Implementing L2 Research in Materials Design
by Keith Folse
University of Central Florida
I am a teacher today
because I have always loved school, and I am a materials writer because
from an early age-even elementary school-materials design has always interested
me. I can remember smelling the purplish ink on the mimeographed sheets
that our teachers passed out to us in elementary and then junior high
and high school. A quick glance at the sheet determined whether it was
one that the teacher had made or one that came from the publisher. We
could tell because of the formatting (in the days before personal computers
abounded, the publisher's materials looked more professional) and the
difficulty (the publisher's materials tended to be more difficult).
Even in elementary school, I remember noticing the formatting of exercises.
In second grade, the teacher made us do our cursive alphabet writing on
the front of the paper and then copy whole sentences on the back of the
paper. When I violated her exercise format one day by writing my sentences
on the front page, I got red ink on my paper. Evidently, there was a "best"
way to Mrs. Harris's handwriting activity. Then my fourth-grade teacher
taught us not to use our pencils to fill in the blackened squares on the
crossword puzzles we had to create because the lead was messy and smeared
easily. Instead, Mrs. Casanova showed us how we could get the same effect
by drawing diagonal lines across the squares that we would have blackened.
Perhaps the biggest effect on me was a social studies teacher. Evidently
there was not a workbook for our social studies book, so Mrs. Cuevas made
worksheets for us for practically every day. They consisted of fill in
the blank exercises that had us go through the book looking for the answers.
The exercise was called "key understandings," and that is exactly
what this exercise made us learn. What was interesting about Mrs. Cuevas's
worksheets was the formatting. Instead of having a long blank inside each
sentence, she had a small blank in the sentence to indicate where the
answer should be, but she had a longer blank on the left side of the page.
The sheets were visually appealing. More importantly, with her design,
a teacher could line up all thirty students' papers and grade them rather
1. George Washington was born in February of _______________.
2. John _______________ was the vice-president under Washington.
Mrs. Cuevas's format:
______________ 1. Washington was born in February of -----.
______________ 2. John ----- was the vice-president under Washington.
Many years later, I find myself writing materials for students learning
English as a second language. A question that sometimes comes up when
I am conducting workshops on teaching writing or teaching grammar has
to do with the kinds of exercises or activities that I put in my materials.
Why do we materials writers use a multiple-choice exercise on one page,
a fill-in-the-blank exercise on the next, and then an essay prompt on
the last page of a unit? I had not given much thought to this until I
started working on my doctorate six years ago and had a chance to look
more carefully at the research that exists on second language acquisition.
I noticed that there was a lot of research about the learner (e.g., learning
styles, background knowledge, learner attitudes) and about the teacher
(e.g., teacher preparation, teacher attitudes, methods), but I did not
see anything about the materials, that is, the textbooks.
I am not saying that I did not find any research on materials design,
but I found very little. This is especially shocking when you consider
the number of textbooks that can be found at any TESOL conference or the
amount of money spent on textbooks annually. Some of the research that
interested me was on materials design and learning in L2 vocabulary (Chun
& Plass 1996; Grace 1998; Hulstijn 1993; Paribakht & Wesche 1996;
Tinkham 1993). Though there was not a lot of research, there was some,
and what there was did seem to have implications for materials writers.
Eventually, I compared the effect of commonly used exercises on L2 vocabulary
learning in my own dissertation (Folse 1999). In my current teaching position,
I am often on master's thesis committees, and have directed three thesis
projects that deal with materials writing or design issues (Bernal 2002;
Bizon 2001; Ortiz 2001).
So why do we use a certain kind of activity on a certain page? For the
most part, it is based on intuitive feelings that we have developed through
our own experiences as language learners and as language teachers. These
may or may not be the best ways of practicing and learning a second language.
What I hope to gain from continuing my research is identifying which types
of materials result in better L2 learning or even whether there is any
difference in learning because of different types of practices. We may
find that the type of exercise does not make any difference, in which
case we should write materials that have only fun exercises in them. However,
all of these issues remain unanswered for the time being. It is up to
us materials writers to take the lead in conducting research to find the
answers to these important professional questions.
Selected bibliography of works
on L2 vocabulary learning and materials design
Bernal, H. (2002). Thesis: The current status of pronunciation teaching
and practice in ESL materials. Orlando: The University of Central
Bizon, T. (2001). Thesis: Frequency of Phrasal Verbs in Spoken English.
Orlando: The University of Central Florida.
Chun, D. & Plass, J. (1996). Effects of multimedia annotations on
vocabulary acquisition. The Modern Language Journal, 80 (2), 183-199.
Folse, K. (1999). Dissertation: The effect of type of written practice
activity on second language vocabulary retention. Tampa: The University
of South Florida.
Grace, C. (1998). Retention of word meanings inferred from context and
sentence-level translations: Implications for the design of beginning-level
CALL software. The Modern Language Journal 82 (4), 533-544.
