Vol. 7. No. 2 A-5 September 2003
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Metacognitive Strategy Training for Vocabulary Learning

Zohreh Eslami Rasekh
Texas A&M University

Reza Ranjbary
Iran University of Science and Technology


Research shows that not all L2 strategy-training studies have been successful or conclusive. Some training has been effective in various skill areas but not in others, even within the same study (Oxford, 1989). The purpose of the present study was to shed light on the issue o strategy training. We have investigated the effect of metacognitive strategy training through the use of explicit strategy instruction on the development of lexical knowledge of EFL students.

To reach the goal of the study two groups of EFL language learners at intermediate language proficiency level were randomly assigned to a control and an experimental group. Both groups received instruction on vocabulary learning strategies through a 10-week period of instruction. However, only the experimental group received metacognitive strategy training during the course of the semester. The training model used was based on the framework for direct language learning strategies instruction proposed by Chamot and O'Malley (1994). The result of the study showed that explicit metacognitive strategy training has a significant positive effect on the vocabulary learning of EFL students. [-1-]


It has been claimed that successful language learners have their own "special ways of doing it". Stern (1975) and Rubin (1975) were probably among the first researchers who brought up the idea of successful language learners. The idea can probably help us with both understanding more about the nature of language learning and also to facilitate the language learning process for others. Since this premise, most of the research in the area of language learning strategies has focused on the identification, description, and classification of useful learning strategies. The research has been descriptive with the aim to elicit the useful strategies applied by successful language learners assuming that it could help other learners to become more successful. Rubin (1975), suggested that good L2 learners are willing and accurate guessers; have a strong drive to communicate; are often uninhibited; are willing to make mistakes; focus on form by looking for patterns and analyzing; take advantage of all practice opportunities; monitor their speech as well as that of others; and pay attention to meaning. Naiman, Frohlich, and Todesco (1975) made a list of strategies used by successful L2 learners, adding that they learn to think in the language and address the affective aspects of language acquisition as well.

Learning strategies are defined by O'Malley and Chamot (1990) as "special thoughts or behaviors that individuals use to comprehend, learn, or retain new information" (p.1). Oxford (1994) defines them as "actions, behaviors, steps, or techniques students use, often unconsciously, to improve their progress in apprehending, internalizing, and using the L2" (p.1).

In the 1980s and early 90s, research mainly focused on categorizing the strategies found in the studies of the previous decade. As a result, several taxonomies were proposed to classify them, including classifications of language learning strategies in general and language sub-skills strategies in particular. O'Malley and Chamot (1990), for instance, have divided the strategies into three main branches: cognitive, metacognitive, and socio-affective, each of which includes lots of sub-strategies such as rehearsal, organization, summarizing, deducing, and imagery. On the other hand, Oxford (1990a) has proposed a more comprehensive model in which six categories, classified into two groups of direct and indirect exist. The direct strategies include memory, cognitive, and compensation while indirect strategies include metacognitive, affective, and social.

As Oxford (1990b) mentions, the social and affective strategies are found less often in L2 research. This is, perhaps, because these behaviors are not studied frequently by L2 researchers, and because learners are not familiar with paying attention to their own feelings and social relationships as part of the L2 learning process.

According to O'Malley and Chamot (1990), cognitive (e.g., translating, analyzing) and metacognitive (e.g., planning, organizing) strategies are often used together, supporting each other. The assumption is that using a combination of strategies often has more impact than single strategies. As Graham (1997, pp. 42-43) states, the distinctions between cognitive and metacognitive strategies are important, partly because they help us to indicate which strategies are the most important in determining the effectiveness of learning. Graham believes that metacognitive strategies, that allow students to plan, control, and evaluate their learning, have the most central role to play in improvement of learning. Anderson (2002b) believes that "Developing metacognitive awareness may also lead to the development of stronger cognitive skills" (p.1). Since metacognitive strategies are the focus of this study, a more detailed discussion on this topic follows. [-2-]


Metacognition involves "active monitoring and consequent regulation and orchestration of cognitive process to achieve cognitive goals" (Flavell, 1976, p. 252). Flavell and Wellman (1977), and Flavell (1979) included interpretation of ongoing experience, or simply making judgments about what one knows or does not know to accomplish a task, as other features of metacognition. Along with the notions of active and conscious monitoring, regulation, and orchestration of thought process, Flavell believed through repeated use of metacognition, it might in time become automatized.

