Part One: Connecting Theory and Practice
Hirsh and Nation(1992) “In order to comprehend a text and guess unknown words from context- learners need to know 95% of text : 1 unknown word every 2 lines.”
“Lexical knowledge is the strongest predictor of readability/ inability” Tom Cobb 2007
Nation, Schmitt, Folse, Laufer, and others recommend the explicit teaching, practicing and testing of the most frequently occurring vocabulary at the early stages of language learning, because a lack of basic lexis prevents learners comprehending reading texts and using learning and communicative strategies successfully. This is often called the “learner’s paradox” as language learners need to understand texts in order to work out the meaning of words and notice patterns of use, but they cannot do these things because they do not know what the meaning of the words in the text. Research strongly indicates that the acquisition of vocabulary based on extensive reading and listening is not as efficient as focused instructed vocabulary learning which includes activities that encourage the conscious studying and reviewing of target vocabulary items.
Vocabulary learning is facilitated by periodic recycling activities which form part of an “expanded rehearsal” process in which words are reviewed on the same day, next day, 7 days later, 28 days later etc. because students need multiple exposures to a word to be able to use it productively in real time communciation. Atkins and Baddeley suggest 11 encounters are necessary whilst Nation says that 5-16 encounters are required. Regardless of the number, lexicographers all agree upon the need for the regular lexical item recall which firms up the neurological link between the form of the word and its corresponding meaning. E-learning helps educators provided these multiple encounters with words in a fun, gaming manner which helps students ” cope with prodigious amounts of information within an artificially short time” Folse 2007. And also, as repeated exposure to and the use of target vocabulary are necessary for learning to take place, a certain amount of timetabling work is necessary. Since vocabulary is reviewed at specific intervals, students (and teachers) need to keep records of the dates when lists of vocabulary were first taught and the dates one week and one month later when they will be practised again. I hope that computerised calendar systems will make this easier in the future.
The first stage in learning L2 vocabulary is understanding meaning. Traditionally this has been done using L2 definitions or through both a definition in L2 and a translation of the word in L1. Research shows that initial L2-L1 translation work and the meaning mapping of the new word against the mother tongue is an extremely effective first step in the process of learning vocabulary. There has been resistance to L2-L1 meaning mapping since the 1960s possibly for two reasons:
so many native speaker English teachers did not speak the L1 of their students
students in international classes in the USA, UK or other English-speaking countries were from a variety of L1 backgrounds and so a common language did not exist.
However, it can be and effective, efficient initial vocabulary learning strategy with online programmes since well-developed bilingual dictionaries and materials can be more easily found. Research suggests that initial L1 translation work is more effective and faster than L2 definitions and pictures, films, graphics, gestures, movement, examples, and guessing meaning from context. However, after the initial encounter with a word, trying to learn the L2 vocabulary meanings from context, definitions or examples in isolated sentences are really important methods to help learn the appropriate use and word grammar of L2 vocabulary lexical items. In an iPad class, students can work in pairs and have one screen with the target word lists and the other showing a bilingual dictionary. Flashcards and word books often have a translation facility or section added to them.
Corpus linguistics has really changed the way we decide which lexis to forefront. Computer compiled word frequency lists of the most common 2000, 3000 words in English have been created using data from the analyses of large collections of texts such as the British National Corpus, which comprises 100 million words of text. Teaching and studying high-frequency vocabulary has a higher, faster surrender value for learners. University prep programs and the course books and graded readers that cater to them, often focus on the most frequent 2,000 words. Our institution has compiled unit lists drawn from the most frequent words. These lists can easily be uploaded to a variety of Apps and/or websites.
When these course book unit target vocabulary lists are introduced several days prior to students reading or listening to the texts which incorporate them text comprehension increases because the brain has had time to transfer the new vocabulary from short term to long term memory. Realising how much the memorised words make reading or listening easier provides contextualised repeat exposures and can improve motivation to learn and encourages further vocabulary study. This preparation for learning, so that knowledge studied in isolation can be utilised communicatively in class, is one of the main pillars of flipped classes.
The forgetting that begins immediately after encountering a new word, can be reduced by in-class activities at the end of the vocabulary lesson. The traditional activities done with the words on the lists such as: L2-L1 definition matching exercises, spelling test dictations, multiple choice sentence completion activities, L2 word-definition matching, word-picture matching or gap fill are now frequently found in gaming formats in lexical Apps.
A major advantage of computerised activities over static paper-based word lists is that digital formats can vary the order of the words as students learn them. This is important as words in lists tend to prime students for the next word. For example word A is always followed by word B. so word A will always prepare students for the word B. The digital randomization of words means students have to recall meanings without such unconscious prompting.
Teacher created unit specific/ week specific lexical lists created in Numbers
- Easy to create a table on which students can write definitions and sample sentences, sentence grammar- noun, era, adjective etc.
- Easy for students to find words within a spreadsheet using the search function
- Very visual when students colour words belonging to lexical sets and words connected with ways of describing places, talking about the past etc. one colour.
