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The crucial role of vocabulary in learning a foreign and/or second language is obviously undisputed. The invention and introduction of an innumerable number of techniques to ELT practitioners could in part be in response to such significance. The question, however, is: Does the application of cooperative games in class boost vocabulary retrieval? To answer this question, the present study investigates vocabulary gain on a one-month intensive English course in an Iranian language institute. To achieve this, a group of 20 students were taken and experimented upon. In the course of the experiment, the group was provided with as many games as possible and to gage the vocabulary gain, the vocabulary pre-test and post-test were correlated using the Pearson product-moment correlation. The results obtained could suggest that the inclusion of cooperative games seems to improve vocabulary retrieval. In addition to describing the vocabulary gain by the participants, the paper discusses the attitudes and feelings of the participants as stated in an interview conducted at the end of the course. The investigation mainly indicates that the participants found the games helpful in combating stressful learning situations, hence learning better.
2.4 Data collection
2.5 Data Analysis
3) Results and Discussions
3.1 Tests results
3.2 Interview results
Despite the fact that vocabulary is generally considered a subskill of language, its absence or even dearth could potentially render the receiving and producing of language via the four conventionally known skills inefficient and at times even infeasible; in other words, the utilization of the receptive and productive skills is simply hampered when this component is missing. Drawing an analogy between vocabulary of a language and the wheels of a car might seem logical in that in their absence neither the language nor the car functions as planned.
Although the literature accents the role of lexicon in both first and second language learning, this has predominantly taken the form of rote learning, rather than a meaningful approach to learning. "Several approaches to language learning have been proposed that view vocabulary and lexical units as central in learning and teaching"(Richards, J., and T. Rodgers. 1986, p.132). "Holophrases"(Corder 1973), "prefabricated patterns" (Hakuta 1974), "speech formulae" (Peters 1983) are among such approaches. These approaches, nevertheless, seem to tap one of the aspects of learning- namely, the cognitive domain. The affective and social domains are not captured soundly and are somehow neglected.
Furthermore "traditionally, vocabulary has not been a particular subject for students to learn, but has been taught within lessons of speaking, listening, reading and writing"(Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen and Khuat Thi Thu Nga, 2003:2). With the advent of CLT, however, a shift was launched from sheer usage to a reasonable amalgam of usage and use. In CLT, " language techniques are designed to enable learners in the pragmatic, authentic, functional use of language for meaning"(Brown, H. Douglas 2000, p. 266). Over the past few years and with the changes brought about by CLT, vocabulary seems to have changed from a peripheral concept to a more determining factor in language learning. CLT has thus emended two shortcomings of the process of vocabulary teaching and learning- the lack of meaningfulness in vocabulary learning contexts and the missing significance of vocabulary in relation to other language skills.
The recent emergence of numerous research projects, and consequently the invention and introduction of an innumerable number of techniques and strategies could to some extent be owing to such significance. Among this myriad of techniques and strategies currently available to ELT practitioners, games have received a considerable amount of attention. " In the easy, relaxed atmosphere which is created by using games, students remember things faster and better" (Wierus and Wierus 1994:218). Games are mainly utilized either to present new vocabulary items or to consolidate the already presented vocabulary items, thus making storage and retrieval more efficient.
"Games are often used as short warm-up activities or when there is some time left at the end of a lesson. Yet, as Lee (1979:3) observes, a game "should not be regarded as a marginal activity filling in odd moments when the teacher and class have nothing better to do." Games ought to be at the heart of teaching foreign languages. Rixon suggests that games be used at all stages of the lesson, provided that they are suitable and carefully chosen "(Agnieszka Uberman 1998, p. 20).Wright, Betteridge, and Buckby( 1984, p. 1) also comment in a similar way that "if it is accepted that games can provide intense and meaningful practice of language, then they must be regarded as central to a teacher's repertoire. They are thus not for use solely on wet days and at the end of term!"
Lee(1979:2) also holds that "most language games make learners use the language instead of thinking about learning the correct forms." A similar opinion is expressed by Richard-Amato, who believes games to be fun but warns against overlooking their pedagogical value, particularly in foreign language teaching. There are many advantages of using games. "Games can lower anxiety, thus making the acquisition of input more likely" (Richard-Amato 1988:147). Ersoz (2000) also contends that "games are highly appreciated due to their amusement and interest. Teachers can use games to help their students practice more their skills of communication."
Games have particularly been found helpful in teaching and learning vocabulary. "Vocabulary games bring real world context into the classroom, and enhance students' use of English in a flexible, communicative way" (Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen and Khuat Thi Thu Nga, 2003:2). Games also help creating a friendly atmosphere where the context is non-threatening and learners' defenses are lowered and they are ready to dedicate their full potential to learning vocabulary efficiently. Moreover, vocabulary games tend to actively engage all learners so as to enhance cooperation among them. " Games also lend themselves well to revision exercises helping learners recall material in a pleasant, entertaining way"(Agnieszka Uberman 1998, p. 20). Further support comes from Zdybiewska (1994:6), who believes games to be a good way of practicing language, for they provide a model of what learners will use the language for in real life in the future. "Therefore, the role of games in teaching and learning vocabulary cannot be denied. However, in order to achieve the most from vocabulary games, it is essential that suitable games are chosen. Whenever a game is to be conducted, the number of students, proficiency level, cultural context, timing, learning topic, and the classroom settings are factors that should be taken into account" (Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen and Khuat Thi Thu Nga, 2003:2).