Anderson (2002a, p.1) defines metacognition as "thinking about thinking." As Anderson states, the use of metacognitive strategies ignites one's thinking and can lead to higher learning and better performance. Furthermore, understanding and controlling cognitive process may be one of the most essential skills that teachers can help second language learners develop.

Most of the early investigations of metacognition were descriptive in nature in that they sought to describe general developmental patterns of children's knowledge about memory processes. They were particularly interested in processes concerned with conscious and deliberate storage and retrieval of information. However, as studies moved from descriptive to empirical, the kinds of methodology expanded, the number of studies increased, and the need for a scheme to classify this growing corpus of literature on metacognition arose. Several classification schemes have been used to group, analyze, and evaluate these strategies (e.g., Flavel, 1976; 1979; Flavell & Wellman, 1977; Kluwe, 1982) and even though there are important differences among them, overall, three general categories consistently appear: cognitive monitoring, cognitive regulation, and a combination of both.

Anderson (2002a), based on previous research, has proposed five main components for metacognition. They include: 1) preparing and planning for learning, 2) selecting and using learning strategies, 3) monitoring strategy use, 4) orchestrating various strategies, and 5) evaluating strategy use and learning.

By preparation and planning in relation to their learning goal, students think about what their goals are and how they will go about accomplishing them. Students, with the help of the teacher, can set a realistic goal within a set time for accomplishing that goal. Setting clear, challenging, and realistic goals can help students see their own progress and hopefully, by becoming consciously aware of their progress, the students' motivation for learning would be increased.

The metacognitive ability to select and use particular strategies in a given context for a specific purpose means that the learner can think and make conscious decisions about the learning process. Learners should be taught not only about learning strategies but also about when to use them and how to use them. Students should be instructed on how to choose the best and most appropriate strategy in a given situation.

The next main component of metacognition is monitoring strategy use. By examining and monitoring their use of learning strategies, students have more chances of success in meeting their learning goals (Anderson, 2002a). Students should be explicitly taught that once they have selected and begun to use the specific strategies, they need to check periodically whether or not those strategies are effective and being used as intended. For example, when reading, they can use context to guess the meaning of some unknown vocabulary items. To monitor their use of this strategy, they should pause and check to see if the meaning they guessed makes sense in the text and if not, go back and modify or change their strategy. [-3-]

Knowing how to use a combination of strategies in an orchestrated fashion is an important metacognitive skill. Research has shown that successful language learners tend to select strategies that work well together in a highly orchestrated way, tailored to the requirements of the language task (Chamot & Kupper, 1989; Wenden, 1998). These learners can easily explain the strategies they use and why they employ them (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990).

Based on Chamot and Kupper (1989), certain strategies or clusters of strategies are linked to particular language skills or tasks. For example, L2 writing, like L1 writing, benefits from the learning strategies of planning, self-monitoring, deduction, and substitution. L2 speaking demands strategies such as risk-taking, paraphrasing, circumlocution, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation. L2 listening comprehension gains from strategies of elaboration, inferencing, selective attention, and self-monitoring. Reading comprehension uses strategies like reading aloud, guessing, deduction, and summarizing. Research shows that use of appropriate language learning strategies often results in improved proficiency or achievement overall or in specific skill areas (Oxford, Park-Oh, Ito, & Sumrall,1993).

