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The relevance of the AWL

The second #EAPchat took place on Twitter on Monday, March 5 revolving around the question: Is the Academic Word List (or other lists) relevant for EAP programs?   Mura Nava (@muranava) kindly summarised the chat here, with minor additions made by myself.

#EAPchat, Monday, 5 March
In attendance: @mkofab , @leoselivan, @seburnt , @muranava

Our discussion kicked off by @seburnt posting a link to an article: Hyland, K. and P. Tse, P. (2007) Is There an “Academic Vocabulary”?  ( in which Hyland & Tse discuss the relevance of the Academic Word List with regards to EAP programs and relate their findings regarding its shortcomings with regards to discipline-specific contexts in terms of usage and collocation.

@mkofab asked for clarification of what the Academic Word list is and  @seburnt gave a link to its entry on Wiktionary ( while summarising that Basically it’s a list of words researched as frequently used in academic texts.

There was a consensus that words should be learned in context (such as in collocations) and not as isolated blocks. And so word lists could be useful for teachers to structure their material but not so useful to give to students though @seburnt noted I do think word lists do have value though. The AWL can help Ss recognize or notice common academically used words Editor note: I meant that such word lists at minimum give students a guide as to words to look for in their texts, regardless of how they are used.

The discussion then moved on to  talk about how to choose words for a list and various tools were linked to:

Participants agreed that until such tools get easier to use, teachers will have to rely on their intuitions. And hence word lists have their uses for teachers.  @leoselivan added  I think applied linguists should be compiling lists of chunks not words.

Moving more into classroom resources, Garnet’s EAS: Vocabulary (along with its supplementary activity site and Pearson’s Focus on Vocabulary was cited as useful . A gap fill activities site for AWL ( was also linked to.  @leoselivan noted that this and several other AWL practice sites all relied on a lexical chunking knowledge.  @seburnt suggested that guessing meaning from context strategies also come into play.

Regarding structuring a lesson @leoselivan suggested a principled lexical syllabus is take AWL list & add at least 3-4 collocates 2 each item & slowly train Ss 2 do same.

Talk moved onto to ways to help students organise their lexis. Vocabulary profiles as written about here (,  lexical notebooks as detailed in posts by @dalecoulter (Editor note: not directly linked in the chat) and bristol cards (Editor note: i.e. flash cards) were all mentioned. The point made was that students should organise vocabulary beyond the single word and beyond translation.

An Adam Simpson (@yearinthelifeof) post, “How I developed an academic vocabulary syllabus (part one)” (, was suggested as a good example of developing a vocabulary syllabus. In addition, another post, by Tyson Seburn, “Learning vocabulary: receptive or productive goal?” ( was mentioned as food for thought.

So how do you feel about the AWL in your EAP curricula?

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Kevin Stein

Hi Tyson,

Sounds like a great chat and I nabbed a bunch of good information here. I’m not teaching EAP, but I do use the second 2000 words of the GSL and the AWL in my advanced classes. I give students both lists in alphabetical order and encourage them to check words they don’t know against the word lists. Most of these students are cramming to pass their university entrance exams, so while I’m not a big fan of lists in general, I do want them to use their time as effectively as possible. Usually if a student finds a word on either of the 2 lists they will take the time to make one of our programs patent pending super-chunk-o-riffic vocab cards. So I guess I think the AWL can be useful as a way to help students stay focused and maybe to maximize study returns.


Julie Moore

I’ve only just come across #EAPchat and am rather sad to have already missed this topic as it’s something I’m really interested in.

I’m not a fan of giving my students lists either, but I do use an AWL highlighter (usually the Compleat Lexical Tutor) to help me pick vocab out of texts we’re working on to focus on. I’ve also demo-ed it in class to help students get a feel for what is “academic language” and to see what’s worthwhile learning. I had one engineering student last year who loved it and put all his writing through it to try and get up to 15% AWL words in his writing! It’s not an approach I’d necessarily recommend, but it appealed to him and it really did help improve his writing style.

Looking forward to trying to join #EAPchat in future.

Julie moore

I only show students the vocabprofile – just so they can see the AWL words picked out. I’ve had feedback from a few students who’ve tried putting their writing through it, but they’re mostly the tech savvy ones. I think it’s always interesting to find ways to engage students from different disciplines and this is nice for students who’re more into numbers than words!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x