A graffitied wall in Tel Aviv. Picked out from a background of streaked multicoloured paint, the word Together is in white.

by Joseph Kenney and Bethany Witham

Finding the words – outlining the task 

Extending student vocabulary 

Building International students’ vocabulary with subject-specific terms is of huge importance, but it offers a challenge to language teachers. How can they do this effectively in the limited time that they have?  

Our colleague Jane Vickers, from the Nottingham Institute of Language and Intercultural Communication (NILIC), designs and delivers bespoke language courses that support international students, with a specific focus on bolstering their Academic English skills and boosting their vocabulary. She told us that she wanted to create a collaborative activity that offers students more opportunities to communicate in English, specifically focusing on subject-specific words. A collaborative glossary seemed to fit the bill perfectly for Jane’s students, especially as it was a way for her to “give them some agency” over a resource that could be expanded and used beyond the online session.  

The importance of discussion 

After discussion with the Learning and Teaching Support Unit (LTSU) and research online, Jane settled on Microsoft Lists as a way of creating this shared glossary, which would be built from student contributions.  

In Jane’s activity students can contribute entries, and edit and comment on other students’ work, using a tool that is centrally supported by Nottingham Trent University (NTU). She created a template list with exemplar entries, and pre-populated headings to guide students in what information was needed. An additional benefit of this collaborative resource is that it can be updated throughout the course and be used by students for both reference and revision. Collaboration has been shown to be effective in supporting different types of language learning (e.g. Bradley, Lindstrom and Rystedt, 2010), but this activity has the potential to be used across many subjects with different outcomes.   

Student Voice – Building collaborative learning 

Successful communication 

Jane’s learner-centred approach allowed the students to contribute their existing knowledge to support their peers, providing feedback to each other in a way that is visible to all students, and therefore learning from each other. In addition, the Jane was able to see and correct any common misconceptions through this shared, central resource. Liu and Carless (2006) note that “providing and utilizing feedback from peers can be considered an important skill for students’ future academic or professional careers and can therefore be considered an important learning goal within higher education curricula”. Through this activity, Jane has highlighted the importance of being able to give and receive feedback, a skill that could improve their employability.  

Feeding Back 

Feedback from students showed that they found the activity clear and easy to use, with one commenting ‘[I] Always feel like learning new things, and I’d like to recap these lists when I feel free.’ Even those few students who found the interface challenging indicated that they would reuse the resource, which suggests that there are benefits to taking time to support them in using an unfamiliar tool.  

Continuing the Conversation – what’s next? 

Now that the students have familiarity with Microsoft Lists, Jane has been thinking about how to adapt and use the tool for further learning outcomes in future. One thing that she noted when reading student-created entries was that some of the example text had been re-used from sources online. Next time, she will encourage students to provide their own example sentences to increase their familiarity with contextualised vocabulary. She is also considering further changes to the layout and structure to assist with revision.  

In future, Jane may give students the ability to create their own List from a template she has created. The students can then share their personal list with her, so they can receive personalised feedback on their independent work. 

We look forward to seeing how this develops over time!  

Further Reading 

Using Moodle’s glossary activity to promote the acquisition of historical and political terms on an International Foundation Programme  Page 8- Will Hutton (William Edward Hutton) at Queen Mary University of London, talks about a small-scale project that allows International Foundation students to make use of the collaborative glossary function within the institutions VLE. 

THE WIKI WAY OF LEARNING – Creating Learning Experiences Using Collaborative Web Pages- Notari et al (2016) discuss examples of creating a collaborative glossaries and Wiki’s with a focus on the learning experience. 

Lifelong Learning and ESP Vocabulary: Reflections in Telecommunications and ICT – García-Sánchez, S., & Luján-García, C. (2020) discuss the practical application of a glossary, the abstract notes; how a glossary building task can take the form of collaborative and reflective vocabulary learning projects in ESP, (ii) the learners’ identification of anglicisms in their professional domain(s).  


Bradley, L., Lindström, B. and Rystedt, H. (2010) “Rationalities of collaboration for language learning in a wiki,” ReCALL. Cambridge University Press, 22(2), pp. 247–265. doi: 10.1017/S0958344010000108. 

Liu, N., and D. Carless. 2006. “Peer Feedback: The Learning Element of Peer Assessment.” Teaching in Higher Education 11 (3):279–90. Doi: 10.1080/13562510600680582.  

Huisman et al. (2019) The impact of formative peer feedback on higher education students’ academic writing: a Meta-Analysis, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44:6, 863-880, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1545896 

Ibrahim et al. (2015). “The Importance of Implementing Collaborative Learning in the English as a Second Language (ESL) Classroom in Malaysia” Procedia Economics and Finance 31 346-353, DOI: 10.1016/S2212-5671(15)01208-3.