One of the most important metacognitive strategies is to evaluate effectiveness of strategy use. Self-questioning, debriefing discussions after strategies practice, learning logs in which students record the results of their learning strategies applications, and checklists of strategies used can be used to allow the student to reflect through the cycle of learning. At this stage of metacognition the whole cycle of planning, selecting, using, monitoring and orchestration of strategies is evaluated.

It should be noted that different metacognitive skills interact with each other. The components are not used in a linear fashion. More than one metacognitive process along with cognitive ones may be working during a learning task (Anderson, 2002b). Therefore the orchestration of various strategies is a vital component of second language learning in general and vocabulary learning in particular. Allowing learners opportunities to think about and talk about how they combine various strategies facilitates strategy use.

Language Learning Strategy Training

The results of the studies on strategy description and categorization have found their implications in language classrooms in helping teachers accelerate the language learning of their students. If learners are to be in a position to be made aware of different strategies that can assist them in the process of learning, they should be familiar with the strategies that are available. In other words, if students have to make their strategy selection, they have to know about the process of making this selection, because "informed selection of strategies presupposes knowledge of strategies and knowledge of strategies presupposes instruction" (Nunan, 1991, p.179). With the expansion of language learning strategy instruction research, the question to be answered is whether training on strategies would result in improvement in language learners. A large body of research supports the positive effects of training on strategies in language learning performance (Carrell, Pharis, & Liberto, 1989; Carrell, 1998; Oxford 1990a, 1990b, 1996; Oxfordet al., 1990). Cottrell (1999) claims that through practice and instruction, learners' use of strategies can be automatized. [-4-]

It has been suggested that learning strategy instruction may help learners in three ways: firstly, learning strategies instruction can help students to become better learners, secondly, skill in using learning strategies assists them in becoming independent and confident learners, and finally, they become more motivated as they begin to understand the relationship between their use of strategies and success in learning languages (Chamot & Kupper, 1989; Chamot & O'Malley, 1994).

To ratify this premise, an abundant body of research has been carried out in recent years.. O'Malley and Chamot (1990), and Oxford (1990a) have found that the use of learning strategies in classroom instruction is fundamental to successful learning. Supporting their findings, Oxford et al. (1990, p. 210) in their studies of six cases found that "Strategy training can enhance both the process of language learning (the strategies or behaviors learners use and the affective elements involved) and the product of language learning (changes in students' language performance)." They also claimed that the training has some positive effects on the teacher:

Teachers who use strategy training often become enthusiastic about their roles as facilitators of classroom learning. Strategy training makes them more learner oriented and more aware of their students needs. Teachers also begin to scrutinize how their teaching techniques relate (or fail to relate) to their students' learning strategies and sometimes teachers choose to alter their instructional patterns as a result of such scrutiny. (Oxford et al., p.210)

With regard to vocabulary learning, research shows that for most adult learners direct vocabulary instruction is beneficial and necessary, due to the fact that students are not able to acquire the mass of vocabulary just by meaningful reading, listening, speaking and writing. Learners can be taught explicitly how to improve their own vocabulary by teaching them appropriate vocabulary learning strategies in contrast to simply letting students learn vocabulary in their own way (Brown & Perry, 1991). Ellis (1985) notes that we should remember that vocabulary learning also involves the use of individual learning techniques. Ellis has also found that the growing interest in providing a description of vocabulary learning techniques and strategies aims to enhance understanding of the acquisition processes that take place in the learners' mind. Therefore a description of vocabulary learning strategies can be used as a guideline to help learners in their lexical acquisition (Ellis, 1995).

In relation to vocabulary learning strategies, Sanaoui (1995) reported that there were two approaches to vocabulary learning among students: a systematic approach and an unsystematic approach. In systematic approach learners were more organized and independent, used extensive records of lexical items, and reviewed words more often. In unsystematic approach, learners were dependent on the course, used minimal or no records of lexical items, and reviewed words little or not at all.

