The amount of vocabulary that English for academic purposes
(EAP) students need in order to comprehend academic texts often far
exceeds what they can acquire during the time they spend in an intensive
English program. Nation (2006) estimates that learners require
knowledge of 8,000–9,000 word families for 98% coverage of the words
that occur in academic texts. To address EAP students’ need for a larger
vocabulary, it has been suggested that EAP reading curricula include
both explicit vocabulary instruction and incidental exposure to
vocabulary through extensive and intensive reading (Grabe &
Stoller, 2011). Yet even when these curricular approaches are
implemented, learners are still likely to come up short of the
vocabulary knowledge that they need for successful reading
Self-Collection Techniques in EAP Reading
Grabe (2009) suggests that reading teachers can help learners
take control of their own vocabulary learning through the use of
vocabulary learning strategies, or self-collection techniques.
Self-collection techniques typically include keeping a vocabulary
notebook, creating flashcards, and reviewing word lists.
Computer-assisted language learning also provides word-collection
options through web 2.0 platforms and mobile applications. The use of
self-collection techniques has received criticism for being
decontextualized and unrelated to actual language use. Nation (2001)
argues, however, that direct vocabulary learning through techniques such
as word cards can help with learning aspects of word knowledge not
addressed in learning vocabulary from context. Collocations, parts of
speech, and form and meaning connections are examples of aspects of word
knowledge that can be covered by self-collection techniques.
As a second language (L2) reading teacher, I am interested in
helping students explore the use of vocabulary learning strategies that
assist them in acquiring multiple aspects of word knowledge. Grabe and
Stoller (2011) recommend that teachers expose learners to a variety of
techniques for learning and reviewing words on their own. Through this
exploratory process, students can be led to discover the word collection
techniques that they prefer the most. Grabe and Stoller encourage
teachers to engage in action research projects to determine L2 readers’
self-collection technique preferences. The results of such a project are
likely to influence the sequence in which teachers introduce vocabulary
learning techniques in future teaching. In addition, monitoring the
choice of different aspects of word knowledge (collocations, synonyms,
definitions, etc.) that learners use through their self-collection
techniques can help teachers make decisions about what types of
techniques are more appropriate for learning certain aspects of a word.
The two-semester action research project that I am conducting
and will present at the TESOL 2013 Convention adapts Grabe and Stoller’s
(2011) action research guidelines. This study is carried out at a
university intensive English program in the southwestern United States.
The participants involved in the first semester of the study were 18
students enrolled in an advanced EAP reading and vocabulary course. In
the first semester, the self-collection techniques used by the class
were vocabulary notebooks and flashcards.
As part of the action research project, students are given
explicit instruction on a self-collection technique and then multiple
opportunities to experiment with the technique over a 2-week period. At
the beginning of each week, students are directed to choose five words
from their assigned reading passages and use the assigned
self-collection technique to attempt to learn the words. Throughout the
week, classroom instruction provides opportunities for students to
practice the technique and connect it with speaking and writing
activities, vocabulary games, and partner-assisted quizzing.
A semistructured interview is administered for each
self-collection technique following each 2-week instructional period.
Upon the conclusion of the course, students are given a questionnaire
and ranking form adapted from Grabe and Stoller (2011) to determine
students’ self-collection technique preferences and the reasons for
their decisions. A teaching log is used as an additional source of data
to document observations and reflections related to the use of classroom
activities that integrate vocabulary self-collection techniques.
From the class of 18 students, 11 were interviewed on their use
of self-collection techniques. Some interviewees demonstrated an
awareness of how some vocabulary collection techniques are more
effective than others. One student reported that using a vocabulary
notebook was better than “I write down a word again and again. This was
the old way I used to learn new words.” This response demonstrates the
importance of introducing students to different self-collection
techniques and asking them to compare their effectiveness for learning
different aspects of word knowledge with techniques that they might
Not all the students who were interviewed, however, saw the
usefulness in using self-collection techniques for their EAP coursework.
Rather, a number of students felt vocabulary should only be collected
when it relates to their major. As one student explained, “When I read
something about my major, Business, there are many words . . . I try to
write on the flashcard if I can go and look through them later.” That
some of the students felt self-collecting words in their EAP coursework
would not be beneficial for their later university classes highlights
the misconceptions students possess about vocabulary frequency
information. Although students in this study were directed to collect
words from the Academic Word List, they didn’t seem to understand that
they were likely to encounter these words again, beyond the immediate
In addition to the findings already discussed, my presentation
at the TESOL Convention in Dallas will report on the results from the
questionnaire and ranking form, interview results following the piloting
of the computer application Quizlet, and data from the teaching log. Because this study is ongoing at the
time of this writing, limited results are reported here.
Implications from this initial analyses of the collected data
suggest that it is necessary to raise EAP readers’ awareness of the
usefulness of particular self-collection techniques beyond the EAP
classroom. If students are to become more autonomous in their vocabulary
learning, then they need to see how self-collection techniques can
apply to contexts beyond just the language classroom. Training students
on how to locate frequency information on the words they encounter
should also be a necessary part of teaching the use of vocabulary
self-collection techniques (McCrostie, 2007).
Grabe, W. (2009). Reading in a second language: Moving
from theory to practice. New York, NY: Cambridge University
Grabe, W., & Stoller, F. L. (2011). Teaching
and researching reading (2nd ed.). New York, NY:
McCrostie, J. (2007). Examining learner vocabulary notebooks. ELT Journal, 61, 246–255.
Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in
another language. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Nation, I. S. P. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for
reading and listening? Canadian Modern Language Review,