Understanding Teachers' Pedagogical Knowledge In ESL Vocabulary Teaching


  • Maizatulliza Muhamad Sultan Idris Education University
  • Richard Kiely University of Southampton




teaching of vocabulary, communicative language teaching, ESL


In communicative language teaching classrooms, one of the main emphases is on students’ ability to use the target language for real life purposes. To achieve this goal, teachers may have to ensure that students have adequate vocabulary to express their feelings and ideas. Previous research on vocabulary teaching and learning tends to be quantitative in nature focusing on testing the effectiveness of some techniques. This research study however, is an attempt to understand teachers’ pedagogical systems that influence their practice in actual classroom interactions during vocabulary teaching and learning. In-depth interviews and classroom observations with two experienced Malaysian ESL teachers were conducted. The interviews highlighted the teachers’ beliefs as well as challenges they faced with regards to vocabulary teaching and learning. The classroom observations revealed that their practice was very much a reflection of their own beliefs, based on their own experience as students as well as teachers. The results of this study showcased the fact that teachers operate within the spectrum of their pedagogical knowledge. 

Author Biographies

Maizatulliza Muhamad, Sultan Idris Education University

Senior Lecturer, English Language and Literature Department

Richard Kiely, University of Southampton

Professor, Modern Languages and Linguistics Department


Breen, M.P. & Candlin, C.N. (2001). The essentials of a communicative curriculum in language teaching. In D.R. Hall & A. Hewings (Eds.), Innovation in English language teaching (pp9-26). London: Routledge.

Bogdan, R. C. & Biklen, S.R. (1998). Qualitative research for education. An introduction to theory and methods. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Borg, M. (2004). The apprenticeship of observation. ELT Journal, 58(3), 274-276.

Borg, S. (1998). Teachers’ pedagogical systems and grammar teaching: A qualitative study. TESOL Quarterly, 32(1), 9-38.

Borg, S. (2003). Teacher cognition in language teaching: A review of research on what language teachers think, know, believe and do. Language Teaching Journal, 36, 81-109.

Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education. London: Routledge.

Coxhead A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34 (2), 213-38.

Curriculum Specifications (2003). Curriculum Development Center, Ministry of Education. Kuala Lumpur.

Ellis, R., Basturkmen, H. & Loewen, S. (2002). Doing focus-on-form. Systems, 30, 419-432.

File, K.E. & Adams, R. (2010). Should vocabulary instruction be integrated or isolated? TESOL Quarterly, 44 (2), 222-249.

Folse, K.S. (2004). Myths about teaching and learning second language vocabulary: What recent research says. TESL Reporter, 37(2), 1-13.

Hatch, E. & Brown, C. (1995). Vocabulary, semantics and language education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Irvine-Niakaris, C. & Kiely, R. (2015). Reading comprehension in test preparation classes: An analysis of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 49(2), 369-392.

Kiely, R. & Davis, M. (2010). From transmission to transformation: Teacher learning in English for speakers of other languages. Language Teaching Research, 14(3), 277–295.

Khoii, R. & Sharififar, S. (2013). Memorization versus semantic mapping in L2 vocabulary acquisition. ELT Journal, 67(2), 199-209.

Littlewood, W. (2004). The task-based approach. Some questions and suggestions. ELT Journal, 58(4), 319-326.

Martinez, R. & Schmitt, N. (2012). A phrasal expressions list. Applied Linguistics, 33(3), 299-320.

Moskovsky, C., Guowu Jiang, Libert, A. & Seamus, F. (2015). Bottom-up or top-down: English as a foreign language vocabulary instruction for Chinese university students. TESOL Quarterly, 49(2), 256-277.

Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, P. (2005). Teaching vocabulary. Asian EFL Journal, 7(3), 47-54.

Nunan, D. & Lamb, C. (2001). Managing the learning process. In D.R. Hall & A. Hewing (Eds.), Innovation in English Language Teaching (pp27-45). London: Routledge.

Qing Ma (2014). A contextualised study of EFL learners’ vocabulary learning approaches: Framework, learner approach and degree of success. The Journal of Asia TEFL, 11(3), 1-156.

Schmitt, N. (2008). Instructed second language vocabulary learning. Language Teaching Research, 12(3), 329-363.

Schmitt, N. (2014). Size and depth of vocabulary knowledge: What the research shows. Language Learning, 64, 913-951.

Schmitt, N. & Schmitt, D. (1995). Vocabulary notebooks: Theoretical underpinnings and practice suggestions. ELT Journal,49(2), 133–143.

Schuetze, U. (2015). Spacing techniques in second language vocabulary acquisition: Short-term gains vs long-term memory. Language Teaching Research, 19(1), 28-42.

Sonbul, S. & Schmitt, N. (2010). Direct teaching of vocabulary after reading: Is it worth the effort? ELT Journal, 64(3), 253-260.

Sonbul, S.& Schmitt, N. (2013). Explicit and implicit lexical knowledge acquisition of collocations under different input conditions. Language Learning, 63(1), 121-159.

Xie, X. (2013). Vocabulary explanation in English-major university classrooms in China. ELT Journal, 67(4), 435-445.