When it comes to helping students with academic vocabulary, the range of words and phrases they might encounter in the course of their academic studies is huge and can be somewhat daunting. So when we were putting together the new Oxford Academic Vocabulary Practicebooks, we decided quite early on that the most useful area to focus on would be productive vocabulary: that is the words and phrases that students are actually likely to use in their own writing.
For all learners, indeed all speakers of a language, their productive vocabulary – the words they actively use regularly – is a subset of their receptive vocabulary – the words they recognize and understand passively. As teachers though, we often forget this distinction and vocabulary lessons can end up a mixed bag of new words and those that are already familiar, words that students are likely to use and those they may only come across occasionally. Concentrating on just the vocabulary that students are most likely to use in their writing can help to tune out some of the ‘noise’ and create more realistic, focused vocabulary-learning goals. In this post, I’ll share just three of the criteria we used to help achieve this aim.
1. Realistic models
It’s often said that the best way to improve your vocabulary is to read as much as possible. For students of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), it’s true that reading and noticing the vocabulary used by academic writers is important in developing their receptive vocabulary, but published academic texts may not always provide the best model for studying productive vocabulary.