BEFORE: How do I create a contextualised vocab diagnostic I can use?


How do I create my own contextualised vocab diagnostic?

If your learners have a basic vocabulary of around 2,000 high-frequency words, it’s likely that they can understand roughly 80% of the words in an academic text. If the text is highly technical, then it gets harder

But your learners need to know around 95% of the words in a text before they can successfully guess the meanings of any other unknown words and actually make sense of the text.

This means that any work you do around vocabulary is going to be helpful. But you need to get a sense of what they do and don’t know. That’s why you need a good vocab diagnostic assessment.

The simplest way to create a contextualised vocabulary diagnostic is to brainstorm a word bank that is focused the specific content that you need to teach. A word bank is just a list of words that relate to your context. You can use this to create and organise simple question items.

Here’s the process:

1. Revisit your learning outcome

In your last assessment task, you had to write some broad programme strategies, and then develop some more specific learning outcomes. You should have one for literacy and one for numeracy. We’ll come back to the numeracy outcome. For now, you need you literacy outcome.

Let’s look at the process below. And let’s use a scenario to put this into action in a particular context. Here’s the scenario. See if you can think how you would adapt this to your own context:

  • You’re teaching an introduction to financial literacy to a group of adults in a foundation learning class. You know that they’re going to struggle with the new financial vocabulary and technical jargon.

Your learning outcome for this scenario might look something like this:

  • Explain specialised words used in the context of an introduction to basic financial literacy.

In other words, you’re teaching financial literacy and you want to embed some of the jargon to make sure people understand what you’re talking about and what they read in the course materials.

Just an aside: It’s ok to tinker with your learning outcome as well. You might want to do this if you need to tidy it up because your thinking has changed you.

You’re not locked into what you wrote in your last assessment. However, remember that your decisions should be based on what you know about the demands of your programme, what you’re learning about your learners and the direction that you’ve set in your literacy strategy.

2. Create a word bank

What you need next is a big list of relevant words. These words:

  • Should relate to your content and context.
  • Should connect with your literacy learning outcome.
  • Need to be sorted into categories. These categories are relevant steps in the Learning Progressions.

If you’re new to creating word banks you might want to do it like this. First, generate a big list of words. Second, sort these into relevant categories and steps.

If you’ve done this before, or you know what you’re doing you might want to just brainstorm words directly into the right categories and step as we describe below.

Most tutors will be working with words between steps 3 to 6. This is the case for trades or any programme or job that uses specialised or technical jargon. Some tutors may be working with very basic vocabulary such as some ESOL or other foundation learners.

You can download a worksheet for working each of these categories below:

The worksheet is not part of your assessed work. But it will help you brainstorm and sort out vocabulary that you can use. Brainstorm the words and then list them in the appropriate categories.

Here are the categories. These in the worksheets and adapted from the Learning Progressions.

Familiar words – Step 1
  • List words that relate to everyday topics and personal experiences.
  • You can Include useful or familiar words, names, phrases and common high-use words.
  • ESOL tip: consider words from the first 500 content word list.
Everyday words – Step 2
  • List words that relate to everyday topics and personal experiences.
  • You can include words used in simple requests, instructions, greetings and short explanations.
  • ESOL tip: consider words from the first thousand word list (1K).
Everyday words – Step 3
  • List high-use, everyday words that relate to your content and context.
  • You can include some less common words including words relating to work, community and learning.
  • ESOL tip: consider words from the second thousand (2K) word list.
Academic words – Step 4/5
  • List academic words you need for your content and context.
  • Think of words that describe processes or academic tasks.
  • You can include some high-use specialised words.
  • ESOL tip: Consider words from the academic word list (AWL).
  • Highly specialised or technical words should be in the list below.
Technical words – Step 6
  • List the more highly specialised and technical words you need for your content and context.
  • Think of the jargon of your trade or content area including specialised acronyms and informal language.
  • ESOL tip: Consider using words outside of the 1K, 2K, and AWL.

If we continue with our example, your brainstorming for financial literacy might look something like this:

Everyday words

(1K and 2K)

Step 3

salary, loan, debt, trade, expense, interest

Academic words


Step 4/5

percentage, invest, income, fund, bond, automate, accumulate, calculate

Technical words

(Off list)

Step 6

capital, balance, asset, passive income, mutual fund, profit, real estate

Pro tip: The trick is not to get too bogged down in rules for your categories. Think of them as guidelines. Be flexible. There is a degree of subjectivity involved, but don’t forget that you are the subject area expert here. After a while, you’ll develop a feel for what goes where.

If you need a set of rules and you’re an ESOL teacher you can experiment with using targeted word lists as a starting point. We used the word lists from the first (1K) and second thousand (2K) words of English and the Academic Word List to help categorise our words. But you don’t need to do this.

3. Use your word bank to create question items

Once you have a word bank for a particular aspect of teaching, there are all sorts of things you can use it for. Here we’re only concerned with creating mini vocabulary diagnostic assessments for pre and post testing of learner knowledge.

But you might want to keep your word bank in mind for the next assessment where you will need to creating fun activities to teach and practise the language.

There are many different formats for writing question items. We’re just going to look at one. This is what we call a partial cloze. It’s a format borrowed from second language teaching and it works equally well for foundation learning in general.

Here’s how it works.

Write a sentence using the keyword from your word bank. Here are a couple of examples using words from our financial literacy word bank:

  • A loan is an amount of money that you borrow from a bank.
  • Investing is when you buy shares, property or goods because you hope the value will increase and you can make a profit.

Then, you gap out most of the word leaving only the first three (or sometimes two) letters. Important: Only test one word per sentence.

  • A lo_________ is an amount of money that you borrow from a bank.
  • Inv__________ is when you buy shares, property or goods because you hope the value will increase and you can make a profit.

Using this format has several advantages.

  • If a learner knows the word, they’ll write it down.
  • If it’s a new or unfamiliar word, then you’ve given them enough (but not too much) of a hint to jog their memory or see if they can guess it.
  • If they don’t know it, you should tell them to skip it and move to the next item.
  • You can choose to focus on spelling or meaning, or both. Sometimes, you may wish to ignore spelling and just go for meaning.
  • As the assessment creator, you only need to think of sentences using each word. These can be explanations or even lifted from course materials.
  • You don’t need to create a separate box on the page with the words in it.

Here’s the completed vocabulary diagnostic using a selection of words from the word bank

Words you need to know for financial literacy

Fill in the missing words. Skip a word if you are unsure.

  1. Money or property are known as cap_______________.
  2. Exp_______________ are cash going out.
  3. Int_______________ is the extra money paid to you by someone when you loan them money.
  4. Another name for buying and selling goods and services is tra_______________.
  5. The amount of money that you have in your bank account is your bal_______________.
  6. Cal_______________ means finding out how much something will cost by using numbers.
  7. When you owe money to someone you are in de_______________.
  8. A lo_______________ is an amount of money that you borrow from a bank.
  9. If you acc_______________ a lot of money, it means you get a lot of money.
  10. Inc_______________ is cash coming in.
  11. Inv_______________ is when you buy shares, property or goods because you hope that the value will increase and you can make a profit.
  12. A per_______________ is an amount expressed as if it is part of a total which is 100.
  13. Pro_______________ is money that you gain by selling things or doing business after you pay your costs.
  14. An as_______________ is something that puts money in your pocket, without much work.

There’s no answer key here, but you may want to create an answer key for yours when you make it.

If you want to, you can download the example as a word document too.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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