Coady (1997), arguing on the importance of context in vocabulary learning, recommended the use of vocabulary learning strategy instruction approach to enhance lexical acquisition:

The proponents of this approach (learning strategy instruction) also believe that context is the major source of vocabulary learning but they express some significant reservations about how well students can deal with context on their own. As a result, there is considerable emphasize on teaching specific learning strategies to students so that they can effectively learn from context. (Coady, 1997, p. 276) [-5-]

Husltijn (1997) claimed that the teaching of vocabulary learning strategies especially at the intermediate and advanced level by the use of keyword strategy would bring significant result. He added, "Modern foreign language pedagogy stresses the importance of teaching students appropriate learning and studying strategies" (1997, p.127). Parry (1997) carried out a study that showed how cognitive strategies had dramatic impacts on the success or failure of students in terms of their acquisition of academic words. Altman (1997) showed the significance of metacognitive awareness in the process of using words in oral communication.

Language Learning Strategy Training Models

Finding the usefulness of strategy training, some researchers tried to present a model including the steps to be taken by teachers for this kind of instruction (Oxford et al. 1990; O'Malley & Chamot, 1990).

O'Malley and Chamot (1990) found two approaches in teaching learning strategy, direct (overt in Oxford's model) and embedded (covert in Oxford' model). Direct training is "learning strategy instruction in which students are informed about the value and purpose of learning strategies" (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, p. 229). Whereas, embedded training is "guidance in the use of learning strategies that is embedded in the task materials but not explicitly defined to the learner as strategy instruction" (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, p. 230). They added that embedded approach had little effect on learners. Wenden (1987) has also criticized embedded instruction since with this kind of training the learners who were not familiar with cognitive or socio-affective strategies that were available to them, could not use the metacognitive ones and as a result no transfer occurred. As a result, she recommended the use of a more direct approach for the instruction.

Later, Chamot & O'Malley (1994) working on a project called Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) provided a useful framework for direct language learning strategies instruction. The sequence of instruction in CALLA approach is a five-phase recursive cycle for introducing, teaching, practicing, evaluating, and applying learning strategies. In this approach, highly explicit instruction in applying strategies to learning tasks is gradually faded so that students can begin to assume greater responsibility in selecting and applying appropriate learning strategies. The cycle repeats as new strategies or new applications are added to students' strategic repertoires (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994; Chamot Barnhardt, El Dinary, & Robbins, 1999).

CALLA model of Chamot and O'Malley (1986) relies on Anderson's (1985) distinction between declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge is defined as "A special type of information in long term memory that consists of knowledge about the facts and things that we know. This type of information is stored in terms of propositions, schemata, and propositional networks. It may also be stored in terms of isolated pieces of information temporal strings, and images" (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, p. 229), whereas, procedural knowledge is the "Knowledge that consists of the things that we know how to do. It underlies the execution of all complex cognitive skillsŠ and includes mental activities such as problem solving, language reception and production, and using learning strategies" (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, p. 231). They also suggested that all the three main categories of learning strategies could be taught through the CALLA approach. [-6-]

To have a successful and helpful learning strategy instruction some requirements must be met by the teachers. These are summarized by Oxford (1994) into the following principles that she left subject to further investigation: 1) L2 strategy training should be based clearly on students' attitudes, beliefs, and stated needs, 2) strategies should be chosen so that they mesh with and support each other and so that they fit the requirements of the language task, the learners' goals, and the learners' style of learning, 3) training should, if possible, be integrated into regular L2 activities over a long period of time rather than taught as a separate, short intervention, 4) students should have plenty of opportunities for strategy training during language classes, 5) strategy training should include explanations, handouts, activities, brainstorming, and materials for reference and home study, 6) affective issues such as anxiety, motivation, beliefs, and interests--all of which influence strategy choice--should be directly addressed by L2 strategy training, 7) strategy training should be explicit, overt, and relevant and should provide plenty of practice with varied L2 tasks involving authentic materials, 8) strategy training should not be solely tied to the class at hand; it should provide strategies that are transferable to future language tasks beyond a given class, 9) strategy training should be somewhat individualized, as different students prefer or need certain strategies for particular tasks, and 10) strategy training should provide students with a mechanism to evaluate their own progress and to evaluate the success of the training and the value of the strategies in multiple tasks.

