This section answers three key questions: 

 1. Why teach vocabulary?

2. Which vocabulary to teach?

3. How to teach vocabulary?


1. Why teach vocabulary?

Adequate levels of vocabulary enable students to 

  • read more fluently.
  • spend less time on dictionary lookups.
  • devote fewer resources to decoding words.
  • focus more on text comprehension and making connections between ideas in the text.
  • allocate more cognitive resources to higher-order thinking skills such as critically evaluating text content. 


2. Which vocabulary to teach?

Computer analyses of academic texts across many academic disciplines show that some words such as 'data' and 'hypothesis' appear much more frequently than others in academic texts. Focusing on learning these 'high-frequency' words can give students maximum benefits in return for time and effort they invest on studying vocabulary.

The Roads to Academic Reading website is based on four well-known high-frequency lists:

Two high-frequency general academic wordlists:

(1) Coxhead's (2000) Academic Word List (AWL)

(2) Davies and Gardener (2013)  more recent Academic Vocabulary List (AVL).

Two general two high-frequency wordlists:

(3) Nation's BNC 1-2000

(4) CEFR wordlists curated during the EU-funded TEMPUS ECOSTAR Project. 


ECOSTAR's curated CEFR wordlists

The CEFR wordlists reflect what learners in many countries across the globe typically know - not what they SHOULD know - at the six CEFR levels. Due to the CEFR's emphasis on 4 different domains (personal, public, educational and occupational), EAP (English for Academic Purposes) teachers may view CEFR's vocabulary lists as a rather 'mixed bag'. 

In order to help EAP teachers and learners to prioritize the vocabulary learning process, ECOSTAR curated CEFR vocabulary lists by identifying words that highly experienced EAP heads of departments and teachers viewed as most likely to be most useful for students who need to improve their comprehension of academic texts.

Two paramaters were used as selection criteria for the curated wordlists: (1) high levels of inter-rater agreement among EAP department heads and teachers, and (2) overlap with one or more of the 4 research-based wordlists described above. Consequently, the curated list filters out many words from topics such as sports, leisure and food to identify words that EAP students need to focus on first. These curated lists are not prescriptive - they are simply intended as a guide to help EAP teachers equip their students with the vocabulary levels they need in order to cope more effectively with academic texts. Clearly, words excluded from the curated list also represent important acquisition targets.

To download the ECOSTAR curated CEFR lists for EAP students, go to TEMPUS ECOSTAR's Resource Bank, Professional Resources for Instructors section:



Here are some guidelines to help teachers decide which words to teach


Questions to Ask


  • Is the word representative of a family of words that students should know?
  • Is the concept represented by the word critical to understanding the text?
  • Is the word a label for an idea that students need to know?
  • Does the word represent an idea that is essential for understanding another concept?


  • Will the word be used again in this text? 
    • If so, does the word occur often enough to be redundant?
  • Will the word be used again during the school year?


  • Will the word be used in group discussions?
  • Will the word be used in writing tasks?
  • Will the word be used in other content or subject areas?

Contextual Analysis

  • Can students use context clues to determine the correct or intended meaning of the word without instruction?

Structural Analysis

  • Can students use structural analysis to determine the correct or intended meaning of the word without instruction?

Cognitive Load

  • Have I identified too many words for students to successfully integrate?

 (from Fisher, D., & Frey, D. (2008). Word wise and content rich. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.)


 3. How to teach vocabulary

Closing the vocabulary gaps in the classroom is an extremely challenging task, due to:

  • diverse levels of prior knowledge.
  • mixed levels of ability and motivation.
  • an overwhelming number of words to learn.
  • not enough classroom time for sufficient explicit teaching of vocabulary.
  • access to mobile devices at home, but not in class.

In order to cope with these levels of diversity, this website provides OERs (open educational resources) designed for independent self-study of high-frequency academic words that frequently occcur across a range of academic disciplines.

Vocabulary exercises on this site include diagnostic feedback that explain why incorrect answers are wrong, and support a Flipped Classroom model that enables students to learn vocabulary at home, on their PCs and/or mobile phones, at their own pace. These self-study resources can 'free up' valuable classroom time, which can then be utilitzed for applying knowledge of newly-learned words. 

Research on vocabulary instruction has consistently identified the following research-based principles:

  • Deal with multiple levels of meaning to build rich conceptualization of target word. 
  • Multiple exposures vs. one-time 'hit and run'.
  • Direct, explicit instruction of high-frequency words, with glosses for low-frequency words.
  • Teach vocabulary in semantically rich contexts (SERP) vs. de-contextualized lists.
  • Create 'language in use' practice opportunities that engage the learner and require critical reasoning vs. 'drill and kill'.
  • 'Learning by doing' - enable students to DO something with the target word - differentiate between examples and non-examples, solve a puzzle, sort into categories, build a 'word cloud'.
  • Avoid teaching 'false friends' together - words with different meanings that sound the same.

For valuable resources and background on research-based vocabulary instruction, Prof. Paul Nation's website is a good place to start:


Rationale behind exercises on this website

Many general academic words, such as 'hypothesis', 'data' and 'bias', are abstract terms and concepts that cannot be fully explained in just a few easy words. This site provides sets of exercises with diagnostic feedback for 300 general academic words that frequently occur in academic texts, and appear on at least two high-frequency wordlists - Coxhead's (2000) Academic Word List, and CEFR wordlists. Each set of exercises provides students with multiple exposures and leads students through a learning process that, layer by layer, gradually builds up a rich concept of the target word. 

