May 2017
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  1. Volume 2 Month 10 Day 13 – Learning Vocabulary through Puzzle and Text



    Many studies have been conducted to develop new strategies for learning vocabulary. The effects of the two strategies introduced, which included learning vocabulary through text and by completing puzzles are compared in this study. In the study 40 Iranian English students were divided into 2 groups. The 70 new words chosen were the same for both groups with the method of teaching being different for each group. The sessions were conducted on a weekly basis. Data was gathered over a time period of less than 2 months. The analysis of the results show that neither group performed significantly better than the other. The scores achieved in pre-tests and post-testing showed that learning vocabulary was equally effective for both the text and puzzle methods.

    Keywords: vocabulary learning, new words, text reading, puzzle


    Many students have problems with vocabulary learning and it is considered as a kind of demanding process to them. But learning second language vocabulary is necessary for SL learners, because lexical problems interfere with communication and students are aware that communication stops when they lack the necessary words.

    Learning vocabulary can be conducted through different ways that are either incidental or intentional. Many different strategies are considered as the incidental vocabulary learning. Vocabulary learning through reading is a kind of incidental vocabulary learning in which the learner tries to guess the meaning of new words through the clues available in the text. Vocabulary learning through puzzle is an intentional vocabulary learning in which the attention of the learner is directly focused on learning new words. Many studies have been conducted for providing some good strategies in vocabulary learning. This study is not to introduce different strategies of vocabulary learning, but to investigate the effect of two different methods of vocabulary teaching on the extent of learning. For this purpose the same words were chosen. They were introduced to the students through two different vocabulary teaching strategies. Both of them are introduced at the following.

    Two strategies used in this study:

    One of these strategies is learning new words through text and by guessing the meaning of new words and the other one is word play, that is, learning new words through crossword puzzles and scrambled words. The first strategy is to introduce some text to students and encourage them to guess the meaning of new words through reading the text and by the use of clues. The new unknown words are italicized and highlighted for consciousness-raising.

     According to Watts-Taff and Graves, words are used in contexts differently. Sometimes they are clearly defined and mostly clues in the text can help learners to understand the meaning of the words. These context clues occur in different parts of the text in different forms. They are located before or after the new unknown words. The best clues are those that are located in the same sentences but sometimes, useful clues are in the next or other sentences and paragraphs. According to these clues, students can guess the meaning of new words.

    Vocabulary leaning through text is beneficial in that memorizing the meaning of new words based on dictionaries does not make students familiar with the use of words in the contexts. The important issue that must be noted in this strategy is that students should be able to distinguish the whole meaning of the text, so this strategy is mostly used for advanced learners and those who are able to understand the general meaning of the text through the known words. This strategy helps students to get familiar with the usage of words in different contexts, so they can use these words regularly in their writing and speaking and the words do not revert to the students’ passive vocabulary. 

    Much research has been done to investigate the extent of vocabulary learning through texts and the importance of guessing strategies in text reading. Studies like Liu and Nation (1984), Nagy et al (1984) and Mckeown (1985) have shown that students can learn new words by guessing the meaning of new words through texts. In their study Nagy et al. (1985) showed that vocabulary learning is affected by the text reading and guessing the meaning of new words through context. They also mentioned that older students could learn better through this strategy. Mckeown et al (1985), also in their study that was conducted in two weeks, showed that wide exposure to more contexts is very useful and beneficial in vocabulary learning. Both of these studies showed that text reading and context play a very important role in vocabulary learning.      

    The second strategy is to introduce new words to the students through puzzles. Deciphering crossword puzzles requires exact spelling, which for students may mean practicing dictionary skills. Students can expand their vocabulary through playing with words. Studies have shown that word play makes students more active and they enjoy learning. In this strategy the mind is entangled. The learners improve their memory, orthography, reasoning, and spelling as well as increase their problem solving skills.