- Easy to resort data according to alphabetical order, countable/ uncountable, word grammar, known words unknown words etc.
Tip. Add a date column to the spreadsheet and give each month a significance e.g. One: January = countable nouns, February = uncountable nouns, March = non- nouns.
E.g. Two: January = well known words, February = partially known words, March = unknown words. Tap on the screen just above the date column, select “sort” and the vocabulary will be arranged into the designated groups of words for the students to work with.
- Easy to send to students via email or have students retrieve spreadsheets from a platform such as iFiles, Dropbox or Ebackpack. and have them open it in Numbers
- Difficult to add images without making the spreadsheets so long that you can only see a few words per page.
- Not possible to add voice recordings for pronunciation.
- Is not included in the general iPad spotlight search.
- Lists are easy to construct. Teachers can embed their own definitions and sentences or use those provided by the App.
- Target vocabulary can be introduced, practiced and tested through 8 different activities covering meaning, spelling and pronunciation.
- Gaming element keeps students engaged.
- Students get instant feedback on their performance.
- Recycling vocabulary is possible due to variety of activities and the ease with which teachers can modify definitions or sample sentences, so that students are working with slightly new material.
- If the login name and password are shared between a group of teachers, everyone has access to the website and can create lists to be utilized by all members of the group and their students.
- Accessed through the App. Students login using a common user name and password. Students login each time they access the App.
- Images cannot be added to the definitions
- The new update has removed the word definition match and so this App cannot be used as a presentation tool. Only as a follow up tool.
- Only a limited number of lists created by other teachers are available.
Teacher created unit specific/ week specific lexical lists created in Quizlet ( Free Version)
- Lists are easy to construct. Teachers can add their own definitions and images from Flickr.
- Target vocabulary can be introduced and practiced through a flashcards and a scattered matching game.
- ‘Learn it’ mode prompts students with either images or definitions. Students can control the type of prompt they require.
- Answers can be typed in or entered orally using the built in dictation microphone.
- Gaming element keeps students engaged.
- Students get instant feedback on their performance.
- Vocabulary lists are easily edited.
- There is access to many more lists created by other teachers worldwide, than in Spelling City. For example, 25 lists cover different units of Headway Beginner.
- Accessed through the App. Students login using a common user name and password. Students only need to log in once, afterwards they type in the specific list name.
- Definitions and sample sentences are not automatically added by the system and so more preparation time is needed when creating lists than in Spelling City.
Teacher created vocabulary companion (similar to those provided as a separate vocabulary booklet at the back published course books.) developed in Creative Book Builder and stored as an iBook on each students bookshelf.
A good reference tool for lower level students who do not have access to a low level commercially produced dictionary and whose English is not extensive enough to cope with the free dictionaries provided on the Web.
- A good way of developing basic dictionary skills, such as scanning the A-Z organization pattern, and distinguishing definitions from example sentences.
- When creating the vocabulary companion, teachers will be aware of lexis already covered in class and add relevant unit references, synonyms, antonyms etc.
The same images, example sentences etc. can be used in the iBook, on flashcards and other worksheets aiding student recall of target vocabulary.
Once created they are permanent and infinitely reusable across classes, and semesters.
- They are a good resource for class based vocabulary games, student to student dictation activities and simple cover the word, recall the word, check the word activities.
- Creating the book and editing it later in the light of new insights into how vocabulary is recycled throughout the syllabus can be time consuming.
- Creative Book Builder Books can be difficult to share. They need to be opened in an iPad email account or both sent from and received by the same type of institutional email.
Student generated lists and vocabulary logs.
Spelling lists created in Spelling Free
- Students add words they personally frequently misspell or want to learn to spell
E.g. Teachers can highlight words to be added to Spelling Free Notebook when correcting a student’s written work. Students look up the correct word in a dictionary and type it or copy paste it into a list. Similarly, they can use the App in conjunction with reading exercises.
- Spoken renditions of most words are available. Users can add their own recordings of the word.
- Definitions and or sentences can be recorded in place of the pronunciation of a word.
- During spelling tests, students control how many times they hear a word.
- Immediate feedback is given and a tracking system presents misspelt words more than those correctly spelt.
- Correctly spelt words are immediately starred.
- A history function provides evidence of student work.
- Results can be emailed.
- Images or written definitions cannot be added.
- Lists cannot be shared or downloaded and used within the App.
In conclusion, Apps which facilitate the learning of lexis help teachers and learners put the theory behind vocabulary learning into practice. In addition, digital tracking systems make lexical learning tailor made, consequently alleviating the prohibitive task of recycling so many new items per day. The gaming element and accompanying reward systems are motivating and the anytime, anywhere facility, allows students to keep to an “expanded rehearsal” process in which words are reviewed on the same day, next day, 7 days later, 28 days later etc. However, one caveat is that we need to put word lists onto a number of Apps, and still use varied approaches to prevent App burnout.