Confused: Teaching Vocabulary “Horizontally” or “In Context”?


Out of context (but pretty!) I took this one!
Out of context (but pretty!)
I took this one!

Now that I have completed my first installment of an activity set related to the word list appearing in the updated curriculum, I feel confused by terminology.

I approached the preparation of  this first set of activities for tutors of children who struggle with vocabulary acquisition in class (with a hearing loss or not) with Leo Selivan’s post Horizontal Alternatives to Vertical Lists in mind.

My goal was to work on the vocabulary not according to semantic sets, (transportation, colors, food etc.), which is the vertical approach, but rather teach the words with other words they go with (horizontally). I hope it will aid retention.

I chose a short animated film that I feel is age appropriate (elementary school) and suitable for use in schools. It is the centerpiece of the activity set. The I then decided upon 23 vocabulary items that relate /appear in the film. The activities you see below present and practice these items in different ways. Additional activities may be added later.

The decision to have all the activities connected to the film is grounded in a belief that what is made memorable is learnt best. I do this often with homework assignments for my own students, with many elements I’m trying to teach, not just vocabulary. The visuals in films (I always use ones without dialogue!) add a powerful element.

This decision led me to add three words that do not appear in the Ministry of Education’s word list. They are needed in this context (they are marked with an asterisk).

Which leads me back to my original question.

Have I simply put the words in context and not taught them horizontally? I feel the two terms overlap a great deal, but  perhaps there is a specific emphasis I should be adding?

I need to figure this out before continuing to create a new set of activities for this very long list of vocabulary items.

The Egghunt

1) Here’s the list of vocabulary items FOR THE TEACHER:

Egg buy Take care! hungry
Caveman* Hunt * Be careful! long
Spear* fall That’s not fair! angry
film smile How many sad
food watch sure
another break true

2. Here is the lead-in activity for the students. It must be done BEFORE watching the film.

3) The animated film (no dialogue, remember?)

4) Questions related to the film embedded in the film, courtesy of Edpuzzle. Edpuzzle has made it so much easier to work with film. Now that the activities are embeddable I can use them for my counseling job (with students I don’t teach or meet), not just with my own. They keep updating the possible ways to use the films and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming next.

5) A dustbin classifying game using

Thanks to Chiew Pang and his wealth of resources for introducing me to the game.

6) A set of the vocabulary items on

7) A “search-a-word” online activity which is temporary because I’m not pleased with the results. I may perhaps go back to the printed version as it didn’t limit me to so few words. Still thinking about that one.

Here is a printable verison of this with QR codes.
Egghunt QR codes English

6 thoughts on “Confused: Teaching Vocabulary “Horizontally” or “In Context”?”

  1. Hi Naomi,

    I’ve finally got round to commenting. First of all, thank you for the mention and sorry for the belated reaction.

    Creativity with which you approach vocabulary teaching is truly impressive. I like the variety of activities you’ve prepared to ensure your students have multiple encounters with the new items. And your approach is certainly more horizontal than vertical: the items you chose do not belong to the same semantic set and include a diverse variety of words and chunks.

    I don’t know why you’re stressing so much whether it’s horizontal or in context. Horizontal, in a way, does imply teaching in context or rather with co-text.
    I’d be curious to see more activities you’ve created with the word list and would like to ask your permission to use one of the activities above in my PCE workshop on 7 July (


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