[Report] Teaching Vocabulary: Practice and Theory, a webinar by Peter Watkins

This is a truly eye-opening webinar, providing very informative and systematic analysis of theories and practices relating to teaching vocabulary. And the presenter did it in less than 45 minutes!

Key points:

1.” Practising is one thing, teaching is another”

  • implicit vs explicit
  • working out from context
  • working out from morphology
  • paraphrase: learner explanation, teacher explanation, translation, dictionaries, glossaries and word lists.

2. “Learning vocabulary is relatively easy” No, it never is!

“The fact is that while without grammar every little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed.” (Wilkins, 1972, p.111)

  • Audioligualism: vocabulary plays a very small part, only for manipulation of grammar structures.
  • Grammar Translation: Infrequent, literary texts are highlighted.
  • Communicative Language Teaching: vocabulary becomes more prominent.
  • Lexical Approach: more prominent but do not take the role of grammar yet.


  • form and meaning (denotation and connotation)
  • collocations
  • grammar (We will meet ourselves at 8*)
  • relationships with other words
  • style (father, dad, old man)

3.”I teach vocabulary before texts” Not necessarily so. Better techniques:

  • adjusts level of text by supporting bottom-up processing.
  • see words in context

If we really have to, we should ask:

  • “Are the words frequent and useful?”
  • “How will the words be recycled?”

4. “There’s so much vocabulary to learn”

  • A need for Independent Learning
  • Quality of learning, as well as quantity, is important.

5. “Recycling vocabulary is important.” and “make it fun” How?

  • “Narrow Reading: students read different texts on a same topic to see words in different contexts.
  • Depth of cognitive processing
  • Depth of affective processing


Word Search

Making Sentences


Noughts and Crosses (Tic Tac Toe)

6 5

Activities with a Word Bag (cut-out strips of paper with words learned from each lesson put in a bag)

  • Narrative Writing: take five or six words at random from the bag, check the meanings and ask learners to use these words in a short story that they write with a partner.
  • Pairwork: Pick three words from the bag and describe words to partners.
  • Word Family: give learners some nouns from the bag. They must come up with adjectives/verbs/adverbs.
  • What to put in the bag? Ask learners to choose the words after each lesson.
  • Review: at the beginning or end of lessons, take five/six words from the bag and elicit meanings.


Finally, we also should encourage learners to be independent by asking to develop their own strategies, which can be cognitive, metacognitive, social and affective (Ortega, 2009, p.214)


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