Vocabulary priorities

Pexels by Liza Ulyanova

While language teachers are generally very aware of the importance of vocabulary development for learners, there is not much consensus about the way vocabulary should be learned and taught, or indeed which vocabulary items to focus on. We have been struck by the research of Professor Averil Coxhead at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, ever since she presented the Academic Word List as her MA work in 1998 (see Coxhead 2000 below).

She has more recently continued to examine the use of word lists and vocabulary testing in language teaching and learning. We are delighted to present here a video of our conversation with Averil. We have divided it into two as it is almost an hour in total because there was very little we wanted to omit in editing!

Part 1 of our conversation with Averil, on vocabulary testing and teaching, and the importance of word frequency for prioritising what vocabulary to teach and learn.


Part 2 includes a beautiful idea for working with a class to select the vocabulary that is worth learning.

Here is a transcript of the entire interview with Averil.


Dang, T. N. Y., Webb, S., & Coxhead, A. (2020) Evaluating lists of high-frequency words: Teachers’ and learners’ perspectives. Language Teaching Research.https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1362168820911189

Skjelde, K. & Coxhead, A. (2020). Mind the gap: Academic vocabulary knowledge as a predictor of English grades. Acta Didactica Norden 14(3): 1—20. https://doi.org/10.5617/adno.7975

And further reading

Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.

Coxhead, A., Parkinson, J. & Tu’amoheloa, F (2020). Using Talanoa to develop bilingual word lists of technical vocabulary in the trades, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 23(5), 513-533, DOI: 10.1080/13670050.2017.1374329

Norberg, C., & Nordlund, M. (2018). A corpus-based study of lexis in L2 English textbooks. Journal of Language Teaching & Research, 9(3).

Averil mentions these websites:
  1. Just the Word
  2. Compleat Lexical Tutor
  3. Academic vocabulary lists
  4. AntConc
  5. EAP foundation website

Other resources

Advanced learners’ dictionaries help you in many ways. Look at the Oxford learners’ dictionary pages and the 3000 and 5000 word lists as well as advice on how to work with them.

Other dictionary publishers offer resources too, such as this vocabulary checker from Longman.

The Swedish Kelly list is also useful with resources for Greek, Arabic, Chinese, English, Italian, Russian Norwegian as well as Swedish.

Have your say!

ethnic woman frowning face and pointing at camera
Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

We have now come to the end of the first year of CIRCLE. We have very much enjoyed the conversations with researchers and the live conversations with those who have been able to join us to discuss the material. Now we are considering how to proceed in 2022. Please take a look at this survey and let us know what you would like to see in the CIRCLE in 2022.


Shared resources for teaching fluency

My colleague, Mara Haslam, who joined me in the live conversation about Teaching Fluency on 7 June, has prepared some material on Teaching Listening Fluency Through Structured Input. She says she was inspired by my difficulty distinguishing between ele [he] and ela [she] in Portuguese (see my conversation with Tore in the Teaching Fluency page). You can download Mara’s material here, and be inspired or use it as is!

During the live conversation, someone wondered how you can establish the vocabulary size of your learners in order to work with fluency at an appropriate vocabulary size level (Nation tells us that in fluency work, 98% of the words learners encounter should be familiar). Fortunately, Nation has left us many resources to establish our learners’ vocabulary size, at least if the target language is English. Take a look at this website about vocabulary tests.

I am currently developing a course on vocabulary and fluency development for teachers of English. Hopefully, it will run as a summer course in 2022. Let me know if you are interested in this! Always happy to discuss!

Shared resources for Target language only?

Language allocation policies calling for strict language separation continue to prevail in schools, even as they are continuously violated and negotiated by educators and students.

(García & Otheguy, 2020)

BethAnne Paulsrud mentioned some texts in our interview:

Openly available texts

Jim Cummins’ iceberg model of translanguaging from Wikimedia The_Iceberg_Model.gif

For those who have access to a university library or funding to buy literature:

Please share any of your own resources for this topic. Mail us at circle@isd.su.se.

Study with us!

Stockholm University

If you want to develop in your teaching, or you are often frustrated in your reading by paywalls, you may consider becoming a master’s student with us, which will give you free access to the entire Stockholm University library as well as a world-class education! Read about our online master courses in Language education which are taught in English.

Current courses

The Department of Teaching and Learning at Stockholm University offers courses and programmes at all levels. You may be interested in our Advanced level courses which can be taken as part of a master’s or as stand-alone courses. The courses are generally open for late applications. Most are online and many are in English.

  • Undergraduate level:
    • Teaching vocabulary and fluency development in English and modern languages. Summer 2022 online in English as US169F. Apply by 15 March!!
  • Graduate level:
    • Issues in language education research. Autumn 2022 online in English as US542F.
    • Third Language Research and Language Education. Autumn 2022 online in English as US543F

Read more and ask questions at the Department of Teaching and Learning


Shared resources for teaching speaking

Vary the way you get your students speaking

Link from the interview

Christine Goh mentioned another article where she discusses the application of research in task repetition, pre-task planning and communication strategies: Goh, C. C. M. (2017). Research into practice: Scaffolding learning processes to improve speaking performance. Language Teaching 50(2), 247-260. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444816000483. Those of you who can access a university library may enjoy reading the article.

Shared resources for teaching grammar

CIRCLE 1 Grammar teaching

During the CIRCLE 1 seminar, when we were discussing inductive and deductive grammar teaching, CIRCLE participant Rusalina Ehnvall mentioned her experience of inductive instruction of the Past Simple and Continuous tenses, focusing on both meaning and form. Rusalina is sharing the material she uses for teaching this here. Please let us and Rusalina know how you use the material by leaving a comment below, or send us a mail if you prefer.