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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010

Автор: Осколкова А. А.

Vocabulary is the knowledge about words and their meanings. As Steven Stahl [1, p. 135] puts it, "Vocabulary knowledge is knowledge; the knowledge of a word not only implies a definition, but also implies how that word fits into the world." A word’s definition is just the tip of the ice berg! Teacher should help students ‘dive’ below the surface into extended word meanings. Knowledge about vocabulary is not something that can be fully mastered; it is something that develops and increases over the course of a lifetime. Instruction in vocabulary does not contain only looking up words in a dictionary and using the words in a sentence. Vocabulary is acquired by chance through indirect exhibition to words and intentionally through clear and outspoken instruction in specific words and word-learning strategies. According to Michael Graves, there are four components of an effective vocabulary program:

1) wide or extensive independent reading to expand word knowledge;

2) instruction in specific words to enhance comprehension of texts containing those words;

3) instruction in independent word-learning strategies;

4) word consciousness and word-play activities to motivate and enhance learning.

There is no single research-based method for teaching vocabulary. It is recommended to use a variety of direct and indirect methods of vocabulary instruction. Intentional vocabulary teaching implies specific word instruction:

- Selecting words to teach;

- Rich and robust instruction.

Selecting words to teach is choosing a global style of learning. When one learner selects only those words and phrases that he or she needs to understand the whole context. So does the teacher while working with texts from the tutorials. He or she selects only the most important vocabulary items that her or his students must learn and be able to recognize in the context.

Rich and robust instruction is referred to another learning style that is analytical one. The whole text is important both for the leaner and the teacher. The list of words is rather long. While preparing for new vocabulary presentation the teacher should remember to divide the list of new words into so-called sections which should be given to the learners at different classes. It will avoid loss of students’ motivation and their class overload.

Before starting to work with new vocabulary a learner may choose his or her own word-learning strategy:

- Dictionary Use;

- Morphemic Analysis;

- Cognate Awareness;

- Contextual Analysis.

Clear and outspoken vocabulary instruction is greatly effective. To develop vocabulary purposefully, students should be explicitly taught both specific words and word-learning strategies. To develop students' knowledge of word meanings, specific word instruction should be clear and reliable. Working on vocabulary in rich contexts from authentic texts, rather than in isolated vocabulary drills, causes effective vocabulary learning. Such instruction often does not begin with a definition, for the ability to give a definition is often the result of knowing what the word means. Rich and efficient vocabulary instruction is far more than just definitional knowledge; it gets students actively engaged in using and thinking about meanings of words and in creating relationships among them.

There are more words to be learned than can be directly taught in even the most pretentious program of vocabulary instruction. Explicit instruction in word-learning strategies gives students aids for individually determining the meanings of unfamiliar words that have not been precisely introduced in class. Since students face so many unfamiliar words in their reading, writing, listening and speaking activities any help provided by such strategies can be useful.

Word-learning strategies include dictionary use, morphemic analysis, and contextual analysis. For English language learners whose language shares are connected with English, cognate awareness is also an important strategy. Dictionary use gives students multiple word meanings, as well as it shows the importance of choosing the appropriate definition to fit the particular context. Morphemic analysis is the process of deducing a word's meaning by analyzing its meaningful parts, or morphemes. Such word parts include root words, prefixes, and suffixes. Contextual analysis involves implying the meaning of an unfamiliar word by scrutinizing the text surrounding it. Contextual analysis generally involves teaching students to employ both generic and specific types of context clues.

A more general way to help students develop vocabulary is by fostering word consciousness, encouraging an awareness of and interest in words. Word consciousness is not an isolated component of vocabulary learning and teaching; it needs to be taken into account each and every day [Scott and Nagy, 2004]. It can be always and variously developed: through encouraging expert pronunciation, through word play, and through research on origins or histories of words. According to Graves, "If we can get students interested in playing with words and language, then we are at least halfway to the goal of creating the sort of word-conscious students who will make words a lifetime interest."

One principle of effective vocabulary learning is to provide multiple expressions to a word's meaning. There is great improvement in vocabulary when students encounter vocabulary words often, students probably have to deal with a word more than once to place and store it firmly in their long-term memories. "This does not mean mere repetition or drill of the word," but encountering the word in different and multiple contexts. In other words, it is important that vocabulary instruction provide students with opportunities to encounter words repeatedly and in more than one context.

It is often supposed that when students do not learn new vocabulary items, they simply need to practice the words some more. However, it is often the case that students simply do not understand the teacher’s task involved. Rather than paying attention to only the words themselves, teachers should be certain that students fully understand the tasks [Schwartz and Raphael, 1985]. The restructuring of learning materials or strategies in different ways often can cause increased vocabulary acquisition, especially for low-achieving or at-risk students. According to Kamil, "once students know what is expected of them in a vocabulary task, they often learn rapidly."

