Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Using Vocabulary Notebooks Part 2

This blog post is about Step 1 of my action research on using vocabulary notebooks to encourages students to use vocabulary learning strategies to write and speak more accurate and intelligible English. 
Steps in Action Research
Step 1) Identifying an issue, problem, or puzzle we wish to investigate in our own context
Step 2) Thinking and planning an appropriate action to address the concern
Step 3) carrying out the action
Step 4) Observing the apparent outcomes of the action
Step 5) reflecting on the outcomes and other possibilities
Step 6) repeating these steps again

As I wrote before, I had been teaching one general English class for a number at a university and felt that students were not making as much progress in terms of becoming more accurate and articulate users of the language as I would have liked. Before trying this intervention, my first step was to try to identify the students' problems in producing English. So I gave them the below task:
Please introduce yourself to me. Tell me why you chose to attend University X. What is your dream for after university? How do you plan to spend your 4 years here? What are your goals for this class? Also, please tell me anything else you think I should know. 

I then underlined their errors in their writing using the  error codes (I actually call them feedback codes) that I developed a few years ago. What I do is I underline errors and give them a particular marking. Students have a feedback code sheet that tells them the meaning of a particular mark and then they try to fix the mistake. Here is the abbreviated version:

Verb form (V): There are four types of V errors that mark errors related to verb usage or incompatible prepositions with verbs.
Noun Ending (NE): Errors in singular/plural or with apostrophes
Article (ART): Error in article usage.
Word Choice (WC): There are four types of WC errors which can indicate that the wrong word form, an incorrect preposition, or an unidiomatic word of phrase.
Sentence Structure (SS): There are 6 types of sentence structure errors. Sentences, phrases, or words labeled SS need more words, need less words, should be rewritten, should be moved to a different position in the sentence, or should be corrected with another sentence. 

There were students errors in their self introductions as well as the average number of words. By far the most frequent error type was SS2.

WC1 WC2 WC3 WC4 ART NE SS2 SS3 SS4 SS5 V1 V2 V3 Words
2 5 2 5 25 14 70 19 0 2 11 2 6 131.3

An SS2 is a sentence level error and basically means that the sentence the student wrote needs to be rewritten because there is an error in sentence level syntax or the phrases used do not have the meaning that the students intended. Here are some examples of SS2 errors:
  • Because of I chose to attend University X is I want to study knowledge of information and software.
  • Second is University has four major difficult each other. 
I returned the paper to the students with the handout that contained the error codes. I then asked them to fix the sentences marked with SS2 by doing the following:
1) Write the sentence  on a separate piece of paper.
2) Write what you wanted to say in Japanese (Often, I could not tell what they wanted to write so this was necessary.
3) Write the corrected sentence below the Japanese.

After they did this, I collected their work and corrected it if necessary.

Here is an example of a student's original error, the intended meaning in Japanese, their correction, and, lastly, my correction if necessary.

SS2 For example, they are thinking as important the cooperation with other medical fields and the nursing training
Japanese X大学は、他の医療分野との連携と実習を重視している。
Student University X is thinking as important the cooperation and training.
Jimbo University X is placing importance on cooperating with other medical fields and nurse training.

After doing this, I also told them that having an SS2 error was not necessarily bad because often it meant that they were experimenting with new and challenging language. I added that those students who did not have any SS2 errors might not have challenged themselves as those who did. However, I also said that if their papers had too many SS2 errors that could also be a problem. It either meant that they used a translating program to do their paper or they could have been more careful about looking up how to use unknown words before writing them. I explained to them three possible causes of SS2 errors and possible measures to take to reduce these mistakes:

Cause 1: Confusion about sentence grammar. 
Measure to take: This often happens when students try to write sentences that are more long and complicated than they have to be. One idea is to try to write more concisely or simply using the English that you know.
Example of Cause 1: I want to become a teacher to engage in about the teaching of the elderly person in the future. 
A more concise sentence: I want to become a teacher for elderly people in the future.  

Cause 2: Confusion about the meaning of a word or phrase. 
Measure to take: If you are not one percent sure about the meaning or usage of a word or phrase, look it up in a dictionary and see if the meaning or usage matches what you want to say.
Example of Cause 2: I thought that the revival advanced more. (The learner is talking about recovery from the tsunami my prefecture experienced last year)
Sentence with more appropriate vocabulary: I thought that the recovery had advanced more. 
Cause 3: Confusion about the grammar or collocations of a particular word or phrase. 
Measure to take:  Look up the collocations or how the word works grammatically in a dictionary 
Example of Cause 3: But I will try hard as possible as. 
Sentence with appropriate phrase grammar: But I will try as hard as possible.  

In summary, here is what I think the problem is: Students' most common error were sentence-level errors not superficial errors. Most often, students themselves cannot fix these errors and I need them to translate the sentence into Japanese so I can know what they were trying to say. This indicates that students can become confused over sentence structure and proper usage of certain vocabulary and phrases. 

I want the students to use vocabulary notebooks to write down the meaning of a certain word/phrase that they want to learn and any information such as collocations, how the word works grammatically, example sentences, etc. that will help them learn to use the particular words or phrases.  I want students to become more careful users of the language so that they can be their own self-editors, improving their intelligibility in the language. In the next post, I will talk about Steps 2 and 3, planning and then taking an action.


Anonymous said...


I'm glad to see some new content. Your notebook idea seems good. I'm curious to know how much it's helping.

JH said...

Thanks for you comment! I will be writing about what has happened so far this week.

yoaken said...


Do English learners of Japanese language have the same problem with sentence structure ? The Japanese seem to translate literally their sentences in English but I don't remember English speakers doing the same thing when they want to express themselves in Japanese.

JH said...

I think that there are common problems of sentence structure that lower level Japanese learners of English have and one of the primary factors is that they are trying to translate what they want to say from Japanese into English. I think that English speakers studying Japanese in their countries ofter do the same thing as many Japanese learners of English in Japan; translate what they want to say from English to Japanese. Just my opinion though. Thanks for the comment.

yoaken said...

Thank you for your answer. It's true that I remember now having the same problem with sentence structure when I was studying English at JHS and Japanese at university during the first year. Even now, I have some syntax problems when I have to deal with long sentences.

JH said...

I see. When I use Japanese sometimes I have syntax problems when speaking. I might stop in the middle of a long utterance because I am not sure how to finish it! When writing, I do not run into too many syntax problems.

yoaken said...

Thank you for your answer! I'll continue to read your blog.