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Teaching Vocabulary to EFL College Students Online 

 
Prof. Reima Al‐Jarf 
King Saud University

P.O. Box 69827, Riyadh 11557, Saudi Arabia
Fax/Phone: 96614682847

e mail: [email protected]
 

Abstract: 

Technology is not currently used in EFL classrooms at King Saud University.

Therefore an attempt was made to use online learning in EFL vocabulary instruction

from home, as a supplement to classroom instruction. Comparisons of the pre and

posttest mean scores of 53 freshman students showed significant differences

indicating that online instruction had an effect on vocabulary development. The

posttest scores also correlated with the frequency of using the online course. Active

participants made higher gains than inactive participants It was concluded that in

learning environments where technology is unavailable to EFL students and

instructors, use of technology from home and even as a supplement to traditional

classroom techniques helps motivate and enhance EFL students' learning and

acquisition of English vocabulary.

1. Introduction   

Vocabulary knowledge is an important element in second language (L2)

acquisition. By learning new words, students can increase their listening, speaking,

reading and writing vocabularies and can improve comprehension and production in

L2. A student can increase vocabulary knowledge formally in the classroom and

informally through communication with others and through out of class activities.

Many instructional strategies were devised and utilized by L2 language teachers to

develop the general and academic vocabulary of students. For example, Woodard

(1998) suggested some strategies for teaching vocabulary. Those included teaching

word origins and structural analysis; using semantic mapping/webbing; showing

students how to attack analogies; reading aloud; dramatize; showing students how to

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use the dictionary; using cloze sentences; and using computer programs. Moreover,

different forms of technology are being integrated into the teaching and learning of L2

vocabulary. A review of the vocabulary literature has shown that specially designed

software, a Tutorial computer assisted language learning (CALL) program,

concordancing, online lessons, animated texts, use of multimedia contexts, interactive

multi modal materials, online dictionaries, e books and a hypertext/hypermedia

environment were used to teach L2 vocabulary. The different learning modes, skills

and activities used in vocabulary instruction in CALL environments are reported below.

Several research studies have used self access, individualized and collaborative

instructional modes in CALL learning environments. For example, Van Aacken (1996)

used a computer software designed to improve Kanji learning in a self access learning

mode. Findings showed that all the students in an Australian university using the

computer to learn Kanji made higher gains and that those most enjoying the

experience made the highest gains. In another study, Crozer (1996) used the

Individualized Vocabulary Instruction (IVI) program to provide vocabulary instruction

to disabled students at California's Los Angeles Pierce College. The IVI program had

two modules, each containing 1,125 words. The program performed pre and

posttesting of students, provided instruction, presented students with abundant

opportunities for practice and repetition, administered regular tests and controled and

monitored students' progress. The modules were divided into "chapters" of 15 words,

each divided into 4 lessons. Upon completion of the four lessons in a chapter, the

students took a chapter test and upon completion of all the chapters, a final exam was

administered. The IVI program proved to be an effective method for teaching

vocabulary and improving students' learning skills. In a third study, Bazeli and Olle

(1995) used visual aids which included interactive video, student illustration of

vocabulary, computer software packages designed to develop reading skills, activities

that involve visual perception, and graphic organizers, including story maps,

collaborative rehearsal of new vocabulary, and student made flash cards in vocabulary

instruction. The use of visuals, combined with cooperative learning groups, provided

an effective environment for the development of vocabulary and reading

comprehension. In addition, Cobb & Horst (2001) tested an experimental ESL

vocabulary course for academic learners at Concordia University in Montreal and how

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components  were  described  and  instructions  on  how  to  use  certain  course 

components were  also  posted  in  the  “Conferencing”  area.    Online  instruction was 

initiated by posting a welcome note and by starting a discussion topic. 

Every week,  vocabulary websites  (hyperlinks)  related  to  the  vocabulary  topic 

covered  in  class  were  added  in  “Link  Sharing”.  The  links  contained  explanations, 

examples, exercises and quizzes and a daily vocabulary lessons. The students checked 

the  specific  vocabulary  links posted,  answered  the quizzes  and were encouraged  to 

check the daily vocabulary  lesson. 50% of the websites were posted by the students. 