    To solve any crossword puzzle, a person must be able to identify and understand the terms being used. This often involves acquiring new vocabulary. Puzzle solving is a kind of active form of learning. Crossword puzzles have endured as a favorite world wide pastime because they appeal to all ages, they can be completed in a rather brief period of time, and solving them provides a sense of accomplishment. For all these reasons, crosswords make a terrific educational tool, and teachers will probably continue to use them for many years to come.

    In his seminal 1979 article on the topic of vocabulary through puzzles, Danesi outlines some reasons why puzzles should be considered as viable supplementary activities in language teaching, and it seems that this rationale is still applicable today. Danesi contends that most people enjoy the challenge of solving puzzles that do not demand advanced calculations or specific technical skills. While ensuring that learners find class material enjoyable may not be an absolute necessity for a technique to be effective, if an activity can be both fun and educational at the same time, it seems only sensible to capitalize on this somewhat unique set of teaching and learning circumstances in the classroom.

     Research questions

    The following research questions were investigated:

    1) Is vocabulary learning through text more effective than vocabulary learning through puzzle in assisting comprehension of word meaning?

    2) Is vocabulary learning through text more effective than vocabulary learning through puzzle in assisting retention of word meaning?

    Research Methodology                                                            


    The participants were 40 EFL students (%75 Female& %25 Male) in one of the Payam Nour Universities of Iran. Most of the students were studying in the third semester of the English course and had studied English for two years as an academic course. The average age of the subjects was 20 years old. 

    Materials & Methods

    For teaching to the students, 70 words with high difficulty level were chosen. To find whether the students know the meaning of the chosen words or not, a pretest was given to them.  The pretest included 20 randomly chosen words that were a sample of the whole 70 words that were supposed to be taught during the course.

    Most students were not able to answer the pretest questions so they submitted the papers to the teacher very soon without any answers on their answer sheets. There was no time limit for answering the questions. Tests were designed in such a way that new words constituted the questions. The correct answers were shown along with some simple distracting words, so that students could find the correct answers unequivocally if they were familiar with the new words presented in the questions. The students were informed that each wrong answer would have a negative influence on their scores because correction for guessing was done.

    The result of these multiple choice designed pretest questions confirmed that the students were not familiar with the chosen vocabulary.

    The period of course was 8 sessions, and in each session about 8 to 9 new words were taught to each group. The synonyms of the new words were given to make clear the meaning of each new word before presenting puzzles. At the next session before teaching new words a test of the previous session words was given to each student.  In the puzzle group, the same words were introduced primarily to students with their definitions. The students were asked to read them and try to memorize them. Then the students were to find the new words in the puzzles according to the definition and clues about each word presented by the teacher. The first student who found the word raised her/his hand and introduced the location of the word to the other students. After doing the puzzle, students went through the next exercise that was scrambled words. The students again, according to the teacher’s instructions, found the new words and rearranged them in the correct way. At the end of 8 sessions a posttest (the same as the pretest) was given to each student.

    For the text reading group, the new words were designed in texts and the students were allowed to read them and guess the meaning of the new words. Then the teacher elicited their guesses and encouraged them to give their opinions. Then the meaning of each new word was presented by the teacher. Some fill-in-the-blank exercises were introduced at the end of each session for establishing the meaning of the new words in the students mind. At the next session before teaching new words, a test of the previous session words was given to each student. At the end of 8 sessions a posttest (the same as the pretest) was given to each student.

    During the last session, in order to probe the learners’ perspective on the different vocabulary learning strategies and to see whether they were satisfied by the teaching methods or not, some questionnaires were submitted to the students. The questionnaires were written in the students’ native language. The questions were about their interests and the way they liked the situation. They stated their sex in the questionnaires.  Each item was fixed to a 4-point Likert scale, ranging from ‘Strongly Disagree (1) to ‘Strongly Agree’ (4).

