June 2005
Volume 9, Number 1

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Resource Books for Teachers: Vocabulary (Second Edition)
Author:John Morgan and Mario Rinvolucri (2004)book cover
Publisher:Oxford : Oxford University Press
Pp. xv + 168019-4421864 (paper)£13.80

John Morgan and Mario Rinvolucri present in their useful and thoroughly revised book Resource Books for Teachers: Vocabulary over a hundred different activities that teachers can use in class to help students strengthen their vocabulary skills. The book, which is a revision of the first edition published in 1986, has eleven chapters which cover general areas of vocabulary and several different modalities. The topics of the chapters have some overlap, but each claims to covers one specific area. The shortest chapter has four activities (Chapter 3, Writing Activities) and the longest has seventeen (Chapter 11, Revision Activities). The other chapters cover the following areas: Pre-text Activities, Working with Texts, Bilingual Texts and Activities, Using Corpora and Concordances, Words and the Senses, Word Sets, Personal, Word Games, and Dictionary Exercises and Word History. As seen in this list, the range of areas covered is impressive and includes such relevant emerging topics as corpus linguistics and bilingual approaches to vocabulary.

Each activity follows a standard format: an introductory section describes the target learner level, the approximate time in class, the aims of the activity, and optionally the materials required. This is followed by a prose description of the preparation, procedures, examples if any, and finally comments about the authors' own experiences or suggestions for the activity. The description of each activity generally runs 1-2 pages, with a few longer exceptions that run 3-4 pages. Most activities do not include illustrations, and there is almost no photocopiable material in the book. This makes sense, however, as the authors argue convincingly that it is better to use materials for most activities that have been culled from the specific class's topics or from the students' stated interests. As the authors state in their introduction, "we aim neither to present a method to be rigorously followed, nor to specify what to teach . . . [rather] we hope to provide . . . a rich sourcebook of ideas to be dipped into, transformed, and added to" (p. 11).

One of the several valuable additions to this edition is a more in-depth consideration in Chapter 4 of the use of the students' first language (L1) in a range of vocabulary activities. While many of the specific bilingual activities are useful, what also really impresses is the authors' stance that finding ways to incorporate L1 knowledge should be a priority in finding innovative activities for vocabulary development.

Another of the innovative new components of this book is its inclusion in Chapter 5 of activities based on advances in corpus linguistics and its effects on vocabulary study (see also Sinclair, 1991; Lewis, 2000). The authors cite both sources from L2 vocabulary (McCarthy, 1999) and lexicography (Rundell, 20002) to support this inclusion, and they include both those activities in which teachers access corpus-based tools to prepare materials as well as those activities in which students use these tools directly.

What is particularly heartening about the authors' approach to this potentially confusing topic for teachers is how the authors make each step understandable, providing for this chapter many clear illustrations and websites for further study. In the reference material at the end of the book, they also include a range of websites (though hardly a complete list) where teachers can go to learn about and use such corpus tools as concordancing programs and word lists.

While this book offers many wonderful tools for teachers, one component that adds little to its overall usefulness is its use of the "level" label for each activity. Some of the levels used include "beginner to advanced," "post-beginner to advanced," "elementary to advanced," "intermediate to advanced," "lower-intermediate to advanced," "upper-intermediate to advanced," "elementary to intermediate," and "all". In the first place, these level descriptors are never defined, which makes the distinction murky at best. Further, it is difficult to see, for example, how "all" and "beginner to advanced" differ. Nor do the authors in most cases include instructions for how to modify activities to fit the wide range of levels.

In addressing which activities are suitable for different learner levels, what would have been more useful would have been some way to describe what changes need to be made in order to convert a task that the authors envisioned as a 'beginner' task into a truly 'advanced' task. The 'level' descriptors are not useful: either the experienced teacher knows enough about preparing materials that the prose description makes it clear what level it might serve, or the novice teacher would not know enough about how to modify the activity as described to fit a different level. In other words, when most of the activities are labeled for all levels, the category becomes essentially meaningless and therefore superfluous.

It also would have been wonderful to have seen more activities that emphasized vocabulary connected to writing activities (that chapter was the shortest in the book, almost perfunctory, with only four short activities), though many activities in the other chapters touch on the vocabulary/writing connection and could easily be modified to include a writing component. Another useful element that is missing is a determination regarding the appropriate age group for each activity. In reviewing the activities, it seems that there are many that are suited primarily for children but might not be suitable for adults. Including such a distinction might be a useful filtering tool for teachers using the book.

This book provides a large number of inventive and varied vocabulary activities, easily referenced through effective chapter demarcations and useful, practical activity headings. For a busy teacher looking for different ways to introduce and then effectively recycle words (Folse, 1996; Nation, 1990; Schmitt, 2000), Morgan and Rinvolucri have done a wonderful job updating their earlier work, adding important new ideas while still keeping the text readable and accessible to teachers at all levels.


Folse, K. (2004). Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Lewis, M. (2000). Materials and resources for teaching collocation. In M. Lewis (Ed.), Teaching collocation: Further development in the lexical approach (pp. 186-204). Hove, UK: Language Teaching Publications.

McCarthy, M. (1998). Spoken language and applied linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I. S. P. (1990). Teaching and learning vocabulary. Boston: Heinle & Heinle

Rundell, M. (2002). If only they'd asked a linguist. Humanising Language Teaching, 4 (4) Accessed on April 24, 2005

Schmitt, N. (2000). Vocabulary in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sinclair, J. (1991). Corpus, concordance, collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

John Bunting
Georgia State University

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