Plotnikova N.S., Anasheva D.K.

То the problem of certain techniques efficiency in English vocabulary teaching

Plotnikova N.S., 4th year student, group FL-42 Anasheva D.K., senior lecturer Eurasian national university named after L.N. Gumilyov, Astana, Kazakhstan

The given article is devoted to the consideration of approaches to the vocabulary teaching of the English language in the secondary school. Some effective techniques of vocabulary teaching as semantic mapping and semantic feature grids were analyzed. The necessity of these effective techniques usage at the English lessons was exposed and substantiated. These are the given investigated techniques which give the opportunity to encourage secondary students of Kazakhstani schools in learning and studying the English vocabulary. Moreover, these techniques are productive in extending vocabulary of our students.

Keywords: approach, English vocabulary, effective techniques, semantic mapping.

Vocabulary is one of the most crucial skills that are necessary for language learning. It is the basis for all the other skills, both productive and receptive i.e. writing, speaking, listening and reading. Vocabulary allows people use language effectively, even if the knowledge of grammar does not allow to express the thoughts correctly. “Nevertheless, in spite of the importance of this element, vocabulary is often the least systematized and the most neglected of all the aspects of learning a second language, not only EGP but in ESP as well”. [2, 65] Due to the changes in the aims of Kazakhstani educational system, every student should be able to communicate freely using three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English. However, regarding the vocabulary learning at high school, it can be noticed that students who have graduated from school often cannot express their ideas in English due to the lack of words. Moreover, students sometimes are not aware of relevant a word or expression usage, which also means that school teachers do not pay attention to diverse aspects of time management usage on implicit vocabulary learning instead of explicit one. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the effectiveness of explicit vocabulary learning in high school.

There is a plethora of scientific researches that describe vocabulary learning strategies, however, there is a few of works which systematize and present full taxonomy of approaches to vocabulary study. The subdivisions presented by P. Nation, N. Schmitt, S. Thornbury, N. Akar, etc. differ not only in their grounding principles, but also in the sequence of steps to be used for vocabulary learning. What is more, some of the strategies, especially semantic mapping, semantic feature analysis, definition maps and Venn diagram, mentioned by N. Schmitt are not fully investigated, as there is no data proving their usefulness and prevalence of use. [4, 211].

Thus, topicality of this paper is determined by the necessity of the investigation of certain explicit vocabulary techniques within the high school context. The objective is to make the analysis on usefulness of certain techniques, particularly semantic feature analysis, semantic mapping, definition maps and Venn diagrams, implemented in the English language classes at high school.

Semantic mapping and semantic feature grids are techniques that integrate new information with familiar one. Semantic mapping comprises several steps, during the first of which the teacher writes a target vocabulary item related to the theme on a board and asks students to write individually any words related to this theme. After that, “the teacher makes a composite class list on the board, grouping—or having the students group - the words into categories when possible, and helping the class agree on labels for the categories. The teacher can always prod students to speculate on in new directions. After the words have been categorized, the teacher can bring up any essential words not suggested by the students, and ask students to try to place them in an appropriate category (Blachowitz, 1986).” [3, 7] As the next step, the teacher may ask students to relate the topic and the words written on a board to their personal experience and share it with classmates. The advantage of this process lies in the fact that it activates and expands student’s background knowledge and improves brainstorming activities that subsequently leads to the development of creativity and serves as a good basis for further activities such as listening, writing and reading.

As for semantic feature grids, also known as semantic feature analysis, “it seems their main strength is in illustrating the meaning or collocational differences between sets of similar words...” [4, 221J The example of such a grid is provided by W.E. Nagy with “the class of words including house, mansion, shack, shed, barn, tent, bungalow, shanty, and so on. Some of the words should be familiar to the class already, so that at least some of the distinctions in meaning to be made are immediately understandable to the class. The vertical columns are for the «semantic feature»- that is, phrases describing components of meaning shared by some of the words, or which distinguish a word from other meanings. In the square representing the intersection of a given word and a given semantic feature, one records whether (or to what extent) this feature applies to this word. For example, a mansion is for people, and is a permanent structure, and therefore gets pluses in the corresponding columns. The features themselves, and the pluses and minuses in the matrix, are arrived at through class discussion. Depending on the words and features involved, it may be necessary to use question marks or zeros for cases in which specific features don't seem to apply to some of the words, or for which their value is not defined.” [3, 9]

Another manifestation of semantic maps is definition maps. They are “graphic organizers that depict the elements of a typical dictionary definition, including:

a) The category to which the word belongs, labeled, “What is this?

b) Characteristics of the word, labeled, “What is it like?”

c) Examples and non-examples of the word

Students fill in the maps by referring to context, using their prior knowledge, and consulting dictionaries.” [1, 10] This technique can be used in order to understand the definition provided before and can also serve as an activity that prepares students for writing, speaking and reading. What is more, presenting the word in such form improves the perception of the majority of students as it ensures the comprehension of students not only with visual-spatial, but also with verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical and interpersonal intelligence.

