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Integrating Retention-based Strategies for


Teaching Vocabulary in the ESL Classroom

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Integrating Retention-based Strategies for Teaching


Vocabulary in the ESL Classroom

D. Loyola Innaci1 & D. Praveen Sam2


1Assistant professor of English, St. Josephs college (Autonomous) Trichy 620002
2Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, SSN College of Engineering, Kalavakkam, Chennai 603110,
Email: loyolainnaci@gmail.com* praveensamd@ssn.edu.in**

Abstract
Vocabulary plays an important part in the ESL classroom. Students often find that lack of knowledge in
vocabulary is an obstacle to learning. Many studies are being carried out on effective ESL vocabulary
teaching and learning and some of them have explored retention strategies as a part of vocabulary learning.
But those studies have failed to integrate retention strategy activities with curriculum and in the ESL
classroom. There is a gap between what is researched in papers and what is practiced in the teaching
learning process. This paper aims at applying the vocabulary retention strategies in the classroom and also
identifies the changes in the students performance after participating in these activities. Finally, this paper
projects the outcome of integrating retention based vocabulary learning strategies in the ESL context.

Keywords: Vocabulary retentions; retention activities; retention strategies; integration in curriculum

1. Introduction:
Vocabulary is one of the most important elements which contribute to effective communication in any
language. There different methods adopted by people to understand and use words in their communication.
Some systematically learns vocabulary in a classroom context and some acquire vocabulary in real life
context. The use of appropriate words decides the quality and accuracy of any discourse. When it comes to
teaching of the English language, vocabulary is not given prominence. The main reason for this condition is
that vocabulary and the teaching of it are not included in the syllabus/curriculum as separate component. In
spite of vocabulary being an important element of any language in the context of communication, it is given
least importance in the teaching learning process (Lee, S.H. & Muncie, J 2006). Importance given is limited
to synonyms and antonyms with a view to scoring marks in the assessment. Therefore, importance should
be given to vocabulary acquisition, retaining the learnt vocabulary and integrating retention based
vocabulary learning strategies in the syllabus.
In the ESL context, students do not have adequate diction to express their thoughts suiting to a given
situation such as role play, presentation, discussion and so on.. Exposing students merely to new
vocabulary is not enough instead they should be taught how to retain those words for later use. In order to
achieve this, retention strategies become vital. Memorizing words is wrongly construed as vocabulary
acquisition. Students learn new words as they come across in the textbook, but they fail to use those
words in future /other context. This paper focuses on teaching vocabulary using strategies, helping
students retain them and it is emphasized that inclusion of these activities and strategies in the
syllabus/curriculum will result in better learning and retention.

2. Literature review:
Read (2004) explained that in studies on L2 vocabulary learning, students can learn vocabulary items
incidentally while engaging in other language-learning activities. Furthermore, he has said that incidental
vocabulary-learning in the ESL classroom would be effective for teachers to provide students with target
vocabulary items through tasks, as well as to ask them to read only the texts that include the target words. With

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regard to vocabulary retention, Hulstijn (1992) has demonstrated that target vocabulary items were retained
significantly longer when their meanings were correctly inferred than when explained by their synonyms.
Joe (1995) has argued that the retention of unfamiliar words was significantly facilitated when students
engaged in a text-based task that demanded a higher level of generative. Similarly, Hulstijn and Laufer
(2001) have demonstrated that EFL students who participated in a composition task could retain target
words better than those engaged in a reading comprehension or fill-in task, which suggests that students
who were involved in higher levels of vocabulary production-processing remembered target words better
than those who were not. Plass, Chun, Mayer, and Leutner (1998) have stated that students remembered
unknown words better when provided with both pictorial and written annotations than when provided
with only one kind or no annotation.
Wesche and Paribakht (2000) have demonstrated that students learned vocabulary more effectively when
they are engaged in text-based vocabulary exercises in addition to reading a text than when they read
multiple texts without exercises, because in the latter case, they could learn not only target words, but also
their lexical features. Further, Folse (2006) has suggested that how frequently students retrieved
unfamiliar words influenced their retention more than how deeply they were involved in processing them,
which demonstrates that students could improve their retention of new target words more while engaging
in multiple fill-in-the blank exercises than while writing one original sentence with each target word.
Finally, according to Nassaji (2003), ESL students might grope in effectively for lexical inferences about
word meanings from context, so that teachers should provide them with a chance to identify and define
exact meanings for unknown words.
From the above review of literature it is evident that many studies have been carried out focusing on
learning new vocabularies through text based tasks, reading, composition and identifying the meanings in
its context. But none have discussed on the retention strategies and incorporating those strategies in the
curriculum. Hence, this study focuses on the application of the retention strategies in the classrooms and
also incorporating those retention strategies in the curriculum.