Nevertheless, not all L2 strategy training studies have been successful or conclusive. Some training has been effective in various skill areas but not in others, even within the same study (Oxford, 1989). Therefore the present study was conducted to shed some light on this issue. Considering that different variable of gender, cultural background, motivation, learning style, and attitudes and beliefs may affect strategy use and learning, the present study can add to the previous literature on strategy training.

Justification for the Study

Most of the research in the field of learning strategy instruction has focused on reading strategies as one of the important language skills (Carrell, 1998), and on cognitive strategies as one of the main categories of learning strategies. In addition, most of the research on vocabulary learning strategies has focused on cognitive strategies. Due to the importance of metacognitive learning strategies and vocabulary learning, the present study focused on explicit metacognitive strategy instruction and its impact on lexical knowledge improvement of adult EFL students.

The importance of metacognitive strategies has been emphasized by O'Malley, Chamot, Stewner-Mazanares, Russo, and Kupper (1985, p. 561) by stating, "students without metacognitive approaches are essentially learners without direction or opportunity to review their progress, accomplishment, and future directions". According to Anderson (2002b, p. 1), developing metacognitive awareness in learners may also lead to the development of stronger cognitive skills and much deeper processing. It results in critical but healthy reflection and evaluation of thinking.

In addition, vocabulary knowledge is known to play a key role in the individuals' proficiency in both first and second language. Vocabulary size was shown to be the best predictor of reading comprehension in L1 and L2 (Coady, 1997). Also it has been shown to correlate highly with global assessment of writing quality and with general language proficiency scores (Bachman & Palmer, 1996). [-7-]

Finally, as it has been suggested by some researchers including, Brown (1994), Chamot et al., (1999), Chamot and O'Malley (1992) Coady (1997), McCarthy (1990), and Oxford (1990a, 1991,1996) one of the areas that teachers could help their students in relation to learning strategies could be to familiarize them with different lexical learning strategies, which would lead to more autonomy in students. Moreover, most of the studies in learning strategies have concentrated on identification, description and classification of learning strategies used by language learners. As a result, more attention should be paid to finding whether strategies used by successful students can be taught to unsuccessful students, and if so, what instructional approaches teachers should use to teach the strategies.

To achieve the purpose of the study the following research question was proposed:

"Does the metacognitive strategies instruction significantly increase the lexical knowledge of Iranian EFL students?"



The participants of the study were 53 male and female Iranian EFL students taking part in an intensive course of English in Tehran Institute of Technology aged 19 to 25. The average age of the subjects was 21.86. They were studying English to enroll later in either English business classes or information technology classes. They had passed Headway elementary achievement test with at least 65 percent of the whole score. They were assigned into two classes and considered at pre-intermediate level of language proficiency. Twenty-nine of the subjects were female, and twenty-four were male. One of the classes was randomly selected as the control group and the other class as experimental group. To be sure of the homogeneity in the groups regarding lexical knowledge of the book that they were supposed to study during the experiment, a vocabulary achievement test (VAT) was developed and used. The reliability and validity of the vocabulary test was checked against Nelson language proficiency test administered to the subjects. The result of the vocabulary pre-test showed that there was no significant difference between the control and experimental groups in terms of lexical knowledge to be taught in the experiment period. The number of the students in the control was 26 and there were 27 subjects in the experimental group.