Examples of the vocabulary websites posted are: 

o One Look Dictionary  

o Cambridge Dictionary  

o spell check: http://www.spellcheck.net/ 

o English Language Activities, Exercises and Tests: http://www.world‐english.org/ 

o Beginner vocabulary: 

http://esl.about.com/library/courses/blcourses_beginner_vocabulary.htm 

o ESL Vocabulary: 

http://depts.gallaudet.edu/englishworks/reading/main/vocabulary.htm 

o English Vocabulary from English Club: 

http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/index.htm 

o Language Tools: http://www.itools.com/lang/ 

o Power Words: http://www.executive‐vocabulary.com/ 

o Learning Vocabulary Can Be Fun: http://www.vocabulary.co.il/ 

o Countries & Nationality:  http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/world‐

countries‐nationality.htm 

Questions that required the students to write a paragraph using the vocabulary items 

studied in the textbook were posted in "Conferencing". The discussion threads covered 

exercises from the textbook such as: Jobs, The Design of a House, People Who Help Me 

When I Do Something, Prices of Things, Around the Home, Wounds & Injuries, The story 

About A man, A Description of My Home. The students also posted the Arabic Meaning 

of  vocabulary  items,  idioms  and  phrasal  verbs;  word  derivation;  word  families; 

classified words  such  as weather  vocabulary  and  Ramadan  vocabulary  by  concept. 

They  posted  topics  of  their  choice  such  as  "Going  to  USA",  "My  Mother",  "My

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Ramadan Memories", "Harry Potter",  in addition to study skills activities that focused 

on vocabulary problems, test anxiety and factors that lead to success. 

  Throughout  the  semester,  the  author  served  as  a  facilitator.  She  provided 

technical  support  on  using  the  different  components  of  the  online  course,  and 

responded to individual students’ needs, comments and requests for certain sites. The 

author  sent public  and private messages  to  encourage  the  students  to  interact  and 

communicate.  She  had  to  look  for  relevant  websites  and  post  them  in  the  “Link 

Sharing”  area.  She  had  to  post  questions  and  discussion  topic  and  write  model 

responses. The author did not correct spelling and grammatical mistakes. She would 

point out the type of errors they made especially in the vocabulary threads and ask the 

students to double‐check their posts or ask students to correct each other's mistakes. 

Using  the online course was optional. Students were given extra credit  for using  the 

online course as it was optional for lack of administrative support. 

5.  Procedures 

  Before  instruction,  the  students  were  pretested.  The  pretest  consisted  of 

questions covering the vocabulary skills and themes to be studied. At the end of the 

semester,  the students  took a 250‐words vocabulary posttest  that covered all of  the 

vocabulary skills and topics studied throughout the semester: (1) In each row, circle the 

word  in which the underlined  letters are pronounced differently (2) Circle the word  in 

which –er is not a suffix; (3) Circle the abstract nouns only; (4) Write the silent letters in 

each word; (5) How are the underlined letters pronounced; (6) Change each word into 

an adjective;  (7) Change  each word  into a noun;  (8) Add a preposition or more;  (9) 

Circle  the  compounds only;  (10) Write  the plural  form;  (11) Write  the  singular  form; 

(12) Write  the Past Participle  form;  (13) Give a synonym;  (14) Write  the name of  the 

group; (15) Circle the nouns that are Uncountable; (16) Write the opposite; (17) Add a 

verb; (18) Give the Arabic meaning of each word; (19) Give the Arabic meaning of each 

phrase; (20) Complete the following sentences; (21) Give a brief meaning of each word 

or phrase  in English;  (22) Rewrite each sentence changing  the underlined verb  into a 

noun; (23) Give the American equivalent; (24) Use each word or phrase in a sentence; 

(25) Add an adjective or adverb to describe each word.  Most of the questions required 

production.  The pre  and posttests were blindly  graded by  the  author.  The  students

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