Improving Vocabulary through Active Learning

Modern software such as Ultimate Vocabulary can maximize active learning. Click here for more information.


Active Learning

There are a number of ways we can develop our vocabulary. One effective method for improving vocabulary is that of active learning. Active learning involves learners taking on interactive roles with the learning material. Active production of knowledge is promoted rather than just being passive learners(UC Davis, 2003).

Active learning involves acquiring knowledge through the experience of observing and doing (Fink, 1999). The learner watches and listens while the task is performed and then the learner completes the task themselves. It is also important that active learning incorporates dialogue with self and dialogue with others (Fink, 1999). Dialogue with self involves analyzing the task, whilst dialogue with others refers to discussing the task with others. These processes increase the depth at which understanding occurs. In relation to increasing vocabulary, active experience can take place in both the written and spoken form. It is well established that active learning, rather than passive, is more efficient and effective for developing vocabulary.

It is important for students to take part in more than just listening. Reading, writing, discussing and, actively participating in problem-solving assists in developing vocabulary. Active learning also involves more than just the taking in of information, it also refers to the presence of higher order thinking (i.e. analysis and evaluation) (Bonwell & Eison 2003). Some suggested active learning methods for developing vocabulary include:

  • Writing – For example, getting students to write answers to questions. This involves higher order thinking and the production of information.
  • Brainstorming – also involves higher order thinking and analysis.
  • Games – interactive, fun, and involves analysis.
  • Use of case studies – applies word meanings to real life examples. (UC Davis, 2003).

Improving vocabulary through active learning can also involve activities where:

  • Existing knowledge is actively connected to newly learnt content;
  • Focused listing which involves writing down a list of terms and ideas that students connect to a particular topic;
  • Brainstorming is similar to focused listing but involves more than just developing a list of terms and ideas (University of Minnesota, 2008).

Other suggested strategies for vocabulary development using active learning techniques can include repetition; using the word in a different way so that a dissimilar meaning is produced; changing the format of the word usage (such as putting it into a different sentence); and discussing the word and its usage with others (this involves production) (University of Melbourne, 2005).

Active learning is a proven method of learning and improving vocabulary. Many of the above techniques are also incorporated into vocabulary building software. Ultimate Vocabulary’s range of software products draw upon the most effective active learning principles and offer straightforward techniques for increasing vocabulary.



Bonwell, CC & Eison, JA 2003, Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, viewed 12 February, 2009, <>.

Fink, L.D. (1999) Active Learning, viewed 7 February, 2009, viewed 7 February, 2009.

UC Davis 2003, Active Learning, viewed 12 February, 2009. 

University of Melbourne 2005, Active Learning: Get Better Value for Your Study Time, viewed 7 February, 2009.

University of Minnesota 2008, Twelve Active Learning Strategies, Center for Teaching and Learning, viewed 12 February, 2009.