This study had an intact group, pretest-posttest, experimental design. The subjects were already assigned in groups by the institution. Two classes were selected for this study and one was randomly assigned as experimental and the other as the control group. The homogeneity of the two groups in terms of vocabulary knowledge and language proficiency was checked using a vocabulary achievement test and Nelson English language proficiency test respectively.


Two instruments were used in this study. The first one was Nelson Language Proficiency test which was used as a standardized measure to check the homogeneity of subjects in terms of language proficiency and also to be used as a standardized measure to check the reliability and validity of our vocabulary test. [-8-]

The second one was a 40 item multiple-choice test of vocabulary, which was developed by the researchers. The vocabulary items in the test were mainly selected from the new lexical items taught and exposed to during the course. The validity and reliability of the test was checked against a standardized test (Nelson Test). The test was used as the assessment tool in the pre-test and the post-test phase of the study.

Two internal consistency estimates of reliability which included coefficient alpha and a split-half coefficient expressed as Spearman-Brown corrected correlation were computed for the vocabulary test. For the split-half coefficient, the test items were split into two halves based on odd and even numbers to nullify the effects of unwanted factors such as tiredness of the test takers. The value for coefficient alpha was .73 and the value of the split-half coefficient was .80, each indicating satisfactory reliability.

Considering the other main characteristics of the test, namely validity, first, most of the vocabulary items in the vocabulary achievement test (VAT) and the distracters were selected from the new lexical items of the book and were also used in the glossary and the accompanying workbook. This strategy helped to increase the content validity of the VAT. To check the criterion-related validity of the test, Nelson language proficiency test, which is a standardized test, was used which showed .81 of coefficient of determination, which is satisfactory for a test like this.


Both experimental and control groups enrolled in an English course which lasted for 10 weeks (four hours a day, three days a week). The textbook used for this course was Headway pre-intermediate. The authors have emphasized the role of lexical knowledge in learning the English language and have put some sections on vocabulary learning strategies in the book. One of the researchers taught both classes.

Both groups received the usual training based on the procedures suggested in the Headway Teacher's book. The vocabulary strategies which were covered in the book were summarized and taught in the first session for both groups. The instruction and use of vocabulary learning strategies continued throughout the course for both groups of subjects. It is believed that metacognitive strategies are responsible for controlling other strategies and as a result they have their best effects if students are aware of other strategies that are available to them at the beginning of the course (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, p. 230).

Only the experimental group received explicit instruction on metacognitive strategies beginning from the second day of the course. The training was based on CALLA model of teaching learning strategy which includes five steps:

1. Preparation: The purpose of this phase was to help students identify the strategies they are already using and to develop their metacognitive awareness of the relationship between their own mental processes and effective learning. In this step the teacher explained the importance of metacognitive learning strategies and a handout including different metacognitive strategies was distributed to the students. In relation to vocabulary learning, which was the subject of this study, students with the help and guidance of the teacher set specific goals for mastering the vocabulary from certain chapters in the textbook within a certain time frame, and they planned their time in order to accomplish the task (time-management). [-9-]

2. Presentation: This phase focused on modeling the learning strategy. The teacher talked about the characteristics, usefulness, and applications of the strategy explicitly and through examples and illustrated his own strategy use through a reading task in relation to unknown vocabularies. Learners were explicitly taught about the variety of strategies to use when they do not know a vocabulary word they encounter in a text and they judge the word to be important to the overall meaning of the text. But more importantly, they received explicit instruction on how to use these strategies. They were told that no single vocabulary learning strategy would work in every case. For example, word analysis strategy (dividing the word into its component morphemes) may work with some words but not with others. Using contextual cues for guessing the meaning of unknown words may be effective in some rich-context cases but not in context-reduced texts. The preparation and planning, the selection of vocabulary learning strategies, monitoring of strategy selection and use, orchestrated use of several strategies, and evaluation of effectiveness of metacognitive strategies for vocabulary learning were illustrated through several examples.

