Vocabulary Games As A Tool for Teaching objective

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For many learners studying English as a foreign language, vocabulary learning is considered as boring, as they have to memorize unfamiliar words and spelling (Nguyen & Khuat, 2003) and are typically asked to complete lots of exercises. Learners find it hard to engage in such rote learning of vocabulary activities. In order to alleviate the problem, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) system often use multimedia to engage learners more in the learning process. Game playing is another popular way to engage learners in language learning (Schult & Fisher,1988). Prensky (2001,p.106) listed 12 elements as to why games engage people. To name a few games motivate players (to achieve goals), gratify the ego (when winning), are fun (through enjoyment and pleasure) and spark the players' creativity (solve the game)

The use of interactive games has impacted on the mode of learning (Foreman et all, 2004) Krasilovsky (1996,p.20) claimed that young learners tend to 'favour "edutainment" application-academic-orientation games'. Wood (2001) investigate the use of learning games as a learning tool and concluded that game-like format could be more effective at capturing learners' attention that traditional media such as textbooks.

This paper reports research conducted in spring of 2003 on the usefulness of online vocabulary games in English vocabulary building for some Hong Kong undergraduate engineering students in terms of learning outcomes.


Are online games a favourable learning tool compared with activity based learning lessons?

Which group performs better in the post-test, experimental group or the control group?

Does the role of the teacher as researcher and facilitator and instructions given influence the outcome of the research ?


This section reviews the literature on the vocabulary learning and evaluative criteria for educational web site with games.

Channel (1988) argued for the need for teaching approaches for vocabulary learning as a separate learning activity since the lexicon that organizes the mental vocabulary in a speaker 's mind appears to be in an independent entity in processing. Carter pointed to the need for both a static approach (i.e word semantic) and dynamic approach (i.e word usage) in vocabulary teaching and learning.

As Taylor (1990) pointed out, receptive and productive skills are both within the domain of vocabulary learning. However, a learner may be overloaded if she/he is asked to learn both word meaning and form simultaneously. Thus learners may start off with learning word meaning by stressing receptive skills. After gaining a firm grasp of the word meaning, the learners may then try other mean, such as choral repetition, to help with understanding of word forms. This will assist them in using the learnt words correctly in new contexts.

Appropriate use of sensual stimuli is believed to be beneficial to learning, not only for ordinary learners but also for learners with learning difficulties (Schmidt, 2005). Allen (1983) believed that the more coherent sensual stimuli as learner is exposed to in learning process, the higher the chance that she/he will learn successfully. Taylor (1990) added that 'a combination of stimuli is desirable, with written consolidation for adults, in order to facilitate transfer from short-term to long-term memory.

Heidemann (1995) expressed a similar view in relation to three main concerns guiding the design of the visual materials on learning web pages, namely learner-oriented principles (e.g maintaining learner motivation),picture features (e.g presenting vocabulary items in semantically related groups) and picture functions (e.g pictures are remembered better that words and can therefore act as mediators of new knowledge). The research community generally agrees that visual elements like pictures help learners remember and recall the words they have seen.

Two evaluation models, namely CARE (Yuen & So, 1990) and WSE (Kim et all. , 2001), were adopted in this study for the evaluation of educational web sites:

Educational perspective

Technical perspective

Five guidelines were described by Wood (2001) to help design effective vocabulary learning software from an educational perspective:

Relating the new to the known;

Promoting active, in-depth processing;

Providing multiple exposures to new words;

Teaching students to be strategic readers;

Promoting additional reading.

With regards to the desirable technical features of a vocabulary web site, Wood (2001) suggested the following:


Sound components;

Hints or clues related to word meaning;

Multimodal presentation of information;

Online definitions, glossaries or thesauruses

The above features are believed to be also applicable to the design of educational games.

Cowan (1974) listed some other evaluative criteria for assessing vocabulary games.


Peer Interaction

Continuous Motivation

Minimum Equipment

Two vocabulary websites developed by the English Centre at the University of Hong

Kong and University Word Web were used for this research.


The research methods used in this study include a quasi-experiment, survey questionnaires and interviews.