Venn diagram as another way of presenting the material consists of two overlapping circles that represent two items, their discrepancies and affinities. The similarities are depicted in the intersection of two circles, while the distinctive peculiarities are put in segments that are not connected to each other. “... the diagram can be used either in pre reading or as an integrating follow up activity.” [3, 10]

As it is known, process of learning a foreign language has to comprise vocabulary from other disciplines such as politics, physics, economics, philosophy etc., because a person is expected to communicate on any topic in a foreign language. Having analyzed the standard of education for 11 grade students of natural-mathematical direction, it can be emphasized that during 68 hours students are expected to cover the following themes: “From the history of inventions” (9 hours); “The achievements of scientific and technological progress and its role in modern society” (9 hours); “Environment” (7 hours): “Global and regional environmental problems”, “International environmental organization”; “Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand”, “Geographic location” (7 hours); “Political systems” (12 hours); “The youth of today” (8 hours): “Interpersonal relationships”; “Medicine. Traditional and alternative medicine” (8 hours); “The role of sport in a person's life” (8 hours). These standards imply that by the end of the school year students need to be able to use and know the vocabulary in accordance with these topics. Thus, it was decided to implement the explicit vocabulary teaching methods in 11th grade lessons.

The research was conducted during the teaching practice at school- gymnasium №3 in Astana. Having delineated similar academic achievements by the end of the second term, one class (11 “A”) was chosen for the experiment. As it was subdivided into two subgroups, subgroup A had lessons taught by the use of implicit vocabulary learning (usual lesson techniques), whereas another subgroup (subgroup B) was taught in accordance with chosen explicit vocabulary methods. The results of the research have been checked by the following criteria:

  • • students involvement in the lesson activities (assessed by the number of students participated)
  • • students preparation for the lesson (the number of students prepared the homework)
  • • the results of the quizzes that check the knowledge and the ability to use target vocabulary

Before the start of an experiment, students were given the diagnostic test for checking the knowledge of students. Then, both subgroups were taught during six weeks in accordance with state mandatory educational program, but with the use of different methods. At the end of the experiment, another test was given to both subgroups to identify the results of the experiment.

As 11 grade students had 2 hours of English a week, the process of teaching vocabulary was conducted in the following steps: 2 vocabulary lessons were taught (one in the first week and one in the last), the other lessons were taught with the complementary afore mentioned vocabulary exercises that took no more than 15 minutes from each lesson. It should me mentioned that not only individual vocabulary exercises were given, but also students were given a chance to work in pairs and groups. To make a clear example of a pair work, while studying types of political systems and branches of the government, students were given the task to choose one English-speaking country (the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand), analyze the political systems and functions of governmental branches of this country, compare this country’s system with Kazakhstani system and create a Venn diagram, describing the similarities and differences in them. After completion the diagram, students presented their works. Regarding the group work while studying vocabulary, it is important to group students with different level of English as to provide them the opportunity to learn something new from their classmates as well as from the teacher. To exemplify the group work activity, students were asked to read the text about one branch of the government in Kazakhstan and to create a definition map in accordance with their branch. Semantic mapping can also be used in a form of an oral group work, when a teacher asks students to utter as many associations to the target vocabulary item as they can. During the experiment, this activity was used in the form of warming up as this exercise gives students the possibility to revise and activate vocabulary for the lesson. Semantic feature analysis, as well as the other vocabulary exercises, were also used not only in a form of individual work, but also in a pair and group work. To illustrate, students completed the grid in pairs according to the types of political systems that they heard the information about while watching the video.

Taking into consideration the results of the experiment, it can be inferred that students being taught with the use of semantic mapping, semantic feature analysis, definition map and Venn diagram illustrated higher percentage of home task preparation (90% in Subgroup B compared to 78% in subgroup A). Likewise, the students participated in activities more than students of another subgroup did (100% and 80% respectively). Regarding the results of the quizzes, it is clear that the retention of the vocabulary learnt before was better in Subgroup B than in Subgroup A (83% of students in Subgroup B got “5” and “4”, whereas in Subgroup A good results were shown only by 58% of students).

Thus, the results of the experiment prove that explicit vocabulary learning complemented by the use of semantic mapping, semantic feature analysis, definition maps and Venn diagram illustrate not only higher efficiency in vocabulary retention, but also higher students involvement in learning process.


  • 1. Johnson C., Johnson D. 2012. Why Teach Vocabulary? Austin, TX: Anaxos, Inc., p. 10
  • 2. Kennedy, C. & Bolitho, R. (eds.) 1984: English for Specific Purposes. London: Macmillan, p. 65
  • 3. Nagy, W. E. (1988). Vocabulary instruction and reading comprehension (Tech. Rep. No. 431). Champaign, 1L: Center for the Study of Reading, pp. 7-10
  • 4. Schmitt, N. (1997). Vocabulary learning strategies. In N. Schmitt & M. McCarthy (Eds.), Vocabulary: description, acquisition and pedagogy (pp. 199-228). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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