How best to group words

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How best to group words

Unread postby ZiadDajani » 18 Apr 2013, 17:32

I'm working on a vocabulary learning game with two friends and need some advice. Apologies for the long post!

We're looking at how best to organise our words for learners and the research is pretty clear that learning vocabulary in semantic sets makes it harder for learners to learn words as similar words interfere with each other. Paul Nation, for example, advises in his recent book for ESL teachers( that we not teach words of related meaning together e.g. numbers, months, opposites, names of fruit, parts of the body and things in the kitchen (although this is how most traditional textbooks go about things!)

The research seems to show that memorisation is more effective when you learn groups of unrelated words and most effective when words are grouped by "theme" or "frames" based on associative strength. e.g.

I had steeled myself to start grouping 3000+ words (e.g. "Kitchen" might include cut, knife, taste, sweet, sharp, smell, mix, spot, match, side, use, pot, open) into themes when I reread Paul Nation's article: Learning Vocabulary in Lexical Sets: Dangers and Guidelines

In this, he has a table (p.7) which shows the interference effect of grouping words in different ways and just after listing "near synonyms" as most interfering he lists "free associates" and gives the example of bed and sleep and also lists "coordinates" as having the most helpful effect for learners and gives the example of apple and pear.

I am confused by this as I would have thought associates corresponded to words in themes and were therefore helpful and coordinates to semantic sets and were therefore unhelpful. It also seems to contradict the advice in other research.

Can anyone cast any light on this? I've been 10 years out of the English teaching game and working in other areas of digital learning so I'm sure it's my rusty EFL / ESL brain misunderstanding something :)


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Re: How best to group words

Unread postby Alex Case » 22 Apr 2013, 02:51

It's even more confusing in the classroom - how are you supposed to think of practice activities for words which aren't related? There are only so many times you can use Taboo, Random Pelmanism and storytelling activities...


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Re: How best to group words

Unread postby rachelb » 11 May 2013, 14:38

I don't know details about the theory, but regarding suggestions, do you teach monolingual or multilingual classes? If the former, you could introduce the keyword technique (which Nation himself is a proponent of incidentally), in which the learners find a connection or similarity between the term in their native language and the English one (either a phonological or semantic or graphic connection). I learnt stacks of Latin vocabulary this way e.g. tandem=at last, so I visualised some tandem cyclists wearily arriving home exclaiming "at last".

There is also the pegword technique to remember lists and sequences - associate a number with a word (e.g. a number-rhyme system: 1=bun, 2=shoe etc, or a number-shape system: 1=paintbrush, 2=swan etc), then associate new vocabulary with the number pegword, and create a mental visual narrative involving those words. I read about it in a Derren Brown book but the technique is old.

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