The most of vocabulary is acquired by chance through indirect encountering with words. Students can acquire vocabulary incidentally by engaging in rich speaking experiences at home and at school, listening to books read aloud to them, and reading widely on their own. Reading volume is very important in terms of long-term vocabulary development [Cunningham and Stanovich, 1998]. Kamil and Hiebert consider that extensive reading gives students repeated or multiple exposures to words and is also one of the tools by which students see vocabulary in rich contexts. Cunningham recommends providing structured read-aloud and discussion sessions and extending individual reading experiences outside school hours to encourage vocabulary growth in students. There is no one right way to teach vocabulary. Using a variety of techniques or approaches increases students’ vocabulary knowledge, such as categorization, semantic feature analysis, making analogies, structural analysis, following Frayer model, word or concept map, content core word groups, by means of illustration, miming, synonyms (antonyms/gradable items), definition, translation and context.

Categorization Categorization (placing the words into categories) is one of the most well-spread ways to work with words and its meanings. If one sees the connection among familiar words and new words, he or she is able to connect new information and prior knowledge together. While categorizing words we also develop our thinking skill of classifying. The activity (like “Animals” or “Vegetables”) can be applied here, where one thinks of an item and the others try to guess what is it by at first determining the general category and then asking “yes” or “no” questions about it. If the item is not guessed in a certain number of questions, the questioner had failed, the other volunteers identify the item and then think of another item, and the activity starts again. This activity can be done in the classroom with new vocabulary terms being mixed up with familiar words. The items may also be grouped into classifications such as animate and non-animate, movable and stationary, etc. The teacher should lead the learners to discuss reasons for grouping that they develop, pointing out common characteristics. At first the teacher may name the categories into which items must be placed, but in the end the children should come up with the categories individually. The same sequence could be applied with word lists in reading. The teacher may also provide a category (without providing items to place), and allow the children suggest appropriate items. For example, teacher asks learners to suggest things that grow from the list given below: hair, animal, street, today, child, window, cat, etc. Also teacher can use this kind of activity that can be enjoyable for learners and can promote vocabulary development at the same time. In the activity a word is written vertically on the left side of the paper or the blackboard as shown in the table (see Appendix). Categories are placed in a row across the top of the paper or the blackboard. The learners are challenged to use reference books or dictionaries to help them fill in the resulting grid with examples for each category that start with each letter on the left.

Semantic Feature Analysis

This strategy is effective in helping students visualize the connections among concepts. It is designed to provide a systematic process for establishing categories and developing significant dependence among new words and concepts. Semantic feature analysis is a very interactive process. The graphic organizer (chart) helps students understand the meaning of the term by comparing features and characteristics. The characteristics are listed across the top of the organizer and students place a check mark or X in the box if the concept term has that feature.

Semantic feature analysis is another efficient way to guide word study. In it a number of words are classified in relationship to several characteristics. For instance, musical instruments might be placed under such classifications as string, woodwind, brass, percussion, mouthpiece, bow and others. The more considered features, the more knowledge the learners have to display about the target words for completing the table. If the features included are enough, two or more items might have exactly the same pattern. For example, timpani and snare drum have the same characteristic, but the addition of snares to the list of features would differentiate the two items. Similarly, trumpet and trombone have also the same characteristic, but the adding of slide to the list of features would change the category. Ranking words on one feature is one activity related to semantic feature analysis. For example, words such as none, some, many and all could be categorized on the basis of amount. 
  Making Analogies Making analogies is another way to learn about the words, as well as to develop mental skills referred to classification, comparison and contrast. English learners will start learning the skill necessary for making analogies when they are busy with categorization activities, for successful analogy construction requires the recognition of the relationships among words. With young learner the teacher may say “A sock goes on your foot like what goes on your hand?” The learners are led to see that both relationships are the same type. Little by little the analogies come to be stated as “Sock is to foot as ________ is to hand.” Analogies can be developed on the basis of a multitude of possible relationships: synonym, antonym, homonym, member-organization, etc. Older learners can be introduced to the symbols related to analogies, as the analogies become “Sock-foot, ____ - hand”. Learners enjoy competing to complete such analogies and also creating their own ones. Such activities require the use of higher-order thinking skills.   Structural Analysis It involves learning to recognize and differentiate common word parts, such as prefixes, suffixes, endings, parts of compound words and contractions parts, and relating meaning with these word parts. Knowledge of structural analysis is a powerful tool for students in learning the meanings of new words that they meet. Learners also develop their skill in analytical thinking as they learn how to understand and use parts of words. Prefixes and suffixes are common word parts that influence the meanings of the words. Prefixes are letters grouped and attached to the beginnings of words that change the meanings of the words (e.g. tie-untie/завязать-развязать). Suffixes are letters grouped and added to the endings of words that may alter their meanings or parts of speech (e.g. act-action/ действовать - действие). Endings are letters or letter groups added to the endings of words that may modify the tense (e.g. look – looked/смотрю - смотрел) or person (e.g. go – goes/иду-идёт) of the verb, the number (e.g. girl – girls/ девушка - девушки), case (e.g. Jack – Jack’s), gender of the noun (e.g. host-hostess/ хозяин - хозяйка), or degree of the adjective (e.g. big – bigger/большой - больше). Compound words are words formed of two or more smaller words that blend to produce a new meaning (e.g. houseboat - плавучий дом). Sometimes compound nouns consist of two separate nouns (e.g. police officer - полицейский). Contractions are formed by joining two words together, excluding one or more letters and replacing them with the apostrophe (e.g. he would – he’d). Some learners have difficulties differentiating between contractions and possessives, which are also formed with apostrophes. Teaching prefixes and suffixes by presenting lists of the word parts and their meanings is not a good practice. The word parts will be remembered and learned best if they are taught in the context of words for which the learners can see some in their class activities. Emphasizing the effects that the endings have on words is also important.