    To evaluate the differences between sample means of these two independent groups, t-test should be calculated. So the difference between the means for these two different groups relative to standard error of differences between means should be evaluated. Analyzing the results showed that the difference between the means of pretest and posttest of both groups is not significant. Both groups learned the new words in the same way and vocabulary learning through text was just as effective as vocabulary learning through puzzle. 

    Table1. Text Group














    Table2. Puzzle Group















    Learning new words has always been a difficult process for students and many strategies have been introduced as the solution, including learning vocabulary through texts and crossword puzzles. In this study both of these strategies were used for teaching vocabulary to study the effect of them in learning new words to advanced learners. Results of the study showed that the difference between retention and comprehension of new words through text and puzzles is not significant.

    Friendly competition in the puzzle group is considered as an important factor and students like these circumstances. Vocabulary learning through text helps the learners to become familiar with the usage of the words. Danesi (1979) suggests that introducing puzzles may also serve as a needed change of pace to the daily routine of teaching techniques and can perhaps serve to increase student motivation as a result. Clearly it is to the learner’s advantage to be exposed to a variety of classroom techniques so that interest is maintained. Crossword puzzles are the best exercises that can be used for confirming the meaning of words in the students mind. So learning new words is best done by introducing new words through texts and confirming their meaning in the mind through puzzles. Using puzzles is considered as a tool that allows language teachers to add color to their classroom activities and create mental exercises, thus providing challenge and entertainment at the same time.

    In this study some questionnaires were submitted to the students in which they were asked to answer some questions in their native language. By studying the questionnaires, it was found that male students were more interested and satisfied in vocabulary learning through puzzle. These results may indicate that males are better at competition activities (Bacon showed in his studies that females are better at cooperative learning). This issue can be studied in regard to different strategies of learning vocabulary and further research concentrated on that can be conducted on the psychological reasons behind the inclination of one sex toward some strategies compared with other strategies. Since the subjects of study were not informed of the situation of the research, anxiety may be considered as an impeding factor to learning at this study. Further study may be conducted at an anxiety free situation. In this study which was a comparison between intentional and incidental vocabulary leaning, the students encountered the target words in texts during reading activities, but the words were presented separately in the exercises to see whether students were able to understand the meaning of the new words in different sentences or not (see appendix). This kind of exercises integrated incidental and intentional vocabulary learning in the text group and the results might have been affected by such an activity.


    Bacon, S. M. (1992) the relationship between gender, comprehension, processing strategies, and cognitive and affective response in foreign language listening. The Modern Language Journal 76:160-178.

    Bromberg, M., Gordon, M. (2000). 1100 words you need to know. United States of America. Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.

    Camille L.Z B., Fisher P. J. national college of education. National-Louis University. Watts-Taffe S. educational researcher and consultant. Integrated vocabulary instruction: Meeting the needs of diverse learners

    Carter R. (1998). Vocabulary: Applied Linguistic Perspective. London. Routledge.

    Danesi, M. (1979). Puzzles in language teaching. The Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes, 35, 269-277

    French, V. A. (1983). Techniques in Teaching Vocabulary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Graves, M.F. & Watts-taffe, S. (2002). The place of word consciousness in a research based vocabulary program. In S.J. Samuels & A. Farstrup, what research has to say about reading instruction (3 rd Ed). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

    Harley H. (2007) English words A Linguistic Introduction. Blackwell publishing. C.O.S. printers pte Ltd

    Read J. (2000) Assessing vocabulary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    Liu, N. and Nation I.S.P. (1985). Factors affecting guessing vocabulary in context. RELC Journal 16. 1.33-42

    McKeown, M.G., Beck, I.L., Omanson R.C. and Pople, M.T. (1985b)

    Nagy, W.E., Herman, P.A. and Anderson, R.C. (1985). Learning words from context. Reading research quarterly 20:233-253.

    Schmitt, N., (2002). An Introduction to Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Watcyn- Jones P. (2001) vocabulary: game and activities. Pearson Education Limited. Penguin Books Ltd. Longman.


    About the Author


    Zeynab Azimi

    University of Kashan ,Iran


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