3. Rationale behind the retention strategies:


Vocabulary acquisition is complete and effective only when the words learnt are retained. There
are different ways of retaining words, and many have been proved as effective. In this study, activity
based retention method has been applied and examined for effectiveness. The primary reason for using
activities as a retention tool is to engage students effectively, to create an atmosphere in the classroom
which is not monotonous and to motivate students to participate in the learning process willingly.
Another potential property of activities is creating a learning atmosphere where students not merely listen
to the teachers but also participate and collaborate with peers in the learning process. Most of the
activities designed for this study help students experience a collaborative learning process. Collaboration
by itself is a retention strategy where students share the learnt vocabulary with the peers which results in
retaining those words for a longer period of time.

4. Integrating retention based Vocabulary Strategies into Text book:


Although a considerable number of studies on L2 vocabulary teaching and learning are available,
integrating retention based vocabulary strategies in textbooks and in teaching materials are lacking. In
order not only to bridge the gap between theory and practice, but also to provide various activities on
vocabulary retention, the researcher has adopted three activities and tasks for vocabulary based retention
strategies that could be applied effectively in textbooks. Vocabulary acquisition is complete only when
the words are retained and used in different situations appropriately. On the contrary, syllabuses focus
only on introducing new vocabulary to the students whereas, they fail to see whether the words are
retained by the students or not. In this study, this problem is addressed with vocabulary based retention
activities that help students retain words for a longer period of time or forever by providing them with
vocabulary retention strategies. Here, the researcher has adopted three different activities to help students
to retain the learnt vocabularies. Each activity focuses of ten words. All the three retention based
vocabulary activities are designed based on the words and contexts in the textbook prescribed to the
students. The retention based vocabulary activities are as follows:

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1. Identifying meaning using image cues


2. Four pictures, one word
3. Connection

5. Participants and Sample Size:


This study was carried out in an autonomous college in the central part of Tamil Nadu, India. This is an
Arts and Science college where English is being taught as second language. The English course which is
offered at the first four semesters of a six-semester under graduate degree programme focuses on four
basic language skills namely Listening, Speaking, Reading and Listening (LSRW). For the purpose of this
research work, 40 students of I year B.Com programme were used as subjects. The researcher was the
course instructor of the class. Thus, the accuracy and validation of the study were ensured.

6. Vocabulary learning and retention activities:


6.1 Using Image Cues:
Using image cues in an activity designed to help students understand a word by decoding a series of
images. This activity is primarily used to help students think of words what the images signify. The
following is the sample of this activity:

Cue Image Target words Meanings Answers


a person known to one,
but usually not a close
friend.
Fraternity

a group of people who


have the same job,
interest
Acquaintance

Table 6.1 Using image cues: Sample activity

The researcher divided the students into groups of four and gave each of them a series of images. The
students in groups were asked to match the images with the words and identify their meaning based on
the images. This activity helps in retaining the words for a longer duration. When the students see similar
images in future they remember the word and also, the context in which the word is used.

6.2. Four Pictures, One Word:


This activity was derived from the smart phone game called 4 Pic 1Word developed by LOTUM GmbH
for android phones. Similar to using the image clue activity, students have to guess the word that is in
common with the four given pictures. This is an effective activity to help students learn new words and
also, retain them. Students in course of doing this activity, recall all the words they have learned to arrive
at the correct answer. This helps them to remember the words for a longer duration. The following is a
sample of this activity:

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Images First letter Answers

Table 6.2 Four pictures, one word: Sample activity

If students find the word difficult, teacher will help the students with the first alphabet of the word. This
helps students in recalling words that begin with that particular alphabet.
6.3: Connections:
Images play a vital role in the process of vocabulary learning and retention. This is an activity where students
were exposed to a series of images placed in a particular order which implies a word or a phrase. Students have
to understand the images and also the sequence in which they are placed and identify the word or phrase they
imply. This design was adopted from certain reality shows in the television. This was an effective activity as it
motivated the students to participate in the learning. The following is a sample of Connections:
Connect the following picture and get the meaningful word
Picture Word

+
+
+

Table 6.3 Connections: Sample activities


This activity helped students to retain words for a longer period as it involves decoding of images.