As the literature in this respect indicates, games can be utilized to create a cooperative atmosphere where learners are encouraged to work together and help each other achieve a common goal. Nevertheless, the literature does not provide much information on the usefulness of cooperative games- games which encourage teamwork and cooperation among learners, as opposed to competitive games in fostering better vocabulary retrieval. Therefore, this study attempts to single out the conducting of cooperative games and their impact on vocabulary retrieval in an intensive English Elementary course which lasted one month.
The study was conducted at an Iranian language institute where teaching is predominantly done according to CLT. The sample of participants in the study included an elementary-level class of 20 students. The population- that is, the whole number of elementary-level students, was 242. The sample represented nearly 8 percent of the entire population. All the participants were male and were between 16 and 31 years of age, the average was 21. 80 percent of the students were from Tehran, the capital city of Iran, another 20% were from other provinces and were living in Tehran to continue their studies at the tertiary level. 35 percent of the participants were high school students, 40% were university students, and the remaining 20% had finished their graduate studies. Only one of the students had never been to high school and consequently higher education. All the participants had Persian as their mother tongue and two of them could also speak Azeri. They all had had a minimum of 3 months of English instruction at this institute, thereby being familiar with the principles of the institute. The students were not informed of their being involved in such a study since it could have jeopardized the final results.
A standardized vocabulary test prepared by Pearson Education Limited 2005 was utilized to serve as both pre-test and post-test. The pre-test was administered on 7th December, 2010 in the second session of the course. The post-test was given on 5th of January, 2011 after a month of instruction having utilized as many games as possible. The test is composed of various forms which all possess an apt degree of face and construct validity.
Before administering the post-test, the participants were interviewed on their attitudes towards what they had experienced in the course of this study. The interview principally consisted of open-ended questions so as to enable the students to freely voice their opinions on the merits and demerits of such an approach to vocabulary learning. They were particularly required to compare their previous experiences of vocabulary learning and the effects of such experiences in terms of vocabulary storage and retrieval. Furthermore, the participants were expected to opine whether they had found cooperative games more helpful and instructive than their counterparts- competitive games.
2.4 Data collection
The pre- and post-tests were administered on 7th December, 2010 and 5th January, 2011 respectively. The tests of 2 students were not included in the final analysis because they were absent in either of the two test sessions. Prior to giving both tests, the chairs were arranged in a way which minimized the chances of students copying the answers from each other's papers. It took the participants 31 minutes on average to answer the questions; it took the fastest student 22 minutes, and the slowest 36 minutes.
The interview was conducted on 4th January, one day before the post-test was administered. The questions were mainly open-ended, thus giving the participants the opportunity to comment genuinely and refer to matters beyond the scope of expectations. This, however, made the data coding complex and time-consuming. The interview was tape-recorded with the students being oblivious to this again in order to let them freely air their opinions. The whole interview lasted nearly 60 minutes to conduct.
2.5 Data analysis
The following statistical analyses were conducted on the results of the tests. True mean gains, standard deviations, and ranges for the pre- and post-tests were computed to see if there was any significant difference between the gains of the participants before and after they received this particular vocabulary instruction. Then the two calculated means of the pre- and post-tests were correlated utilizing the Pearson product-moment correlation. Furthermore, scores on the pre- and post-tests were subjected to Kuder-Richardson 21 to estimate their reliability coefficients.
3 Results and Discussions
In this chapter, selected results from the tests are presented first. Then, the research hypothesis regarding the relationship between the treatment- the teaching and revising of vocabulary through cooperative games and the tests results will be addressed. In the final section of the chapter, the results of the interview will be presented.
3.1 Tests results
An analysis of the tests results reveals that the particular instruction of vocabulary using cooperative games made the two means correlate positively.
Table 1 Descriptive statistics of the pre- and post-tests
As table 1 shows, the mean gains of the participants relating to before and after the offering of the treatment differ quite significantly. As the standard deviations and also the ranges reveal, the participants were more widely distributed before the treatment was offered. In other words, the scores of the participants regressed towards the post-test mean gain and they became more alike.
Table 2 Pearson product-moment correlation.*P<0.01
Table 2 presents the results of the Pearson product-moment correlation between the pre- and post-tests scores. The hypothesis is as follows:
There is a significant positive relationship between the application of cooperative games and vocabulary retrieval
Table 2 also indicates that the alternative hypothesis that there is a significant positive relationship between the application of cooperative games and vocabulary retrieval is supported by the present study, particularly with respect to the correlation run between the pre- and post-tests. Thus, the results can be said to be significant, since there is only a 1 percent probability that the observed correlation of 0.85 occurred by chance alone. Further, notice in table 2 that the squared value of r=0.85 is r2=0.72. Thus, the application of cooperative games while teaching and/or revising vocabulary accounts for about 72 percent of vocabulary retrieval as gauged by the vocabulary post-test. Therefore, it could soundly be hypothesized that the results are meaningful as well as significant.