Acquisition of these high-frequency words has an added value: These words form the building blocks of academic literacy and scientific reasoning, so learning these words means acquiring additional 'lenses' that enable students to critically view what they may not have noticed before.

First exercise in each set:

  • Usually focuses on single words or phrases.  

Second exercise in each set

  • Learning by doing - students use what they learned in the first exercise to differentiate between examples of target word and non-examples.

In most sets, the first two exercises teach, not just test: Students identify 3 correct answers out of 4 answer options - each correct option adds another aspect of target word's meaning. These additional layers of meanings strengthen links between word's form and meaning, and 'anchor' the word to increase memory retention.

 Last exercise in each set:

  • Usually a reading comprehension exercise with a short text that provides context for the target word, and provides practice of ‘close’, accurate reading.
  • In many sets, the last and most complex exercise represents a granular learning object that can be used in a variety of different learning paths.

The tables below show which exercises have 'added value' as resources that go beyond vocabulary and can help teachers develop students' levels of academic literacy and digital competences such as ability to critically evaluate information. 

 Reading comprehension exercises on critical evaluation of information:

High-frequency academic vocabulary


Exercise #


Focus of exercise:



Exercise 4

Questions to evaluate alternative treatments.



Exercise 4

Questions to help you do a critical analysis of information.



Exercise 4

Identifying hidden assumptions.



Exercise 4

How to evaluate available information.



Exercise 5

Which chart is distorting information?



Exercise 3

 What are valid conclusions based on?



Exercise 5

How taking something out of context can distort meaning.        



Exercise 3

Questions that help you to examine data.



Exercise 5

What can cause distortion?



Exercise 4

Can you read between the lines?



Exercise 4

Questions to ask yourself when you evaluate research data.



Exercise 5

Same evidence, different conclusions.



Exercise 4

Exposing flaws or weak points in a writer's argument.



Exercise 4

Inferring meaning from context.



Exercise 4

Same numbers, different interpretations.



Exercise 4

Which questions can help you think logically?



Exercise 4

What's similar, what's different?



Exercise 4

Which questions can help you check these statistics?




Exercise 5

Evaluating information published on the internet.



Exercise 4

How our irrational assumptions can affect our emotions.



Exercise 3

How do I know if information on the internet is reliable?



Exercise 4

Reading between the lines – use your clues.



Exercise 4

Questions to help you evaluate information.



Exercise 4

Lies, big lies and statistics.


Exercises that focus on creative thinking

High-frequency academic vocabulary


Exercise #


Focus of exercise:



Exercise 4

SCAMPER - strategy for creative thinking.




Exercise 4

Keys to creative thinking.




Exercise 5

What are the foundations of creativity?



Exercise 3

Relationship between creativity and knowledge.



Exercises that focus on academic literacy 

High-frequency academic vocabulary

Exercise #

Focus of exercise:



Exercise 3

What's in an abstract?



Exercise 3

What is an "acknowledgement page"?



Exercise 4

Why do writers sometimes write ambiguous sentences?



Exercise 4

Assumptions - the building blocks of scientific theories.



Exercise 4

What makes presentations more coherent?



Exercise 4

Recognizing markers that signal contrast.



Exercise 4

Markers that signal doubt or uncertainty.



Exercise 4

Problems with defining a word - narrow and broad definitions.



Exercise 3

What can deviation tell us about test scores?



Exercise 3

What can we learn from a distribution?



Exercise 4

What is empirical evidence?



Exercise 3

What does a 'degree of error' mean?



Exercise 5

Why is a theoretical framework important?



Exercise 3

Why is a hypothesis important?



Exercise 4

What are "hedges" in an academic text?



Exercise 4

The purpose of a literature review.



Exercise 5

 Correlation or cause and effect?



Exercise 5

What does 'intervention' mean in a research context?



Exercise 4

What does 'manipulation' mean in a research context?



Exercise 6

How monitoring can improve your reading comprehension.



Exercise 4

Why are outcomes difficult to measure?



Exercise 4

How Venn diagrams work.



Exercise 4

What are some parameters for scientific research?



Exercise 3

How to avoid plagiarism



Exercise 4

What are 'random' mean in a research context?



Exercise 4

What you are expected to write in your literature review.



Exercise 5

A learning strategy to help you remember information.



Exercise 4

What are you expected to do when you write a summary?



Exercise 4

Differences between a theme and a summary.



Exercise 3

Find the clues that tell you what the writer really thinks.


Profiling digital texts

Teachers can run digital texts through Text Profiler to see to what extent the vocabulary in the text is level-appropriate. Use 'Learn words from your text' option to load up digital texts.



To load up your digital texts, click Browse to select text from your files, OR copypaste and click Go. 



The screenshot below shows how Text Profiler highlights high-frequency words in users' texts, and provides statistics on percentages of words in the text that belong to the wordlists in the table. 

Please note that levels of vocabulary are only one parameter for text selection - many additional key parameters should also be considered when selecting texts for students. Parameters for text selection could include level of interest to class, authenticity, organizational structure and density of low-frequency vocabulary.