3. Practice: In this phase, students had the opportunity of practicing the learning strategies with an authentic learning task. They were asked to make conscious effort using the metacognitive strategies in combination with vocabulary learning strategies. The students, by the teacher's assistance practiced monitoring while using multiple strategies available to them. The students became aware of multiple strategies available to them by teaching them, for example, how to use both word analysis and contextual clues to determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word. Students were shown how to recognize when one strategy isn't working and how to move on to another. For example, a student may try to use word cognate to determine the meaning of the word football. But that strategy won't work in this instance The English equivalent of the word Persian Football is soccer. The students need to be able to turn to other strategies like using contextual clues to help them understand the meaning of the word.

4. Evaluation: The main purpose of this phase was to provide students with opportunities to evaluate their own success in using learning strategies, thus developing their metacognitive awareness of their own learning processes. Activities used to develop students self-evaluation insights included self-questioning, debriefing discussions after strategies practice, learning logs in which students recorded the results of their learning strategies applications, checklists of strategies used, and open-ended questionnaires in which students expressed their opinions about the usefulness of particular strategies.

5. Expansion: In this final phase students were encouraged to: a) use the strategies that they found most effective, b) apply these strategies to new contexts, and c) devise their own individual combinations and interpretations of metacognitive learning strategies. They were asked to consider not only vocabulary learning but also other domains of language learning. [-10-]

As time went by less time was spent on the checking since it was believed that the use of strategies had changed from factual knowledge to procedural and as a result automatic. According to Cottrell (1999, p. 22), "A skilled student uses strategies, and with practice the strategies become nearly automatic". However, throughout the semester, in order to sustain students' awareness, they were periodically asked whether they used the strategies and if they had found them useful. The use of strategies was also systematically reinforced by the teacher. Moreover, in teaching new vocabulary items the teacher made the students aware of the importance of using metacognitive strategies in combination with vocabulary learning strategies. Students could do this by asking questions about the strategies they used to learn new vocabulary items.

At the end of the course both the control group and the experimental group were given the vocabulary achievement test and the results of the tests were compared to find the effects of the training.

Data analysis

Statistical analysis of t-test was used to test possible differences between the two groups at the beginning and end of the study.

In order to establish the homogeneity of the two groups in terms of vocabulary knowledge an independent-samples t-test was conducted to examine the difference among the performance of the two groups on the vocabulary test before the experiment. The result indicated that there was not any significant difference (t (51) = 1.00 a< .05) between the mean scores of the subjects in the control group with the participants in the experimental group. In simple words, the two groups were homogenous in terms of lexical knowledge of the new items of the course book at the beginning of the course. The result is presented in the following table.

Table 1 Results of the independent-samples t test in vocabulary pre-test
Group N Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean
Experimental Group(Metacognitive) 27 7.6667 3.3855 .6515
Control Group(None) 26 6.6538 3.9592 .7765

To find the effectiveness of explicit metacognitive strategy instruction on the lexical knowledge of the experimental group and compare the improvement with their counterparts in the control group, both groups took part in a post-test of the same vocabulary achievement test after completing the course. The results of the vocabulary test in the two groups were compared using independent samples t-test statistical procedure, whose result showed that the mean scores of the experimental group (M = 29.29, SD = 3.84) was significantly (t (51) = 3.55 a< .05) different from the control group (M = 25.30, SD = 4.32). In other words, while there was not any significant difference between control and experimental group in terms of lexical knowledge at the beginning of the study, the experimental group surpassed the control group in terms of lexical knowledge at the end of the experiment. The result of the t-test of post-test of both groups is summarized in Table 2.