3.2 Interview results
An analysis of the interview results further supports the significance and meaningfulness of the alternative hypothesis stated in the previous section. The implications provided in table 3 are mainly what the participants themselves made reference to without being prompted or elicited.
Table 3 Attitudes of the participants towards cooperative games
The games we played helped me to:
1) understand word meanings more easily
2) remember word meanings quickly
3) learn word pronunciations in class
4) play and learn at the same time
5) learn faster with my friends' help
6) work in teams and help my friends learn faster
7) learn new words and use them when playing
8) make more friends in class
As table 3 shows, when interviewed and asked about the usefulness of such an approach to vocabulary learning, the participants rated the easier understanding of vocabulary meanings first and the learning and utilization of vocabulary while playing second. There were many other positive comments on the usefulness of this way of learning vocabulary, but they were not included for the sake of space. However, it is necessary to point out the fact that two of the participants who were both over the average age of the class complained that games did not particularly enable them to learn better and that the inclusion of games made the class seem less serious and somehow wasted the time. Also, of significant importance inherent in the interview results, is the fact that most of the participants preferred cooperative games as opposed to competitive games, since cooperative games helped them learn and play in a friendly, nonthreatening atmosphere and all attempt to achieve a common, desired goal.
The present study seems to suggest that games, cooperative in nature or application, have the potential of improving vocabulary learning and instruction. Particularly with respect to the results, acquired through the tests and the interview, cooperative games are hypothesized to have a positive relationship with vocabulary retrieval.
One of the reasons for this positively correlated relationship is that games provide more reinforcement of recently presented vocabulary, thus instigating elaboration. "Elaboration is thought of as a process by which incoming information is related to information already stored in permanent memory, thereby enriching the memory representation of the new material" ( David W.Carroll 2008, p. 153 ).
Another reason can be attributed to the fact that cooperative games help establish a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Therefore, correction which is supposedly the "sacrosanct companion" of language learning can be done in a nonthreatening environment where the learners' defenses are lowered for the sake of learning. Furthermore, such a friendly atmosphere can be conducive to learners' cooperation and teamwork in achieving a common goal. Under such circumstances, the more confident feel worthy of respect and trust and the more diffident feel to be equipped with the drive to improve and become more like the more confident.
Still another reason can be ascribed to the fact games tend to add authenticity and genuineness to the usually boring and vacuous process of vocabulary learning- the essential criterion which is often missing in language learning settings. Such a learning environment encourages meaningfulness, thereby converting the conventionally passive ways of vocabulary learning into active means of acquiring vocabulary. Lengeling and Malarcher(1997) contend that from an affective perspective games " promote communicative competence" which can in turn emphasize the role of meaningfulness and real-life use of the acquired vocabulary.
Finally, the application of cooperative games can lead to more creative and critical learners. This seems to contribute to creativity by liberating learners from the constricting shackles and manacles which deprive them of freely engaging in meaningful activities. Fisher, R (1999) identifies various steps to be taken in order for creative thinking to emerge- namely, stimulus, exploration, planning, activity, and review. It seems logical to claim that well-organized cooperative games can instigate all these steps. Moreover, subliminal critical thinking is sought take shape and be utilized while playing and learning simultaneously.
This study investigated the relationship between the application of cooperative games, while teaching or revising vocabulary, and vocabulary retrieval. The study included such provision for a group of 20 elementary-level students enrolled on an intensive course, spanning nearly one month. The study began by administering a standardized vocabulary pre-test and then utilizing as many cooperative games as possible to both teach and revise vocabulary items. To gauge the effectiveness of this approach to vocabulary teaching, two measures were used- an interview and a vocabulary post test. The interview was conducted chiefly to seek the participants' opinions on the advantages and potential disadvantages of this way of learning vocabulary. And finally, the post-test was given a day after the interview has taken place.
On the one hand, the results of the study, to some extent, support those of Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen and Khuat Thi Thu Nga (2003), since they claimed that the inclusion of games brings with itself advantages and effectiveness in learning vocabulary. They, however, mainly referred to games in rather a broad sense- that is, no distinction was made between the potential effectiveness of cooperative games as opposed to competitive games, whereas the present study attempted to make a fine distinction between the abovementioned sorts of games.
The results of the study, on the other hand, run counter to a commonly held belief which considers games to be no more than mere time-filling activities principally used to either "break the ice" or "break from the monotony of drilling". The study strongly supports the inclusion of cooperative games not only as an effectual means of creating a friendly atmosphere which consequently results in better learning, but also as a central constituent of teaching vocabulary.
Therefore, the crucial role cooperative games can play in further improving the quality of vocabulary instruction is simply undeniable. Cooperative games can be utilized to both teach and revise vocabulary. Moreover, they have proved to help gain better understanding and meanwhile more efficient retrieval. However, it might also be of interest to investigate whether cooperative games can be used to improve productive and/or receptive skills. Another issue raised by this study is whether cooperative games can be utilized at all levels of proficiency to teach the language skills and subskills.