Pro tips for creating your own contextualised vocabulary diagnostic assessments


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You can skip this section if you like. These are pro-tips for those who are interested.

  • We don’t expect you to adopt these approaches if you are doing the NZCALNE (Voc).

But if you are interested in developing better, contextualised vocabulary assessments there are a couple of other things you can experiment with.

Both of these approaches are borrowed from the world of second language teaching. Here they are:

1. Use plain-English explanations and definitions

If you follow the process that we outlined earlier for creating vocabulary assessments, you’ll need sentences for your learners to read that use the keywords you identified in your word bank.

You have a couple of choices when it comes to how you get your sentences.

  • You can write them yourself.
  • You can lift them from your course or other material and use them as they are.
  • You can adapt or simplify them from your course or other material.
  • You can copy them from a dictionary that only uses plain-English explanations.

Let’s deal with the last option first. Rather than writing your own explanations and definitions, you may be able to use explanations and definitions that someone else has already written for you in plain English.

You can’t use a normal dictionary. A standard dictionary, like the Concise Oxford, for example, is written for highly literate readers. If you use explanations from a regular dictionary like this you’ll just introduce more new and complicated vocabulary.

What you can use sometimes is explanations and definitions from language learning dictionaries. These are written for ESOL learners but they also work well for foundation learners too.

The reason they’re great for explanations is that these dictionary writers work with a controlled set of high-frequency words for their definitions. This means that you won’t find new and complicated vocabulary in any of the definitions.

Also, because they are focused on helping people learn new words, they often include examples where the word is used in context. This won’t be your context most probably, but it’s a place to start for ideas if you need it. 

Many of these dictionaries are online and free to use.

Here’s how to use the online dictionary above if we take an example from our financial literacy scenario.

  1. Lookup a word that we want to use. E.g, “asset”
  2. Identify the plain English definition that you need. E.g. “something belonging to an individual or a business that has value or the power to earn money.”
  3. Identify any example sentences from different contexts that you could use or adapt. E.g. “The company has a tremendous asset – 50 hectares of real estate right next to an international airport.”
  4. Adapt or modify as needed. E.g. “An asset is something that belongs to you that has value or the power to earn money.”

Now you have a very nice, plain-English sentence that you can use in your vocabulary diagnostic.

2. Work with targeted vocabulary lists.

There are also tools online that you can use for analysing and writing sentences in plain English.

The Vocab Profiler looks complicated but it’s easy once you know how to use it. The way it works is to sort out words into different categories. The categories relate to how often the words are used in everyday English.

We’ve mentioned these categories before, but they include:

  • 1K: The first 1000 most frequently used words in English.
  • 2K: The second 1000 most frequently used words in English.
  • AWL: The academic word list.
  • Off list: Words that are not in any of the three lists above.

Here’s how you use it:

  1. Find a text that your learners have to read that you have an electronic copy of.
  2. Cut and paste the text or a section of it into the Vocab Profiler.
  3. Hit submit.
  4. The scroll down and see how it sorts the words into the different categories. There is also different kinds of data about the words you are analysing.

Now you can work with the lists of words in the different categories ranging from easy to more difficult depending on the needs of your learners.

The Learning Progressions were never designed to align with these categories, but you can match them up roughly. Our Word Bank worksheets (Steps 1 – 3 and Steps 3 – 6) offer some suggestions about which lists align with which steps. Feel free to adapt or modify these to suit your own purposes though. 

This is definitely extra for experts. We don’t expect you to use Vocab Profiler for this course, but it’s there if you want to have a play.

Also, to get back to the list of ways that you can generate sentences for test items, you can also use the vocab profiler to help you simplify your writing when you’re writing your own sentences or when you’re adapting sentences from other material.

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