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Teaching Vocabulary (Revised edition)


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Vocabulary is central to English language teaching. Without sufficient vocabulary, students cannot understand others or express their own ideas. Teachers who find the task of teaching English vocabulary a little daunting are not alone! This easy-to-follow book presents important issues from recent vocabulary research and theory so that teachers may approach teaching vocabulary in a principled, thoughtful way. Topics covered are understanding vocabulary, importance of vocabulary, relevant research findings, students’ vocabulary levels, and teaching vocabulary effectively. This revised volume contains two new chapters — Technology and Online Resources for Vocabulary Learning and Teaching and Using Word Lists in Vocabulary Teaching. New references and updated research, as well as new web links, activities, charts, and a detailed lesson plan for teachers to consider, are also included. The book is practical for English language teachers in any context and provides helpful reflections. [Note: The attached file includes the Table of Contents and some sample pages from Ch. 1. More info. is available at or]
Content may be subject to copyright.
Michael Lessard-Clouston
SERIES EDITOR Thomas S. C. Farrell
How do you help your students take
responsibility for their vocabulary learning?
About the Author
Michael Lessard-Clouston (Ph.D., OISE/University of Toronto) is a
Professor of TESOL at Biola University in La Mirada, California. He has
taught in Canada, China, Indonesia, and Japan, and is author of Second
Language Acquisition Applied to English Language Teaching (TESOL,
2018) and articles in The CATESOL Journal and TESL Reporter.
About the English Language Teacher Development Series
What’s the latest research, and how do I use it my classroom? The English Language Teacher
Development series is a set of short resource books written in a jargon-free and accessible
manner for all types of teachers of English. The series oers a theory-to-practice approach, a
variety of practical methods, and time for reflections that allows teachers to interact with the
materials presented. The books can be used in preservice settings, in-service courses, and by
individuals looking for ways to refresh their practice.
This Reflective Question and many others await your discussion and analysis in
this revised edition of TESOL Press’s best-selling Teaching Vocabulary, which
explores different approaches to teaching vocabulary in second language
classrooms. This volume contains two new chapters — Technology and Online
Resources for Vocabulary Learning and Teaching, and Using Word Lists in Vocabulary
Teaching. New references and updated research, as well as new web links, activities,
charts, and a detailed lesson plan for teachers to consider, are also included.
need sp
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ISBN 9781945351945
eBook ISBN 9781945351952
Library of Congress Control Number 2019956809
Table of Contents
Series Editor’s Preface ........................................ v
Acknowledgments ............................................. vii
Chapter 1: Vocabulary and Its Importance in
Language Learning and Teaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Chapter 2: A Second Language Perspective on
Understanding Vocabulary ............................ 9
Chapter 3:
Research Into Practice: 10 Tips for Vocabulary Teaching
. . . 17
Chapter 4: Getting to Know Your Students and
eir Vocabulary Needs .............................. 27
Chapter 5: Technology and Online Resources for
Vocabulary Learning and Teaching ..................... 35
Chapter 6: Using Word Lists in Vocabulary Teaching:
Options and Possibilities .............................. 43
Chapter 7: Putting It Together: Vocabulary Teaching Guidelines . . . . . 51
References ................................................... 59
Appendix: Sample Vocabulary Teaching Lesson Plan on Family ...... 63
Vocabulary and
Its Importance in
Language Learning
and Teaching
is book is about vocabulary teaching, but it is rst necessary to establish
what vocabulary means to focus on teaching it. is introductory chapter
reminds you of the importance of vocabulary in language learning
What Is Vocabulary?
roughout this short book, I hope to engage you directly in thinking about
English vocabulary and the teaching of it to students learning English as
a second or foreign language. As you begin, please stop and answer the
question asked in the header above.
● My definition(s) of English vocabulary:
Your answer likely has something to do with the words of a language,
which is perhaps how most people think of vocabulary, and that is correct
because vocabulary does deal with words. Yet, vocabulary is much more
2Teaching Vocabulary
than just single words, as this book will demonstrate. Recent vocabulary
studies draw on an understanding of lexis, Greek for “word,” which in short
means all the words in a language. So it will probably not surprise you to
learn that vocabulary here also includes lexical chunks, phrases of two or
more words, such as Good morning and Nice to meet you, which research
suggests children and adults learn as single lexical units. Phrases like these
involve more than one word but have a clear, formulaic usage and make up a
signicant portion of spoken or written English language usage. Also called
formulaic sequences (Alali & Schmitt, 2012) or multiword expressions, they
are thus central to English vocabulary learning and therefore worth teachers
attention as they teach vocabulary (Webb & Nation, 2017).
● What are some lexical chunks or multiword expressions you
feel your students should know? How might you teach them in
So, vocabulary can be dened as the words of a language, including
single items and phrases or chunks of several words that convey a particular
meaning, the way individual words do. Vocabulary addresses single lexical
items—words with specic meaning(s)—but it also includes lexical phrases
and multiword expressions.
