REAP Study on Highlighting Target Vocabulary to Focus Learner Attention

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REAP Study on Personalization of Readings for Increased Interest

Logistical Information

Contributors Maxine Eskenazi, Alan Juffs, Michael Heilman, Kevyn Collins-Thompson, Jamie Callan
Study Start Date September 11, 2007
Study End Date November 16, 2007
Learnlab Courses English Language Institute Reading 4 & 5 (ESL LearnLab)
Number of Students 52
Total Participant Hours (est.) 350
Data in Datashop no



Highlighting: (in the context of REAP) altering visual characteristics of a target vocabulary word--such as color, font-weight, and underlining--in a way that makes that word more visually salient in order to draw the learner's focus attention to that word.

Research questions

Does highlighting target vocabulary words in practice readings improve second language vocabulary acquisition in a vocabulary tutoring system?

Does highlighting of target vocabulary words have any additional effects on reading behaviors? For example, do students spend less time reading a text when words are highlighted because they ignore anything that isn't highlighted?

Dependent variables

Normal post-test scores

Normal post-test scores for practiced words only

Evidence of Transfer: sentence production tasks for target words.

Independent variables

Highlight of target vocabulary words in practice readings. In the control condition, students see a practice reading as is from the original source (the web). In the experimental condition, students see practice readings with target words highlighted in blue and underlined--that is, as hyperlinks commonly appear. Students in both groups have access to dictionary definitions for all words, and after each reading work through vocabulary practice exercises for target words.


Highlighting will improve acquisition of target vocabulary words.


We *expect* to find that students will learn more when target vocabulary words are highlighted. Students in the highlighting condition will pay more attention to the context around highlighted words and also be more encouraged to look up dictionary definitions for target words. In general, for students working with REAP, there are many unknown words that appear in the text. Students may be able to process all the new words in a shallow manner, but robust learning is unlikely. Students choose particular words to focus on and concentrate their efforts on those words. When target words are not highlighted, students may or may choose to focus on the target vocabulary words. Thus, highlighting target words may focus student attention on the specific goals of the instructional activity. The focused attention will lead to more robust learning of target vocabulary words.


Further Information

Annotated bibliography