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Way with Words

Way with Words

Input-Based Incremental Vocabulary Instruction by Joe Barcroft
TESOL International Association 123 pages ISBN 193-1185752

Joe Barcroft premises his new book, Input-Based Incremental Vocabulary Instruction, by pointing out that while the subject of grammar acquisition has been the centerpiece of second-language acquisition research, newer studies suggest that vocabulary has a central role in language acquisition. Therefore, Barcroft posits that vocabulary should also be central in the development of programs and in the teaching of second languages. He writes, “The purpose of this book is to explain and exemplify an approach to L2 vocabulary instruction that relies heavily on concrete research findings and the theoretical advances that they support.” The explanations and examples are intended to give teachers the tools they need to create their own activities, appropriate for their students, using input-based incremental vocabulary instruction.

The first chapter, “Getting Started with Five Questions,” fosters the reader’s self-assessment of his or her current vocabulary instruction style and brainstorming on how to implement an input-based incremental (IBI) approach. In the next chapter, “Ten Principles of Effective Vocabulary Instruction,” Barcroft outlines ten principles to IBI vocabulary instruction and then thoroughly discusses each principle, looking at its rationale, research support, and theoretical grounding. This chapter answers theoretical questions of how and why, while preserving a more detailed description of how teachers can use an IBI approach in the classroom for later chapters.

Chapter Three, “Checklist for Designing and Implementing Vocabulary Lessons,” is like a how-to guide for creating and executing IBI vocabulary lessons. The seven-item checklist includes deciding on target vocabulary and materials; ensuring that activities are meaningful, educational, and interactive; using cultural and historical information if appropriate; presenting the target vocabulary repeatedly in the input; increasing difficulty of tasks gradually over time; incorporating a number of the principles from Chapter Two; and including directly applicable research findings, which demands “an ongoing consideration of the L2 vocabulary research literature.” The chapter offers a sample lesson and concludes with guidelines for creating vocabulary lessons.

Chapters Four and Five, both entitled “Lessons for Your Classroom,” have a total of ten lessons that teachers can use or adapt for their own classrooms. All ten lessons use the IBI approach independently. Chapter Four’s lessons use multiple sources of input, while Chapter Five focuses on reading as a primary source of input.

The final chapter, Chapter Six, shows how the IBI approach can be used to supplement existing materials. Barcroft recommends supplementing whenever “new vocabulary is (a) not presented in the input with sufficient repetition, (b) not presented using meaning-bearing and sufficiently comprehensible input, and (c) not treated in a manner that respects the incremental nature of vocabulary learning.”

Input-Based Incremental Vocabulary Instruction encourages readers to assess their own methods for teaching vocabulary and gives them tools for how to make their vocabulary lessons more effective using the IBI approach. The book is well-organized, tightly written, and to the point. This book would be a good addition to the reading list of a professional development course, or an excellent tool for language teachers who want to implement this cutting-edge research into their courses and upgrade their vocabulary lessons.

Teachers who are not comfortable reading theory or research might face difficulties in trying to use this book. Because it focuses on a newer approach that goes against long-standing approaches that center on output, Barcroft uses numerous research studies and theories to support the IBI approach to convert skeptics. Teachers who are comfortable reading theory will be rewarded with a book that successfully bridges the gap between research on the IBI approach and its practical implementation in the classroom.

Kristal Bivona is assistant editor at Language Magazine.

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