Using vocabulary lists for listening and writing

Marsha Chan, Mission College, Santa Clara, CA

Marsha ChanŐs Presentations


Teachers and learners can take advantage of research that has been done to target the vocabulary needed for the different purposes. In this presentation I demonstrate how I use these lists and tools (1) to create listening materials for students in oral communication courses and (2) to help assess studentsŐ vocabulary sophistication in grammar and writing courses.

á          The General Service List,, complied and edited by Michael West, is a list of 2,000+ words of the greatest "general service" to learners of English.

á          The Academic Word List,, developed at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, contains 570 word families which are frequently used across academic disciplines.

á          Web VP,, developed by Paul Nation, VUW New Zealand, adapted and maintained by Tom Cobb, UQAM Canada, identifies words in a text as members of distinct frequency lists, including the AWL.

Example 1. A lecture for a low-intermediate listening-speaking course

Topic: Nutrition and Human Health

K2 words are green.  Academic words  are orange.




You know, your body is truly remarkable. How is it remarkable? Okay, IŐll tell you. Your body renews its structures continuously, all the time. Every day, it builds a little new muscleÉ muscles in your arms, muscles in your legs, a little new bone, a little new skin, and a little new blood. It replaces old tissues with new tissues. So, well, do you want to be in good health? You probably do. You want to be, you know, healthy. In that case, you must think carefully about the kind of food you consume. If you are concerned about your health, the best food to choose is, is the kind that supports growth Đ growth and maintenance of your body. You want to build strong muscles, good bones, and, healthy skin and you want to maintain them. You also need enough blood to nourish, or feed, all parts of your body, as well as to cleanse them, you know, to keep them clean. This means the food you consume should provide not only energy but also enough nutrients.


K2 vocabulary to teach










Academic vocabulary to teach:

1.  assume (vt)

2.  affect  (vt)

3.  effect  (n)

4.  consume (vt)

5. energy (n)

6. evident (adj)

7. label (n)

8. maintain (vt)

9. period (n)

10. principle (n)

11. promote (vt)

12. significant (adj)

13. source (n)

14. structure (n)

15. tissue (n)


Source: Chan, Marsha J. College Oral Communication 1. Ed. Patricia Byrd, Joy M. Reid, Cynthia Schuemann. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006. book is part of the Oral Communication Strand of the English for Academic Success series. Click the links for more information.

Example 2. Evaluating a writing assignment for an advanced grammar course

Assignment: Write a paragraph of 150-175 words using different action verbs in the general truth time frame. Use third person subjects and academic vocabulary. Use at least one of each sentence type: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Refer to Applied English Grammar, Chapter 3 (2001 Heinle).


Student paragraphs (Academic words  are bold.)


1.     Smoking and Lung Cancer


There is enough evidence that proves that cigarette smoking is highly related to lung cancer. This disease is not limited to smokers only; people, who do not smoke but stay in the same smoke environment, significantly increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Cigarette smoke contains many chemical agents, and researches demonstrate that most of them cause cancer in humans. Nicotine, one of the chemical agents in cigarettes smoke, enters into the bloodstream and travels to the brain during smoking. Nicotine is a drug that is responsible for a personŐs addiction to tobacco products, including cigarettes. Non-smokers are exposed to nicotine when the smoke is released from the end of a burning cigarette and the smoke is exhaled from the lungs of smokers. One of the most important things to do, in order to reduce the risk of developing of lung cancer, is quitting smoking. The youngest a person is when he decides to quit smoking, the better it is, if he wants to reduce or prevent the developing of lung cancer.


2.     The Number One Killer in the U. S.


Heart disease becomes the number one killer in the United States.  Arteries throughout the body may be affected by hardening.  Narrowing or hardening of the coronary arteries, which encircle the heart and provide nourishment to the heart muscle, can cause chest pains and eventually a heart attack.  Generally there are no symptoms because the clot or fatty plaque, which is made of cholesterol, slowly build up over a period of many years and can block 60 to 70 percent of the artery without causing any symptoms, which consist of shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, or severe fatigue with exercise.  That is why one third of all people simply die from their first heart attack without even knowing that they had a heart problem, and that is why President Clinton, a person in seemingly perfect health, failed to avoid a attachment bypass heart surgery.  Prevention is better than cure.  The best thing we can do is to be more cognizant of our diets, get regular exercise, stop smoking, and treat known cardiac risk factors, such as elevated cholesterol.      


3.     My father


My father is the most important person in my life. I'm the only child in my family. He concerns all my things.Everything he does is all for me.He works very hard and takes good care of us as well.Every morning, he gets up very early , prepare breakfast for us.He always wakes me up early the same as him.Because he wants me to have a good habit sleep early, get up early If I don't get up, he keeps calling me until I get up, tired of his voice calling. I enjoy the breakfast time with him.He usually asks me about my school work,my life, my friends and so on.If I do something wrong, he indicates my faults strictly & gives me advise to improve that.We have a good communicatoin.On the other hand, he is  kind & helpful. He is nice to all his friends.As long as his friends have problem, he is willing to help them.Everyone says that I have a great father.I love him very much. I 'm pround of my father that I have.   


To try the web vocabulary profiler with samples of students' writing, click here.

To see a compilation of all studentsŐ paragraphs with comments and corrections and academic vocabulary highlighted, click here.

Marsha ChanŐs Presentations