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Word Knowledge: A Vocabulary Teacher's Handbook.

Word Knowledge: A Vocabulary Teacher's Handbook

Cheryl Boyd Zimmerman

Oxford University Press, 2009, 150 pages

Cheryl Boyd Zimmerman's Word Knowledge: A Vocabulary Teacher's Handbook investigates the complex nature of teaching and learning words and functions as both a resource and as a reference guide for novice and experienced ESL teachers. Her overall aim is to "help tease apart the complex process of vocabulary learning and teaching and to provide ideas for addressing learners' needs" (p. v). She accomplishes this goal by providing a thorough and comprehensive overview of what it means to truly learn a word.

Zimmerman's handbook is organized into seven chapters and begins with an introduction to the central notions of her book: "word consciousness" (p. 3) and "word layers" (p. 5). She draws on the work of other researchers in the field who have introduced this concept, and she states,
 Word consciousness is a critical skill to develop, first for
 vocabulary teachers, and then for their students. It will enable
 learners to improve their use of words by making insightful
 observations about words in authentic use. A key aspect of word
 consciousness is acknowledging the extensiveness of what it means
 to know a word. That is, word consciousness includes a growing
 understanding of the many layers of word knowledge. (p. 5)

The layers referred to by Zimmerman represent other kinds of knowledge such as a word's grammatical functions or its possible affixes. It is this other knowledge beyond the singular definition of a word that a learner gradually acquires in order to achieve a deeper knowledge and a broader understanding of the uses of a single word.

In the introductory chapter, Zimmerman lists five general principles that all teachers can use for teaching vocabulary. These are centered on selectivity, practice, and observation. Teachers need to select words carefully, paying particular attention to the explanations and avoiding lengthy descriptions and examples. Students will need frequent opportunities to encounter these new words and meaningful activities in which to use them. Teachers will, of course, wish to observe students closely in the process to monitor their learning. These guidelines will be of interest to all instructors who wish to ensure that students are acquiring the new vocabulary presented in their lessons.

The subsequent chapters examine particular features of word knowledge: Working with Meaning; Working with Collocation; Working with Grammatical Features; Working with Word Parts; and Working with Register and Other Language Variations. Each chapter provides further elaboration on the key feature in four sections: Background, A Closer Look, Key Considerations, and Activities. The final chapter suggests how to cultivate awareness and understanding of word learning so that learners can use strategies and techniques to facilitate their own independent acquisition of new vocabulary.

Teachers who are interested in techniques for teaching vocabulary will find the activities listed at the end of each chapter an additional asset of Zimmerman's handbook. Each activity is distinctly labeled with a clear objective and procedure. Some of the activities include charts where students list various word parts, and others require them to analyze new vocabulary used in video or audio excerpts. Students are also asked to incorporate new words into sentences or in mini-compositions. The range of activities is varied and provides meaningful opportunities for valuable vocabulary practice.

In brief, Word Knowledge: A Vocabulary Teacher's Handbook has much to offer ESL instructors. For experienced teachers, the handbook provides new insights into the complex nature of vocabulary acquisition and offers guidelines and strategies for teaching new words. For novice instructors, this handbook is the consummate how-to manual for approaching the task of vocabulary instruction. Zimmerman's book is a valuable resource for all instructors who are interested in enhancing their current practice and knowledge of second-language vocabulary instruction.

The Reviewer

Jacqueline Foster is currently Chair of the School of International Education in Vancouver Island University. Her research interests are contrastive rhetoric and teacher feedback in second-language writing.
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Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Foster, Jacqueline
Publication:TESL Canada Journal
Date:Dec 22, 2011
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