August 2013
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Robyn Brinks Lockwood, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA

On the second day of TESOL 2013, Randall Rebman shared his research on preferred vocabulary self-collection strategies of EAP reading students. He summarized the general approach to action research, focused on vocabulary self-collection techniques, and discussed some challenges and implications for teachers. I chose this session because I am an instructor of EAP content; however, I quickly realized that much of what Mr. Rebman was sharing was equally important to me as a materials writer. Through Rebman’s overview of 21st century vocabulary research, data from his own action research, and his suggestions for vocabulary collection strategies, I was able to identify the types of materials EAP learners need.

Mr. Rebman stated that EAP readers need a wealth of vocabulary and quoted a statistic from Paul Nation (2006) that students need 8,000 to 9,000 word families to cover 98% of a text. He also cited Schmitt, Jiang, and Grabe (2010) by stating that vocabulary depth and size are important to reading advanced texts. These statistics reminded me of the importance of vocabulary in the materials I develop for my own students and ESL students. How can we give students the vocabulary they need? Mr. Rebman shared several ideas from Grabe (2009) that ranged from direct instruction to increasing student awareness of new vocabulary.

Mr. Rebman’s research was fascinating. He questioned which self-collection strategies students prefer and what aspects of word knowledge students find most helpful. He detailed how he collected data and the timeline he used. He also shared insights and results from interviews and questionnaires he conducted with students. I found it extremely helpful to have feedback directly from the end user of the materials. Students have a positive preference for vocabulary notebooks (Folse, 2004) and flashcards (Nation, 2001; Schmitt & Schmitt, 2011). He also shared the results of other collection strategies: English examples, synonyms, English definitions, L1 translations, and collocations. Knowing that students prefer using L1 translations will help me better develop materials for my students that will not only help them learn, but that will make the learning process more enjoyable and, hopefully, implemented beyond the classroom.

Mr. Rebman shared some implications for teachers and practical solutions that I again found extended beyond my work in the classroom to my work as a materials writer. First, he suggested that teachers need to create a bank of vocabulary activities that help students practice self-collection strategies in the classroom. If I provide these, then my students might be able to use my materials for success in reading materials for other classes. Second, he mentioned that scaffolding the use of self-collection strategies will encourage learners to use the strategies beyond the ESL classroom. As a teacher at the university level, a primary goal is to help my students succeed in an academic setting. Third, he suggested that opportunities need to be offered for students to consider which vocabulary strategies work best for them and discuss how they plan to use them in the future. This has inspired me to start a focus group of students every quarter to see which of my materials they found most effective and which they will continue to use after my class ends.

As an instructor and materials writer, I found this session immensely helpful and useful. I left the session with many ideas for my classroom that I can implement immediately. I also gained the knowledge necessary to make the content I develop for my own students more useful to them. I hope to incorporate my new ideas into the work I do as a materials writer and editor as well.

Ed note: The research link in the first line of the article takes you to Mr. Rebman’s blog which includes this session’s presentation and handout.


Folse, K. S. (2004). Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Grabe, W. (2009). Reading in a second language: Moving from theory to practice. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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, 63, 69–82.

Schmitt, N., Jiang, X., and Grabe, W. (2010). The percentage of words known in a text and reading comprehension. Modern Language Journal, 95, 26–43.

Schmitt, D. and Schmitt, N. (2011). Focus on vocabulary: Mastering the academic word list. New York, NY: Pearson Longman Press.

Robyn Brinks Lockwood teaches academic courses in the English for Foreign Students Department at Stanford University. She is also a materials writer and editor whose publications include textbooks, ancillary materials, and online courses.

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