Table 2 Results of the independent-samples t test in vocabulary post-test
Group N Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean
Experimental Group(Metacognitive) 27 29.2963 3.8412 .7392
Control Group(None) 26 25.3077 4.3245 .8481


The major concern of the present study was to explore the effectiveness of explicit metacognitive strategies training on vocabulary learning of the EFL students. As it was shown, the experimental group outperformed the comparison group on the vocabulary achievement test. Thus, the explicit metacognitive strategy training seems to have contributed to the improvement of students' vocabulary learning. In other words, the explicit instruction and practice the experimental group received about how to plan their vocabulary learning, set specific goals within a time frame, select the most appropriate vocabulary learning strategy, monitor strategy use, use a combination of strategies, self-testing degree of mastery of the new vocabulary items after meeting the words for the first time, managing their time by devoting some time during their study hours to vocabulary practice, and finally evaluating the whole process, contributed to this improved and expanded lexical knowledge. The findings of this study indicate that explicit metacognitive strategies instruction has positive impact on the lexical knowledge development of EFL students. It corroborates with studies focused on other types of learning strategies such as cognitive strategies using the two kinds of instruction (explicit and embedded) (Wenden, 1987; Carrel et al., 1989; Kern, 1989; Cohen, Weaver, & Li, 1998; Wenden, 1998) according to which learning strategy instruction has positive effects on development of skills and components of language.

The findings of this study support the foreign language research literature on strategy training of other components and skills of the language such as reading comprehension (Kern, 1989; Carrell, 1998). Moreover, it can be asserted that the model used to teach metacognitive strategies was a practical and useful one.

The findings of the present study have implications for learners, teachers, and teacher educators in the realm of TEFL in particular and education in general. It helps teachers in accomplishing their challenging task of teaching English in EFL contexts where learners have less exposure to language compared to ESL contexts. Teachers can help learners use different metacognitive strategies to facilitate their vocabulary learning. Textbook writers, especially in the context of EFL, do not include a sufficient amount of information on learning strategies. A need for the inclusion of and emphasis on learning strategies is obvious.

Both learners and teachers need to become aware of learning styles and strategies through strategy instruction. Attempts to teach students to use learning strategies have produced good results (Rubin & Thompson, 1994). The main objective of such attempts is to allow students to become more aware of their preferred learning strategies and to help them become more responsible for meeting their own objectives. Such objectives can be only achieved when students are trained in strategy use so that they become more independent and effective.

However, before teaching students how to use strategies effectively, teachers should be trained in strategy instruction and assessment. They should also be trained on how to implement strategy instruction inside their classrooms. The Strategy-Based Instruction (SBI) approach adopted by Cohen, Weaver, and Li, (1998) emphasizes the role of SBI in the foreign language classrooms. In addition, Cohen, Weaver, and Li advise teachers to systematically introduce and reinforce learning strategies that help students use the target language more effectively and thus improve their performance. Oxford (1990a) suggests that strategy training can be achieved after familiarizing the students with the language learning strategies and providing them with opportunities for practicing these strategies through integrating them into the classroom instructional plan and embedding them into regular class activities. [-12-]

There is a need for more comprehensive research on a wide range of variables affecting language learning strategies use. Variables such as cultural background, beliefs, learning style, motivation, and attitude that may have a bearing on language learning strategy use should be studied with students of different language backgrounds and proficiency levels. Moreover, research on the frequency of use of the social and affective strategies and choice of given strategies is recommended since it is helpful for both learners and teachers.

Finally, the idea of self-regulation and empowerment with strategic instruction will possibly prove more effective in certain contexts. Where learners of EFL have been educated in a more teacher-centered, top-down curriculum rather than one that promotes learners' autonomy and independence, strategy instruction could prove most effective.


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About the Authors

Zohreh Eslami Rasekh is an Assistant Professor of ESL at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. She has taught EFL at high school level in Iran and has trained EFL teachers in Iran for 8 years. Her research interests include issues related to ESL and EFL learning and teaching.

Reza Ranjbary is a lecturer at Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran, Iran. He has taught EFL to Iranian students during the last six years. His research interests include Language Learning Strategies, English for Special Purposes, and Computer Assisted Language Learning.

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