Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BC TEAL Okanagan Meet and Greet / Lesson Swap: My Vocabulary Activity to Share

Tonight is the BC TEAL Okanagan Meet and Greet / Lesson Swap.  The event is taking place at the Kelowna Public Library in the South Meeting Room at 6:30 pm (Wednesday April 23, 2014). 

I thought I would post the vocabulary activity that I’m going to share with the group.  Here it is:

Two Minute Vocabulary Memorization Activity


I first encountered a version of this activity in one of Dr. David Watt’s graduate level TESL classes at the University of Calgary when I was doing my master’s degree.  I liked it so much, I’ve been doing it ever since!


The following activity is designed to raise lexical awareness for new terms, provide formative information for the teacher on what vocabulary students are familiar with, explore varying memorization techniques employed by learners, help students have a meta-awareness of their own memorization styles, prime students for future encounters with the target vocabulary, and activate background knowledge for the day’s lesson. 


1.      Create a PowerPoint slide with 12 to 24 key vocabulary words that fit with the day’s lesson.  See sample below. 
2.      Prepare the students by informing them that they are going to see a PowerPoint slide with key words for the day’s lesson.  Tell the students the topic of the day.  Do not tell students how many words are on the slide.  Tell them that they will have two minutes to memorize as many words as possible.  However, they are not allowed to write anything down or speak out loud.  They can only use their brain power to memorize as many words as possible in two minutes.  Tell students to be prepared to write down as many words as they can remember once the two minutes are over.
3.      Once students are silent and they know not to write anything down (there should be no pencils or pens in students’ hands), show the PowerPoint slide with the key vocabulary words for two minutes.
4.      Take down the slide after two minutes.  Working alone, have students write down as many words as they remember in two more minutes. 
5.      Once students seem to have written down all of the words they can possibly remember on their own, ask the students how many words they remembered.
6.      Now, have students work with a partner to expand their list of remembered words.  If a student’s partner has a word that they don’t have, they should add that word to their list.  Give students about another two minutes.  Ask students how many words they now have on their lists after working in pairs. 
7.      Once the pairs of students seem to have written down all of the words they possibly could remember together, ask them to create groups of four with another pair of students.  Groups of four should try to expand their lists of words.  If the other pair of students has a word that they do not have, they should add that word to their lists.  Give students about another two minutes.  Ask students how many words they have on their lists now after working in groups of four.  Find out if any of the groups were able to write down all of the words that were shown in the PowerPoint slide. 


1.      Ask students to share how they memorized the words from the PowerPoint slide.  Make a list on the board of the different memorization styles.  Ask the class which they think would be most effective or least effective and why.  Ask the class what conclusions can be drawn from the different memorization techniques employed by different students. 
2.      Remind students that all of the words on the PowerPoint slide are connected with the day’s lesson.  Ask students to predict the content of the day’s lesson.  Ask students what the topic of the day will be. 
3.      Discuss unknown words with the students.  Have students choose five words from the list to be explained by you, or have students work in groups to see if they can collectively define unknown words.  Put a time limit on this activity. 


Here are some sample slides I have created for this activity.  I used these slides with my EDUC 459: ESL in Secondary Education course.  Although most of my students were teacher education students from English speaking backgrounds, it was still a great warmer for the day’s seminar. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Advice for choosing the best definition when encountering unknown words in a reading passage.

Oxford University Press has just posted a short video of me answering a question about helping students understand words in a reading passage:

Here is the video:

Here is an approximate transcript of the video:

Hello viewers.  My name is Scott Roy Douglas, from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus, and I’m the co-author of Q: Skills for Success Reading and Writing 5.  Li-Lan Huang on Facebook asks:

My students sometimes get stuck in a reading passage because they don’t know which meaning of a word to choose. How can I help them?

This is a really great question, and I’ve seen it myself where students suddenly stop in the middle of a reading because they have encountered an unknown word.  Often, my students’ first instinct is to reach for their dictionaries, but even then, when a word has multiple meanings, it can cause more confusion.  In the meantime, students have lost track of what they were reading and where they were in the reading passage, and they have forgotten what they have already read.  As you can see, this is a recipe for reading disaster.  Generally, I recommend my students do the following when they encounter an unknown word while they are reading. 

First, students should ask themselves if the word is vital for understanding the passage.  If not, they should just skip the word and keep reading so as to not lose track of the general idea.  However, if the word is vital for understanding the passage, they should then ask themselves if they can understand the meaning from context.  By reading a little further ahead or by looking back just a bit, can they work out what the author is trying to say?  If the answer is yes, they can mark the new vocabulary word for later reference, and they should just keep going.  They can go back and confirm their guesses after they have read the entire passage.  However, if they can’t understand the meaning from context, they should still keep going after underlining or highlighting the word.  The important thing is to get an overall understanding of the general idea of the reading passage.  Once students have completed reading the entire passage, they can then look up the unknown word in the dictionary.  This will help them decide which definition is best if there is more than one definition for that word.  You see, they can workout which definition fits best with the general idea of the reading passage as well as the immediate context before and after the unknown word. 

I think by pushing through to the end, and looking up a word after finishing the whole text in order to have a general idea of what the author is trying to communicate will help students decide which definition is the best definition for a word when there is more than one definition.

Thanks so much for watching this video.  Have fun with your students!