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6.4. The outcomes:


The following are the major finding of this study:
In the vocabulary acquisition sessions, the focus is on the learning of new vocabulary and not on
the retention of those words. Therefore, the results of this study have proved the importance of
retention strategies in vocabulary acquisition.
The incorporation of these vocabulary based retention strategies is effective and students willingly
participate when they are in the form of activities.
In this study, three activities were designed by the researcher. All the three activities focus on
helping students retain the new words they come across in the textbook. These activities were
designed to facilitate students to work individually and also in groups. Based on the analysis it is
evident that student participation and outcome are effective in the activities based on images.

7. Analysis of the scores in the activities:


7.1. Using Image Cues:
The fig. 7.1 shows the marks scored by the students in this activity. The scores range between 7 and 10
which show that the performance of the students is significant.

Figure 7.1 Marks Scored in the activity Using Image Cues

It could be inferred from the graph that the performance of the students in this activity is considerable,
and all the 40 students have scored above 70%. There were ten questions given to the students and the
average score in this activity is 8.65.
7.2. Four Pictures, One Word:
The fig.7.2 shows the marks scored by the students in this activity. The scores range between 8 and 10
which show that the performance of the students is significant. When compared with image cue activity,
the performance of the students is better. The average score of the students in this activity is 9.05.

Figure 7.2 Performance of the students in the activity Four Picture, One Word

During the feedback session, students reported that this activity was one of the most interesting and
engaging one because they could relate this with the mobile game which is named similarly.
7.3. Connections:
This was another activity in which the performance of the students is considerable. The marks range
between 8 and 10, and the average score in the activity is 9.12.

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Figure 7.3 Performance of the students in the activity Connections


Students could better relate with the activity as this was modeled based on a popular TV reality show
named similarly. Another interesting element of this activity which was noticed during the sessions was
peer learning. The students who could not identify the words were helped by their peers.
8. Conclusion:
Vocabulary learning or acquisition forms an important part of communicating in a language. Students
learn as well as acquire vocabulary using various strategies. The focus of this study was not only on
learning vocabulary but also retaining them and using them in day to day communication. Next comes the
question how to achieve this?. Activity based teaching (ABT) comes handy to helps students learn as
well as retain the words they have learnt. In this study, forty ESL students drawn from the I year B.Com
department were considered as the experimental group. These students had problems in retaining the
words they learn. To cater to the problem, three retention based vocabulary activities were designed for
the students to participate. The outcomes and results of the students were tabulated and analyzed. It was
identified that these activities were effective in terms of developing their retention and also, vocabulary
learning skills. Based on the results, it could be concluded that these activities help students retain the
vocabulary acquired or learnt. Therefore, integration of vocabulary retention strategies in the
curriculum/syllabus would result in better learning and retaining.
Reference:
Folse, K.S. (2006). The effect of type of written exercise on L2 vocabulary retention, TESOL Quarterly,
40, 273-293.
Fraser, C.A. (1999). Lexical processing strategy use and vocabulary learning through reading, Studies in
Second Language Acquisition, 21, 225-241.
Hulstijn, J.H. (1992). Retention of inferred and given word meanings: Experiments in incidental
vocabulary learning. In P.J. Arnaud & H. Bejoint (Eds.), Vocabulary and applied linguistics (pp.
113-125). London: Macmillan.
Hulstijn, J.H., & Laufer, B. (2001). Some empirical evidence for the involvement load hypothesis in
vocabulary acquisition. Language Learning, 51, 539-558.
Joe, A. (1995). Text-based tasks and incidental vocabulary learning. Second Language Research, 11, 149-158.
Lee, S.H., & Muncie, J. (2006). From receptive to productive: Improving ESL learners use of vocabulary
in a postreading composition task. TESOL Quarterly, 40, 295-320.
Nassaji, H. (2003). L2 vocabulary learning from context: Strategies, knowledge sources, and their
relationship with success in L2 lexical inferencing. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 645-670.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2008). Earth Day 2008: Childrens Earth Day activity
book. Retrieved May 10, 2008, from:
Plass, J.L., Chun, D.M., Mayer, R.E., & Leutner, D. (1998). Supporting visual and verbal learning preferences in
a second language multimedia learning environment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 25-36.
Read, J. (2004). Research in teaching vocabulary. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 146-161.
Wesche, M.B., & Paribakht, T.S. (2000). Reading-based exercises in second language vocabulary
learning: An introspective study. Modern Language Journal, 84, 196-213.
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