1.4.1 Results of the pre-test and post-test

The results suggested that learning with the vocabulary websites which included games is more effective than activity based learning. The statistical evidence also clearly indicates that the experimental group outperformed the control group in the post-test. Finally, the findings also indicated that the teachers who taught in the control group and in the experimental group were all experienced teachers. They used the same set of teaching and learning materials. Therefore the statistical results would not be expected to be particularly sensitive to teacher competence and style.

1.4.2. Results of survey questionnaire

The results showed, over 70% of the respondents found the games to be enjoyable and effective in helping their vocabulary building. They also preferred the games in Professional Word web to University Word Web.

Responses to vocabulary sites

The majority of them stated that the were satisfied with the resources, navigation and

instructions by the two sites as they were readily available and relevant.

Online vocabulary learning versus face-to-face learning lessons

About 68% pf the respondents preferred the use of websites for vocabulary learning

compared to face-to-face learning lessons.


The results show quantitatively and qualitatively that learners playing the online

vocabulary games tend to learn better and could remember the learnt vocabulary longer than those who learnt face-to-face vocabulary. Research showed that vocabulary learning can be significantly improved by their use. Majority students preferred online games because they want autonomy in their learning and want to control their own learning from vocabulary websites with games.

Students also preferred more motivating games to retain interest and effectiveness of learning. Teachers feel their role is more prominent with the use of communication technology tools.




This is a quasi-experimental study done for about 9 weeks. Since participants cannot be

randomly assigned and does not provide for full control of potential confounding variables. There are 2 groups, the experimental group and the control group. These 2 groups are then divided into another 3 groups of experimental groups ; Groups A, B and C. Three groups for control group; Groups D, E and F. A pre-test and post-test is conducted in the first and the ninth week.

The experimental group used vocabulary words from selected websites to learn and the other 3 groups were required to learn the same vocabulary through-activity based learning.


The subjects in this study were 100 freshmen majoring in engineering in the Hong Kong

University of Science and Technology in the academic year 2002-2003. The subjects were randomly placed in 6 groups. Three groups, Classes A, Band C were randomly selected as the experimental group. The other groups D, E and F formed the control group.

Each class had a size of 18 in the control group, whereas the experimental group had 15-16 students. 87% of the subjects were male and 13 % were female, as engineering is traditionally a male discipline.


The subjects in this study were required to take a pre-test and a post-test. The

experimental procedure used by GROOT in his CAVOCA study (Groot,2000) was drawn upon and adapted. Five steps were involved:

1). Pre-test

2). Learning Process

3). Post-test

4). Survey questionnaires

5). Interviews



Use proposed checklist to evaluate the selected websites that contain vocabulary games

Subjects are chosen at random

Use suitable methodology; a quasi-experiment, survey questionnaire and interviews

Pre-test conducted to test receptive and productive skills

(answer 30-fill-in-the-blank questions in 30 minutes)

Learning Process

(2 50-minute lessons each week for 9 weeks)


(after the 9th week)

Survey Questionnaire

(given to the experimental group )


(the experimental group and teachers were interviewed)

Figure 1.1 Research Procedure


Measures of dispersion was used to analyse the data collected. The independent

samples t-test was applied to examine if the differences between the mean scores of the control and experimental groups in the pre-test and post-test were statistically significant (Pく 0.05). An equal variances assumption was used when applying the t-test as the difference in the standard deviations of the sampled distributions (pre-test and post-test) was rather small. Equal.

The t-test results show that for the pre-test the difference in the mean scores between the groups was not significant (P=0.0616). However, in the post-test the value of P was 0.0136, indicating a significant difference between the mean scores obtained by the two groups. The effect sizes of the control and experimental groups were found to be 0.2373 and 1.3976 respectively. The mean score in the post-test was at the 91.9 percentile of that of the pre-test (Cohen, 1988).

The statistical evidence indicates that the experimental group outperformed the control group in the post-test.

Below is a table to show the results of the analysis :

Test Type

Group type


Mean SD






7.89 3.165




8.02 3.054






8.59 2.718




11.78 2.269



Table 1.1. Results of an independent samples t-test with equal variances assumed (full score=15)