Action Research + Vocab

Yesterday was the bi-annual research symposium at our school. In my group we had three presentations: 1) language web quests to increase motivation; 2) code-switching; 3) receptive/productive vocab. The latter presentation was one which I found particularly interesting – 3 students at three different schools with 3 different levels (complex Dutch education system but comparable-ish to B1/B1+/B2 levels of the CEFR) who looked at the vocabulary their pupils have to learn (often using traditional vocab books) and the extent to which the words need to be learnt productively and receptively. They then compared this to the General Service List (GSL) and subsequently tested their pupils receptive and productive knowledge of random words between the 600 and 1500 mark (what would be expected of pupils with their educational background + time spent learning English). The results have so far been rather surprising and yet also not so surprising (analysis still on-going). My interpretation of the results as presented yesterday (based on my own assumptions having not yet read the entire report) is that schools spend way too much time teaching pupils ‘unnecessary’ (non essential) words rather than focussing on words which they will actually need in order for adequate communication no matter which skill is involved. Surprising – yes, that the pupils really did not do well. Unsurprising – also, I have often vented my doubts as to the quality/usefulness of many of the vocab books used in secondary schools and the overriding focus on and testing of productive vocab.

Moving on from this issue, but on a related theme….vocabulary…. if we’re to believe what Nation says (and I do) then incidental vocabulary learning only accounts for a teensy weensy bit of our vocab learning. We should encounter words on many different occasions in order for them to ‘stick’. So reading a number of graded readers at one particular level will help but what about course books – who can tell me how often one and the same word occurs/is used in a course book? Perhaps the publishers have employed a ‘word frequency counter’ who cross checks the words with theories from Nation and his vocab colleagues?  (not a job I would appreciate 😉 ) What about Dogme? Again, this is something I do (partially) believe in, but because of my firm belief in emphasis on vocab (where does grammar stop and vocab start?) I find it hard to imagine how you could be a dogmetist and still incorporate enough exposure to vocabulary.

If anyone could provide extra information on the matter then I would love to hear from you!

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