Frayer’s Model

This tool helps students develop and increase vocabulary knowledge by studying a term in a manner of relations. Students write a word in the center circle and then list characteristics, examples, non-examples, and a definition in the quadrants of the box. The Frayer Model is an adaptation of the concept map. The framework of the Frayer Model includes: the concept word, the definition, characteristics of the concept word, examples of the concept word, and non examples of the concept word. It is important to include both examples and non examples, so students are able to identify what the concept word is and what the concept word is not. First, the teacher assigns the concept word being studied, and then talk about the steps involved in completing the chart.

Word or Concept Map

This strategy helps students understand a concept of definition for content area words. This strategy emphasizes the use of context clues and previous knowledge in determining a words meaning. Concept mapping provides a framework for organizing conceptual information in the process of defining a word. The concept map also supports vocabulary and concepts learning by helping students master a strategy for defining and clarifying the meaning of unknown words. Students write the concept word or target word being studied in the center, and then work outward into the boxes writing words that describe the key word. The framework of the concept map contains: category/class the concept or key word belongs, properties of the concept word or key, and examples of the concept or key word.


This is very useful for more concrete words (dog, rain, and tall) and for visual learners. It has its limits though, not all objects can be drawn. Plastic models of people, animals, vehicles and buildings can also be a good aid for the learners as the basis for classification activities. The teacher may put the items on a table in an order that all of the items except one could fit into a common category (for example: people). The learners are given the task to find and remove the odd item and to tell why they have chosen that item in the Russian or English language.


This lends itself particularly well to action verbs and it can be fun and memorable. It can be used as a guessing game. While carrying out this wordless activity the learners tend to talk quite naturally. One mimes a word (e.g. action verb) and the others try to guess what it is. This activity provides further practice of a wider variety of lexical and grammatical units. For example, one student chooses a job and mimes a particular activity that it involves. The other students ask “yes” and “no” questions and try to guess the exact word. The student miming provides just nonverbal prompts to help the rest of the class.

Synonyms/ Antonyms/ Gradable items

Using the words a student already knows can be effective for getting meaning across. Synonyms are words that mean close to the same thing, rather than exactly the same thing. Ranking the synonyms on one feature is a helpful activity. For example, the words smell, odor and stench might be rated according to intensity.


The teacher should make sure that the definition to the word that he or she chooses is clear (it is better to check it in a learner dictionary before the lesson if there are any doubts). The teacher should remember to ask questions to check the students have understood the definition properly. This activity requires rather high level of English but the teacher may adopt this task according to the level of her or his class and the type of the task.


If the teacher knows the students' native language, then this way is fast and efficient. But anyway the teacher must remember that not every word has a direct translation. For example, elementary learners should be provided with word translation at once or asked to find it in the dictionary. Advanced learners usually do the opposite task (they may translate the word from Russian into English) or, at first, work with word definition, guess the meaning and translate it.


As it has been mentioned before that the words are better learned in the given context than isolated. The teacher in this case must think of a clear context when the word is used and either describe it to the students or give them example sentences to clarify meaning further. The students in turn may guess the right meaning precisely from the context even without looking the word up in the dictionary.

Again the teacher’s choice of the strategy or way of teaching vocabulary depends on the item he or she is presenting. Some strategies and ways are more suitable for particular words. Often a combination of them can be both helpful and memorable.


1. Coady, J. (1997b). L2 vocabulary acquisition through extensive reading. In J. Coady & T. Huckin (Eds.), Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2. Craik, F. I. M. & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 104, 268-284.

3. Day, R., Omura, C., & Hiramatsu, M. (1991). Incidental EFL vocabulary learning and reading. Reading in a Foreign Language, 7, 541-549.

4. Eken, D. K. (1996). Ideas for using songs in the English language classroom. English Teaching Forum, 34(1), 46-47.

5. Elley, W. (1989).Vocabulary acquisition from listening to stories. Reading Research Quarterly, 24, 174-187.

6. Graves, M. (1987). The roles of instruction in fostering vocabulary development. In M. G. McKeown & M. E. Curtis (Ed.), The Nature of Vocabulary Acquisition (pp. 167-184). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

7. Kelly, P. (1990). Guessing: No substitute for systematic learning of lexis. System, 18, 199-207.

8. Murphey, T. & Alber, A. (1992).The discourse of pop songs. TESOL Quarterly, 26(4), 770-774.

9. Nagy, W. E. & Herman, P. & Anderson, R. C. (1985). Learning words from context. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 233-253.

10. Schmitt, N. & Schmitt, D. (1995). Vocabulary notebooks: Theoretical underpinnings and practical suggestions. ELT Journal, 49(2), 133-143.

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010

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