It was a lot of fun putting this little video together.  Thanks to OUP for asking me to contribute!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2014 BC TEAL Interior Regional Conference at Selkirk College

The BC TEAL website has just posted some information about the upcoming BC TEAL Interior Conference that is going to be held at Selkirk College in Nelson, BC on October 4, 2014.  I'm going to be the keynote speaker, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Here is the title and abstract for my talk:

Interior Design: Leveraging Content to Support Academic English Language Acquisition

Core academic content can be a powerful motivator for language acquisition.  By grounding grammar, vocabulary, learning strategies, functions, and other language skills in meaningful content, the conditions are set for purposeful learning.  The key is employing instructional strategies that provide the comprehensible input necessary for academic English language acquisition to take place.  However, in mixed classrooms of students with varying levels of English language proficiency, the instructional strategies scaffolding comprehensible input for English language learners have to be utilized without detracting from the learning experiences of their more advanced peers.
First focusing on English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classrooms, this presentation will review the principles behind Content-Based Instruction and the language through content approach.  From this discussion, specific instructional strategies will be suggested for building core academic knowledge while also fostering the development of academic English language proficiency.  Next, the potential of adopting EAP instructional practices across academic disciplines will be explored to understand how core discipline instructors can provide comprehensible instruction without jeopardizing essential academic outcomes.  The potential for instructional cross-fertilization is proposed with meaningful academic content being adopted in English as an Additional Language programs and instructional strategies for language development flowing towards the content disciplines.

Key an eye on this webpage for more details:

Sunday, February 09, 2014

TESL Ontario Keynote Presentation

Oxford University Press has just posted my TESL Ontario Keynote Presentation from October 2013.  Here is the title and abstract for my talk:

Pathways to Production: Exploring Lexical Thresholds in Speaking and Writing

Taking vocabulary as an underlying variable to general English language proficiency, this talk focuses attention on understanding the lexical thresholds that learners of English as an Additional Language (EAL) cross on the pathway to increasing levels of precision and fluency in the productive skills of speaking and writing. An understanding of these lexical thresholds can provide the basis for lexically informed targets, assessments, and educational experiences in an overall EAL curriculum. The talk will conclude with an exploration of the implications of this approach to vocabulary teaching and learning for educators and learners in various English language learning contexts.

. . . and here is the video:

Friday, February 07, 2014

After the First 2,000: A Response to Horst’s “Mainstreaming Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition”

The Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics has just published my response article to Marlise Horst's invited article "Mainstreaming Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition".  I really enjoyed having the opportunity to read and respond to Horst's thoughtful argument for frequency based vocabulary teaching and learning.  Here's the abstract of my paper along with a link (click on the title):

Scott Roy Douglas
This paper is a response to Horst’s (2013) proposal that language teaching should incorporate opportunities for English language learners to acquire the 2,000 most frequent word families in English. She does this by setting out the vital role vocabulary plays in English language proficiency, outlining how knowing high frequency vocabulary unlocks English language proficiency, and establishing why vocabulary learning opportunities need to be part of classroom instruction. Horst’s argument creates a convincing lexical goal for English language learners because it is these first 2,000 word families that will create the foundation for the future vocabulary growth necessary to engage independently in increasingly complex language tasks.  However, knowledge of the most frequent 2,000 word families in English is only the first threshold to eventually becoming a proficient user of English. Once the first 2,000 word families are part of an English language learner’s vocabulary, there remain further lexical thresholds to cross on the way to increasing levels of English language proficiency. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

So Proud of the English Foundation Program

Here is another little video about the English Foundation Program at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus:

Saturday, November 09, 2013

I have a new article in the Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics

I just has a peek at the Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, and my latest article has been published! The web address for this journal is:

Here is the abstract for my article:

The Lexical Breadth of Undergraduate Novice Level Writing Competency

Scott Roy Douglas


This study builds on previous work exploring reading and listening lexical thresholds (Nation, 2006; Laufer & Ravenhorst-Kalovski, 2010; Schmitt, Jiang, & Grabe, 2011) in order to investigate productive vocabulary targets that mark successful entry-level undergraduate writing. Papers that passed the Effective Writing Test (EWT) were chosen to create a corpus of novice university level writing (N = 120). Vocabulary profiles were generated, with results indicating the General Service List (GSL) and the Academic Word List (AWL) cover an average of 94% of a typical paper.  Further analysis pointed to 3,000 word families and 5,000 word families covering 95% and 98% respectively of each paper.  Low frequency lexical choices from beyond the 8,000 word family boundary accounted for only 0.6% coverage.  These results support the frequency principle of vocabulary learning (Coxhead, 2006), and provide lexical targets for English for Academic Purposes (EAP) curriculum development and materials design.
Cette étude s'appuie sur des travaux antérieurs qui explorent les niveaux lexicaux pour la lecture et l’écoute (Laufer et Ravenhorst-Kalovski, 2010; Nation, 2006; Schmitt, Jiang et Grabe, 2011). Elle a pour but d'étudier les niveaux de production lexicale qui marquent l'écriture à l'entrée à l'université anglophone. Pour créer un corpus d'écriture de niveau universitaire novice, 120 articles qui ont passé le Effective Writing Test (EWT) ont été choisis. Des profils  de vocabulaire ont été générés et les résultats signalent que la General Service List (GSL) et la Academic Word List (AWL) couvrent une moyenne de 94% d'un document typique. En plus, 3 000 familles de mots et 5 000 familles de mots couvrent 95% et 98% respectivement de chaque article. Les choix de basses fréquences lexicales au-delà de la limite de 8 000 mots ne représentaient que 0,6% de la couverture. Ces résultats appuient le principe fréquence de l'apprentissage du vocabulaire (Coxhead, 2006) et fournissent des niveaux lexicaux pour les programmes d’anglais à des fins académiques.


Vocabulary; Composition; Undergraduate Studies; English for Academic Purposes; English (Second Language)
You can go directly to the article here: