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Learning Through Play: Effective Vocabulary Activities for All Ages – Dr.Sushyni Kothuri

26th June 2024

Importance of Vocabulary

Scholars are unanimous regarding the importance of words in a language. Any human activity that involves language, whether simple or complex requires the use of words. Since the language is the medium of communication and it is in words that ideas and meaning are ‘enshrined’ and poor vocabulary may result in inefficient communication and may give rise to misunderstanding. Therefore, it is important to focus on vocabulary.

Debates on vocabulary coaching are as famous as the records of English language teaching in India. Many crucial questions are raised on how and why vocabulary should learn and what has to be taught? Towards the end of 19th century, everyday vocabulary item took over the position of old lists; and concrete vocabulary implements were defined with labelled snapshots and demonstration while abstract phrases had been taught through the association of ideas. Toward the end of the 1980s the want to offer correct descriptions of language turned into perceived; as result lexicography was changed into a considered subject worth studying. New methodologies developed and implemented in the place of Grammar Translation and Communicative Language teaching. The view of the contemporary ideologies is not always to disclaim or prioritise the teaching of grammar and vocabulary, but, to facilitate the achievement of one and all the elements of language. While we orient ourselves to the study of vocabulary from a pedagogic view, it appears essential to know that gaining mastery over the vocabulary is one of the complicated tasks for the learner. Direct methods cannot define this problem. There were attempts to explore the numerous dimensions of lexical competence. Richards (1976) has proposed eight assumptions concerning word knowledge.

There are four ways to distinguish vocabulary in the text namely high-frequency words, academic words, technical words and low-frequency words

High- frequency words:

 The focus on vocabulary at any level in English is basically on the most frequent words that any learners is expected to master during academic and no-academic situations and requirements. These high- frequency words include function words such as in, for, the , of, a, etc. and include many content words like government, forests etc. Almost 80% of the running words in the text are high-frequency words.

Low- frequency words:

 A large number of words seem to be less frequent in their usage. They are almost 5% of the words in the academic text. They include all the words that are neither high-frequency nor academic or technical words of a particular subject. Many of low-frequency words are context and discipline-specific, therefore, they are rarely used. Vocabulary is a fundamental component of language proficiency and provides the basis for understanding towards listening, speaking, reading and writing. Without an extensive vocabulary and specific approach for acquiring new vocabulary, learners often achieve lesser than their potential concerning their real-life communication and academic success. Further, lack of vocabulary hampers learners’ optional use of the available learning opportunities.

Academic words:

 The frequency of these words across various academic discourses/texts is quite high and these words are important for anyone using L2 for academic purposes (Nation,2001). Academic textbooks and different kinds of academic texts contain many academic words. Typically these words cover about 9% of the running words in the text. The academic words have definition value in formal language and are used in academic texts ‘to define, delineate, advance, and assess abstract entities such as theories, arguments and hypothesis’ (Cobb and Horst,2002). Technical words:

Technical words are very closely related to the topic of subject area of the text. The teaching of vocabulary up to intermediate level aims at enabling general proficiency in English. Course options at higher level, however, insists upon some higher order skills like understanding some specialized texts that differ in terms of their register, discourse, genre, etc. responding critically to arguments, analysing date etc. Hence the students opt for specific programmes such as medicine and engineering. These technical words typically cover about 5% of the running words in a text. They differ in every field.

Vocabulary is the knowledge of words and word meanings. This knowledge helps in the understanding of texts, expression of self and to describe the perceptions. The knowledge of the lexicon of a language systematises the mental vocabulary in a speaker’s mind. Vocabulary may be organised according to the, i.e., content specific words, generalised academic words etc. Vocabulary instruction must be included in all the stages to increase the academic literacy level of students. According to Wilkins (1972) without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed. Vocabulary has to be taught to train the learners to use words with appropriateness and precision for effective communication.

It has been stressed that lexical knowledge is one of the indicators of one’s overall knowledge of the language. Anderson and Freebody (1981), referred to by Mirhassani and Toosi (2000) insist that vocabulary knowledge is an excellent predictor of general language 10 ability. Research evidence has demonstrated that there is a very strong and positive relationship between overall proficiency and vocabulary test score in the performance of L2 learners of English. Large vocabulary size is assumed to have a positive contribution to learners’ comprehension skill development (McCarthy. 1984). So, it is understood that vocabulary knowledge has an essential role to play in the acquisition of L2 proficiency.

Content vocabulary is nothing but the vocabulary of a specific discipline. Table below explains three types of vocabulary (Isabel et al.2014).

Tier 1(Basic Vocabulary)Words found in everyday speech
Tier 2(Academic Vocabulary)High-frequency words (academic texts)
Tier 3( Discipline & Specific Vocabulary)Low-frequency words (field of study)

It has been found that in spite of the exposure to academic discourse in the form of printed materials, lectures, and discussions etc. that cover a wide array of subjects, the importance given to vocabulary learning is comparatively scant. Mostly the students are exposed to learn vocabulary through incidental learning which does not cater adequately to learn the vocabulary required for their discipline of study. It is also observed that lessons were paraphrased and the difficult words were explained in the regional language.

Here are some proposed step-by-step tasks to help students understand the significance of The Three Tiers of Language, especially Academic Language’s Tiers 2-3. Teachers can demonstrate the significance and distinctions between formal and informal language using relevant content from their subject areas.

Activity 1: Brochure Designing


  • To develop students’ vocabulary related to respective field
  • To encourage   the usage of relevant vocabulary 


Step 1: Group the students in random

Step 2: Give away the colour papers and colour pencils to the students

Step 3: Give different categories words:

Step 4: Ask the students to use different adjectives and good vocabulary to prepare the brochure with necessary details

Step 5: Ask the students to explaining the brochure for5 minutes

Expected outcome

Students will use creativity and design colourful brochures using relevant content vocabulary. Since the activity is done in groups the students share the ideas and thoughts to bring out the interesting brochures.

Activity 2: Fun with Cards


  • To impart the vocabulary related to the subject  
  • To teach the learners to learn vocabulary from the context


Cards preparation: Take 26 cards out of a pack. Divide the cards into two sets.  Set A (©) for words and Set B (¨) for meaning of the word. Paste a blank paper at the back of the card. Write the words and meanings on each card.

Step 1: Shuffle the cards.

Step 2: Distribute the cards

Step 3: Randomly call out one number (4H)

Step 4: Student who get 4H matches with 4D

Step 5: Both the students need to stand up and read the word and meaning.

Step 6: Class repeats after them

Step 7: Collect the cards

Step 8: Give few minutes for the students recall the words they learnt.

Step 9: Ask the students to create cards in group where they should mention the word, meaning and example sentences as usage.

Expected Outcome:

Students will be able to learn a minimum of 26 words in one class. This activity not only

helps them to learn words quickly but also enables them to remember


Anderson, R.C. and Freebody, P., (1979). Vocabulary Knowledge. Technical Report No. 136.

Nation, I. S., & Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language (Vol. 10, pp. 126-132). Cambridge: Cambridge university press.

Cobb, T., & Horst, M. (2011). Does word coach coach words?. Calico journal, 28(3), 639-661.

Wilkins, D.A., (1972). Vocabulary. Linguistics in language teaching.

Mirhassani, A., & Toosi, A. (2000). The impact of word-formation knowledge on reading comprehension.

McKeown, M. G., & Beck, I. L. (2014). Effects of vocabulary instruction on measures of language processing: Comparing two approaches. Early childhood Research quarterly, 29(4), 520-530.

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