Module Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module students will be able to:
  1. Recognize the need to read a text multiple times to maximize comprehension. [CLO 1, 5, 6]
  2. Read in chunks rather than word by word. [CLO 1, 5]
  3. Connect content with engineering concepts. [CLO 1, 2]
  4. Develop a sense of timing. [CLO 4]
  5. Articulate their understanding of read information in their own words. [CLO 5, 6]
  6. Paraphrase intermediate level text. [CLO 5, 6]

Resources (Bank)

Description of how to be used: Distributed to students as source reading material

Download: Green Consultants Report (PDF, 165 KB)

Description of how to be used: May be used to develop facilitator understanding of vocabulary learning, may be distributed to students.

(Table adapted from Nations, Paul. 2013. Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 44-86.)

Download: What it Means to Know a Word (PDF, 142 KB)

Description of how to be used: See supplemental instructions

Download: Case Study 1 (PDF, 816 KB)

Description of how to be used: See supplemental instructions

Download: Case Study 2 (PDF, 970 KB)

Description of how to be used: See workshop plan


Face to Face Workshop Plan

Description of Workshop

This workshop targets student understanding and use of discipline-specific vocabulary and phrases. Students work individually first and then in pairs. Emphasis is placed on reading quickly and multiple times for specific information relevant to lexicogrammatical chunks. While this activity targets reading practices, it serves well as a strategy to review and prepare for exams.

Time for Completion

60-90 minutes


Index cards
Flip chart paper
Copies of a blank grid/table to be filled in
Copies of the text, one for each student

Workshop Preparation Instructions

This activity uses as an example “case study,” (Green Consultants Inspection Report [PDF, 165 KB]), however, a similar activity could be built around any engineering text such as a Request for Proposals (RFP), Client statement, an introductory chapter in a design text, or an engineering handbook. We encourage instructors to work with the curriculum to identify the texts or documentation being used in student coursework in order to create the most relevant materials for an activity such as this.


Facilitator Background Information on Reading and Vocabulary: Multilingual students often read challenging or unfamiliar texts one word at a time, determined to understand each and every word. However, we don’t read word by word, but rather, in chunks or phrases; we take in phrases and build meanings from those. For example, idioms such as “read between the lines” or collocations such as “in the meantime,” will not make any meaningful sense if read word-by-word. The meaning is in the single chunk or phrase.

This exercise is designed to draw attention to this reading practice and to force students to practice reading in chunks through the use of two strategies. The first is to draw attention to reading practices. By asking students to think about and describe how they read in their first or dominant language, they can start to notice that their eyes do not pick out each individual word or character, but instead focus on phrases or chunks of meaning. The second strategy is to challenge students to skim through text, looking for meaningful chunks. It is easier to do this when students have identified a small number of significant words or ideas and purposefully read/skim with those in mind. It is also useful to enforce a time limit, putting pressure on students to search for those chunks in order to meet the time limit. The purpose is to break old reading habits and create new ones.

In determining which words and their associated concepts are important, it is best to consult with the engineering course instructors. It is important to confirm with an engineering faculty member the vocabulary being used as engineering disciplines use the same words with slightly different meanings. This technique is useful for reading textbooks, going through notes and slides or as an exam or term test preparation strategy.

How students approach new or unfamiliar vocabulary is related to their ability to read for meaning. Many students equate knowing the definitions of words with understanding. Nation, a vocabulary scholar, developed a framework for what it means to know a word. Introducing students to this framework can help them understand where their efforts may have the best return.

It could be useful to introduce students to Paul Nation’s concept of what it means to “know” a word. For many students, memorizing the definition of a word and its part of speech was sufficient for taking a vocabulary test. However, it is necessary but not sufficient for using the words to learn a content area or a discipline. This is also an opportunity to call students’ attention to the difference between everyday words and discipline-specific vocabulary. Students often assume that they know the meaning of words when they actually only know the everyday meaning and are unaware of the discipline-specific meaning. Students can begin to understand this by reminding them of the meaning of “function” in their math classes and the everyday meaning of function contrasted with the way that a mechanical engineer probably uses “function.” Students would also understand this with words like “load,” “stress,” “moment,” etc.

This is an easy way to introduce students to the idea of “associated concepts.” Many engineering design courses also use function, but in a variety of ways. This is another reason to check with faculty on just exactly how the terminology is defined and used.

Workshop Procedure

Step 1: (~10 minutes)

Together, with students, brainstorm concept vocabulary from their courses. Have students write 6 concepts on individual index cards on their own. Ask students to share those concepts with two other people to produce a list of up to 18 concepts.

Step 2: (~10 minutes)

Distribute the Concept Vocabulary Grid and have each student fill in the second column (Forms) and the third column (Phrases) of the provided table.

Students take the word and produce other forms e.g. design, designer; require, requirement; function (noun and verb), functional, etc. and phrases or chunks associated with the word. For example, “engineering design,” “develop requirements,” “conceptual design,” “detailed design,” “agile design,” “algorithmic design,” “risk management,” “identify risk,” “manage risk,” “mitigate risk,” “risk mitigation,” etc.

Facilitator Notes:

Before starting Step 3, get students to think about and describe how they read in their dominant language. Draw attention to the habit of reading chunks or phrases rather than single words. Ask them to consider why they might do this.

Step 3: (~20 minutes)

Assign each pair of students a different concept. Give students 5 minutes to skim through the reading (Green Consultants Inspection Report) and identify everything connected with that concept, note it on the table. Repeat this with an additional 3-4 concepts.

Step 4: (~5 minutes)

Have students identify the collocation or phrase in which the concept word appears, note any difference in form and position in the sentence, use of articles, prepositions, etc.

Facilitator Notes:

This is a good time to address lexicogrammatical issues, pointing out to students the different forms of the words and the repeating patterns they are used in.

Step 5: (~20 minutes)

Individually, students create a summary of the relationship of the concept or concepts to the case. (e.g. Safety is an engineering concern in this case because …)

Facilitator Notes:

Depending on the concepts, students may connect two or more concepts in their summaries of relationships. This part of the exercise forces students to use the chunks of language in sentences that are their own expressions of the meaning rather than those memorized or copied from books.

If time permits, use Step 6.

Step 6: (~10 minutes)

Students exchange summaries and generate two questions to ask about the concept in the context of the case/scenario.

Supplemental Materials

Case Study 1 and 2 are available for you to use to repeat this workshop’s module plan multiple times.


The completed Concept Vocabulary Grid exercise can be used to assess student knowledge of the definitions, forms and associated conceptual phrases of language.