- test.  ‘Inferencing’ does not improve learning. 18

19 Translation is a useful strategy in teaching vocabulary Right. Laufer (1997b): L1 glosses tend to produce better remembering than L1 glosses. Laufer and Girsai (2008): words practised using translation techniques into/from L1 were consistently better retained than those practised through L2-based exercises. 19

20 Learners need to review a new item about four or five times in order to remember it. Not enough. The evidence is that learners usually need at least ten (maybe more) meaningful encounters in order to acquire a new item. Horst & Meara (1999), Waring & Takaki (Webb (2007), Zahar et al. (2001) 20

21 What does this mean in practice? 21

22 1. Multi-word constructs Phrases, or ‘chunks’: combinations of words that go together to make a single concept, retrieved as a single unit from memory: of course, as well, take advantage of, right away… Collocations: words that ‘prefer’ specific other words with them: do + homework (not make); a high (not tall) mountain; rosy + cheeks 22

23 Practical implications Look out for lexical chunks and collocations in texts, draw students’ attention to them. When teaching a new word, teach also the commonest collocations (e.g. afraid + of). Make sure any list of vocabulary to learn includes multi-word combinations as well as single words. 23

24 2. You need to know 95-98% of the words of a text in order to understand it In order to understand unsimplified texts, students will need by the end of their schooling to know something like 8,000 word families (+ ‘chunks’). This means if they learn English for 8 years, they need about 1,000 items a year. 24

25 Practical implications Don’t expect students to be able to understand texts where they know less than 95%. Invest classroom time inn vocabulary expansion. Make sure you cover the commonest and most useful items (check with English Vocabulary Profile Use vocabulary expansion activities as well as vocabulary from texts. 25

26 Examples: 1.‘Word of the day’ 2.‘Show and tell’ 3.Brainstorm round a theme 4.Synonyms, antonyms of words already learnt 5.Look up a word you know: find more meanings, phrases, collocations For more ideas, see Ur (2012) 26

27 3. Students can’t learn enough vocabulary only through incidental encounter in reading Extensive reading is important for:  consolidating items already learnt  increasing reading fluency  enjoyment and motivation But extensive reading texts should therefore be easier than the reading texts in their coursebooks (‘i-1’). 27

28 Practical implications We need to supplement extensive reading by vocabulary activities: both presentation and review, both in class and for homework. It is suggested that about 1/3 of classroom time should be devoted to focused vocabulary- teaching activities. 28

29 4. Semantic sets Presenting new items in ‘semantic sets’ does not lead to good learning. But many elementary textbooks do in fact include these (convenient to teach). 29

30 Practical implications Teach items thematically linked, not lists of similar words. If your book teaches semantic sets … Choose which are the most important and link them to other parts of speech in contexts: What things can you see in this room that are red? What can your hands do that your feet can’t? Skip the rare items in the larger sets e.g purple in colours, toes in parts of the body 30

31 Try to avoid teaching together as new items: near-synonyms (ceiling, roof), antonyms (buy, sell), homonyms (bear, bear), words easily confused (except, accept). But you CAN use such combinations – and lexical sets – as a basis for a) teaching a new item (if the synonym, for example, is already well known) b) review 31

32 5. Inferencing Inferring meaning from context (‘inferencing’) is an important skill for independent reading. But we need to distinguish between the use of inferencing as a reading strategy, and its use as a way of learning a new vocabulary item. For vocabulary-learning purposes it is a) not very reliable (in most cases students guess wrong) b) time-consuming 32

33 Practical implications Don’t expect students to infer meaning on their own unless the context makes it absolutely clear! Just provide the meanings yourself (or elicit from a knowledgeable member of the class). 33

34 Translation is a useful vocabulary- teaching strategy It can be used for practice or for testing; But its main use is in initial introduction of meaning. Translation  Is quick  Is likely to be accurate  Provides a feeling of security  Is a natural strategy Why avoid it? 34

35 Practical implications Happy: Happy = Счастливый 35

36 Disappointed: If you are disappointed you are sad because something has not happened or because something is not as good as you had hoped. OR: Disappointed = Разочарованный Now: tell me in English about some situations when you were disappointed! 36

37 The importance of review A new item will only be remembered after it has been reviewed 10 or more times. But coursebooks do not usually provide this. The best review is through retrieval, provided this is success-oriented (i.e. students can, with an effort, retrieve the item they’ve been taught) (Karpicke & Roediger, 2008) Vocabulary notebooks are an excellent basis for review (Walters & Bozkurt, 2009). 37

38 Practical implications We need to tell students to keep vocabulary notebooks / cards and review at home And provide plenty of retrieval-based review activities. For example:  How many can you remember?    Bilingual dictations  Recall and share  Quick Bingo  Make up sentences including the items For more ideas, see Ur (2012) 38

39 Summary Vocabulary knowledge is crucial for our students’ success in English; We need to be aware of how vocabulary is most effectively taught and learnt. And use our knowledge to inform practical classroom technique, coursebook selection and adaptation, and use of supplementary materials. 39

40 40

41 cellphonelifeall over the world factscountries location remote areas earthquake the invention of communicate with important events photographshurricanesave lives for examplerescue party the outside world  41


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