The Importance of Vocabulary
Vocabulary is central to English language teaching because without
sucient vocabulary, students cannot understand others or express their
own ideas. Wilkins (1972) writes that “while without grammar very little can
be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed” (pp. 111–112).
is point reects my experience with dierent languages; even without
grammar, with some useful words and expressions, I can oen manage to
communicate. Lewis (1993) goes further to argue, “Lexis is the core or heart
of language” (p. 89). Particularly as students develop greater uency and
expression in English, it is signicant for them to acquire more productive
vocabulary knowledge and to develop their own personal vocabulary-
learning strategies.
Vocabulary and Its Importance in Language Learning and Teaching 3
Students oen instinctively recognize the importance of vocabulary to
their language learning. As Schmitt (2010) notes, “learners carry around
dictionaries and not grammar books” (p. 4). Teaching vocabulary helps
students understand and communicate with others in English. Voltaire
purportedly said, “Language is very dicult to put into words.” I believe
English language students would concur, yet learning vocabulary also helps
students master English for their purposes.
● What are some specific ways that you observe that vocabulary is
important to your students?
Aspects of Vocabulary Knowledge
e concept of a word can be dened in various ways, but teachers need to
be aware of and focus on three signicant aspects: form, meaning, and use.
According to Nation (2020), the form of a word involves its pronunciation
(spoken form), spelling (written form), and any word parts that make up
this particular item (such as prex, root, and sux). An example of word
parts can been seen in uncommunicative, where the prex un- means
negative or opposite; communicate is the root word; and -ive is a sux
denoting that someone or something is able to do something. Here, they all
go together to refer to someone or something that is not able to communi-
cate, hence uncommunicative.
Nation (2020) states that meaning encompasses the way the form and
meaning work together; in other words, the concept and what items it refers
to, and the associations that come to mind when one thinks about a specic
word or expression. Use, Nation (2020) notes, involves the grammatical
functions of the word or phrase, collocations that normally go with it, and,
nally, any constraints on its use, in terms of frequency, level, and so forth.
Form, meaning, and use, Nation (2020) declares, have both a receptive and
a productive dimension, so knowing these three aspects for each word
or phrase actually involves 18 dierent types of lexical knowledge, as
summarized in Table 1.1. When teachers teach vocabulary to build students’
knowledge of words and phrases, helping them learn any and all of these
dierent components assists them in enhancing their English vocabulary
knowledge and use.
4Teaching Vocabulary
Table 1.1 What Is Involved in Knowing a Word
Aspect Component Receptive knowledge Productive knowledge
Form Spoken
Word parts
What does the word
sound like?
What does the word
look like?
What parts are
recognizable in this
How is the word
How is the word written
and spelled?
What word parts are
needed to express the
Meaning Form and
and referents
What meaning does this
word form signal?
What is included in the
What other words does
this make us think of?
What word form can
be used to express this
What items can the
concept refer to?
What other words could
be used instead of
Use Grammatical
on use
In what patterns does
the word occur?
What words or types
of words occur with
this one?
Where, when, and how
often would we expect
to meet this word?
In what patterns must
this word be used?
What words or types
of words must be used
with this one?
Where, when, and how
often can this word be
Source: Adapted from Nation (2020, p. 16)
Aer you have looked through Table 1.1, please consider your students
particular strengths and weaknesses with English in terms of these three
aspects of vocabulary knowledge.
● My impression of my students’ strengths and weaknesses with
English vocabulary:
Strengths Weaknesses
Vocabulary and Its Importance in Language Learning and Teaching 5
Each persons response here will vary, as vocabulary knowledge is very
personal. Some teachers are very good at the grammatical functions of par-
ticular words or phrases, for example, and others have a strong knowledge
of English word parts. I want to encourage you to begin with your students’
strengths, because everyone has some vocabulary knowledge relevant to
English, even if it derives from his or her own native language. Aim to build
on learners’ strengths and also recognize various weaknesses. For example,
many students read in English and thus may be adept at recognizing
meaning in terms of concepts and referents, but if they have not heard the
words and phrases they are reading, they may be weak at recognizing them
when they hear them spoken or weak at pronouncing them when they read
out loud. Sometimes students learning English as a foreign language (EFL)
are weaker than English as a second language (ESL) learners at recognizing
particular constraints on vocabulary usage, such as the fact that only young
people use a particular word or expression, which might be colloquial and
not usually deemed appropriate in more formal contexts such as speeches.
Yet, if teachers are aware of their students’ strengths and weaknesses in
English vocabulary, then they have a place to start to expand students
knowledge and strengthen weaker areas.
Perhaps as you reect on the information in Table 1.1, you nd the task
of teaching English vocabulary a little daunting. If so, you are not alone!
Teachers and students need to learn much to understand and use words
and phrases correctly in dierent situations. is book does not claim to
cover it all, but instead aims to help you understand important issues from
recent vocabulary research and theory so that you can approach teaching
vocabulary in a principled, thoughtful way. It will also help you reect
on vocabulary teaching in your particular context and on how you might
improve your vocabulary teaching.
Developing a Love for
As a changing, growing reality, English vocabulary is challenging. As
Ur(2012) aptly states, unlike grammar, “lexical items . . . are an open set,
constantly being added to (and lost, as archaic words gradually go out of
use)” (p. 3). Perhaps this situation is most evident with computer-related
vocabulary, like the internet, email, and web browser, which was not
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