Vocabulary research topics

Vocabulary research topics for assignment, project, or thesis work

These suggestions are organised according to the chapters and sections of the chapters in Learning Vocabulary in another Language.

Chapter 1: The goals of vocabulary learning

  1. Analyse a technical dictionary to see how many words it contains, and what types of words it contains. Compare the results with a corpus study.
  2. Examine the vocabulary load of your learners' textbooks.
  3. Develop a procedure for quickly assessing the coverage of high frequency words in text books.
  4. Make a replacement for the GSL.
  5. Prepare a low frequency word list taking account of range.
  6. Prepare a standardised graded reader list dividing the most frequent 3,000 word families into levels.
  7. Use the Range program to develop a high frequency word list for spoken language.

Chapter 2: Knowing a word

  1. Design a test to investigate the degree to which learners of English have control of important spelling rules.
  2. Investigate the qualitative differences between receptive and productive vocabulary knowledge.
  3. Classify and test proper nouns to see what categories can be assumed to provide minimal learning burden when looking at the vocabulary load of texts.

Chapter 3: Teaching and explaining vocabulary

  1. Thoroughly examine learners using a particular type of activity to see if the process examination (goals, conditions, signs and features) is confirmed by a product examination (measured learning outcomes).
  2. Experimentally test the differing effects of noticing, retrieving, and generating.
  3. Replicate Joe's (1998) study of the differing effects of differing degrees of generating.
  4. What unique information do different techniques add to word knowledge? What common information do they add?
  5. When is the best time for direct teaching to occur in the learning of a word - before or after gaining meaning focused experience?
  6. The forms and occurrences of definitions. The work on the different kinds of definition seems to have been thoroughly done, but it has focused only on limited areas of academic discourse. Bramki and Williams (1984) only looked at one writer's use of lexical familiarisation devices. Flowerdew (1992) looked at Biology and Chemistry lectures. There is scope for widening the data base.
  7. The effects of definition types on comprehension and learning. Is there a relationship between the different types of definitions as revealed in the corpus studies of Bramki and Williams (1984) and Flowerdew (1992) and learners' understanding of these definitions and learning from them? There are no studies of second language learners' skill in recognising these definitions let alone the understanding that comes from them.
  8. As well as looking at the effect of definitions, it would be useful to examine learners' skill. What range of skill do learners show in dealing with definitions? What aspects of the skill need attention? What diagnostic tests are most effective in showing degree of control of the skill? What kinds of training are effective in developing the skill?
  9. Write a comparative review of several CAVL programs.
  10. Use a CAVL program to evaluate the effect on learning of meeting the same item in different contexts.
  11. Determine the factors influencing incidental vocabulary learning by using a message focused computer game.

Chapter 4: Vocabulary and listening and speaking

  1. Compare the effects of types of defining (L1 or L2) on vocabulary learning while listening to a story.
  2. Look at the incidence of academic vocabulary in university lectures. Is it as common as in written academic texts? Do lectures contain other sources of vocabulary difficulty, for example through the use of examples?
  3. How does learners' focus of attention change as a text is listened to several times? Where does vocabulary fit in this range of focuses of attention?
  4. Does adding a role play feature to a task result in more generative use? That is, does it cause more changes to the written input?
  5. Analyse examples of semantic mapping to show the ways teachers use to encourage dialogue and participation. Make an observation checklist to grade semantic mapping performances.
  6. Do a corpus study to find the vocabulary which is much more frequent in certain spoken registers than it is in written registers.

Chapter 5: Vocabulary and reading and writing

  1. Do different kinds of learning occur from reading compared with learning from different kinds of exercises?
  2. Is the Lexical Frequency Profile of a text an effective measure of the readability of the text for ESL learners?
  3. Evaluate and investigate a reading based vocabulary activity for its effect on vocabulary learning and use.
  4. Honeyfield (1977) claims that simplified reading texts distort normal language use. Research this claim looking at a range of language use features including collocation and information density.
  5. Do simplified, elaborated and easified texts have similar effects on comprehension and vocabulary learning?
  6. How can vocabulary learning from graded readers be optimized?
  7. Experimentally test writing tasks to see what needs to occur to quickly enrich learners' written productive vocabulary.
  8. Test the effect of richness of vocabulary use on teachers' assessment of ESL learners' writing.
  9. Design and trial a checklist to guide teachers' response to vocabulary use in writing.

Chapter 6: Specialised uses of vocabulary

  1. What are the general discourse functions of academic vocabulary. For example, it may be interesting to take an academic function, like defining or referring to previous research, and see what role academic vocabulary plays in this.
  2. Do particular academic words behave differently in different subject areas? That is, does their meaning change? Do they have different collocates? This research would confirm or question the value of courses for academic purposes for students from a variety of disciplines, and would suggest how attention could be most usefully directed towards academic vocabulary.
  3. How much is the academic vocabulary parallelled by high frequency words. That is, is the academic vocabulary just a more formal version of part of the most frequent 2,000 words, or does it add new meanings?
  4. Compare several experimental reports to see if the same academic vocabulary occurs in the same parts of the reports. For example, do the method sections use a similar set of vocabulary which is different from the results section?
  5. Look at learners' written work to see what vocabulary discourse features are not properly used.

Chapter 7: Vocabulary learning strategies and guessing from context

  1. Are some vocabulary learning strategies superior to others?
  2. Develop a taxonomy for evaluating strategy use that considers both type of strategies used and the quality of their use.
  3. Evaluate the validity of a questionnaire approach to investigating strategy use.
  4. Experimentally check Haastrup's idea that bottom up guessing results in more vocabulary learning than top down guessing which works from a lot of background knowledge.
  5. What aspects of word knowledge are learned by guessing from context?
  6. What difficulties do homographs cause for guessing from context.? That is, is it harder to guess a new meaning for a familiar form that already has a different associated meaning?

Chapter 8: Word study strategies

  1. Devise a test of receptive knowledge of important derivational affixes for non-native speakers of English. Carroll's (1940) format could be a useful model. Make sure the test is reliable, valid and practical and would have a positive washback effect.
  2. Examine learners' written work to determine if complex words are deliberately avoided.
  3. Design an experiment to see what aspects of vocabulary knowledge are learned by dictionary use.
  4. Design and check a diagnostic test of learners' dictionary use skills.
  5. What additional information is provided by a sentence context?
  6. How well does direct learning transfer to normal language use?
  7. What is the effect of training on improving learning from word cards?

Chapter 9: Chunking and collocation

  1. Develop a list of frequent collocations using well defined and carefully described criteria.
  2. Look for evidence of unanalysed chunks in the language production of native speakers and non-native speakers.

Chapter 10: Testing

  1. Get learners to sit a yes/no test and then go through their wrong answers on non-words to examine the reasons why they said they knew the non-words (Paul, Stallman and O'Rourke, 1990).
  2. Compare multiple choice items containing L1 choices with items containing L2 choices.
  3. Devise a well based measure of total vocabulary size for non-native speakers.
  4. Measure the pattern of native speaker and ESL non-native speaker vocabulary growth.

Chapter 11: Designing the vocabulary component of a language course

  1. Design a needs analysis questionnaire to determine vocabulary needs outside the high frequency general service vocabulary.
  2. Design an evaluation form for evaluating the vocabulary component of a course.
  3. Develop a program for helping learners become autonomous vocabulary learners. Justify your decisions.
  4. Develop means of investigating the degree to which learners are autonomous in their vocabulary learning.