Henning, G. (1973). Remembering foreign language vocabulary: Acoustic
and semantic parameters. Language Learning 23 (2), 185-196.
Hulstijn, J. (1992). Retention of inferred and given word meanings: Experiments
in incidental vocabulary learning. In P. Arnaud & H. Bejoint (Eds.),
Vocabulary and applied linguistics (pp. 113-125). London: Macmillan
Academic and Professional Limited.
Hulstijn, J. (1993). When do foreign-language readers look up the meaning
of unfamiliar words? The influence of task and learner variables. The
Modern Language Journal 77 (2), 139-147.
Hulstijn, J. (in press). Intentional and incidental second-language vocabulary
learning: A reappraisal of elaboration, rehearsal and automaticity. In
P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction. New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Hulstijn, J., Hollander, M., & Greidanus, T. (1996). Incidental vocabulary
learning by advanced foreign language students: The influence of marginal
glosses, dictionary use, and reoccurrence of unknown words. The Modern
Language Journal, 80 (3), 327-339.
Jenkins, J., Matlock, B., & Slocum, T. (1989). Two approaches to vocabulary
instruction: The teaching of individual word meanings and practice in
deriving word meaning from context. Reading Research Quarterly 24
Joe, A. (1995). Task-based tasks and incidental vocabulary learning:
A case study. Second Language Research 11, (2), 159-177.
Joe, A. (1998). What effect do text-based tasks promoting generation have
on incidental vocabulary acquisition? Applied Linguistics, 19 (3),
Jourdenais, R., Ota, M., Stauffer, S., Boyson, B., & Doughty, C. (1995).
Does textual enhancement promote noticing? A think-aloud protocol analysis.
In R. Schmidt (Ed.), Attention and awareness in foreign language learning,
(pp. 1-63). Manoa: University of Hawaii Press.
Knight, S. (1994). Dictionary use while reading: The effects on comprehension
and vocabulary acquisition for students of different verbal abilities.
The Modern Language Journal, 78 (3), 285-299.
Landauer, T., & Bjork, R. (1978). Optimum rehearsal patterns and name
learning. In M. Gruneberg, P. Morris, & R. Sykes (Eds.), Practical
aspects of memory (pp. 625-632). London: Academic Press.
Laufer, B. (1990). Why are some words more difficult than others? Some
intralexical factors that affect the learning of words. International
Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching 28 (4), 293-307.
Laufer, B. (1998, March). A case for pushed output in incidental vocabulary
acquisition. Paper presented at the annual meeting of American Association
of Applied Linguistics (AAAL), Seattle, WA.
Laufer, B., & Shmueli, K. (1997). Memorizing new words: Does teaching
have anything to do with it? RELC Journal 28 (1), 89-108.
Laufer, B., & Sim, D. (1985). Measuring and explaining the reading
threshold needed for English for academic purposes texts. Foreign Language
Annals, 18, 405-411.
Long, M. (1989). Task, group, and task-group interactions. Paper delivered
at RELC Seminar, Singapore.
Long, M., & Porter, P. (1985). Group work, interlanguage talk, and
second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly 19, 207-228.
Lotto, L., & De Groot, A. (1998). Effects of learning method and word
type on acquiring vocabulary in an unfamiliar language. Language Learning
48 (1), 31-69.
Ortiz, E. (2001). Thesis: Gender Representation in ESL Textbooks. Orlando:
The University of Central Florida.
Paribakht, T. S., & Wesche, M. (1996). Enhancing vocabulary acquisition
through reading: A hierarchy of text-related exercise types. The Canadian
Modern Language Review/La Revue Canadienne des Languges Vivantes, 52
Paribakht, T., & Wesche, M. (1999). Reading and "incidental"
L2 vocabulary acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition,
Prince, P. (1995). Second language vocabulary learning: The role of context
versus translations as a function of proficiency. Modern Language Journal,
80 (4), 478-493.
Schatz, E., & Baldwin, R. (1986). Context clues are unreliable predictors
of word meanings. Reading Research Quarterly, 21 (4), 439-453.
Schmitt, N. (1998). Measuring collocational knowledge: Key issues and
an experimental assessment procedure. ITL., 119-120, 27-47.
Sciarone, A., & Meijer, P. (1995). Does practice make perfect? On
the effect of exercises on second/foreign language acquisition. ITL
Tinkham, T. (1993). The effects of semantic clustering on the learning
of second language vocabulary. System, 21, 371-380.
Watanabe, Y. (1998). Input, intake, and retention: Effects of increased
processing on incidental learning of foreign language vocabulary. Studies
in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 287-307.
Zimmerman, C. (1997). Do reading and interactive vocabulary instruction
make a difference? An empirical study. TESOL Quarterly (31) 1,