Vocabulary learning is an essential ingredient in English learning because vocabulary
constitutes a fundamental basis of English sentences. Learning English encompasses
memorization, practice, repetition and recall of large-scale word lists; learners have to pay
closer attention to vocabulary because without vocabulary knowledge, meaning cannot be
understood (Chen & Chung, 2008). One of the major responsibilities of language instructors
is to improve the learning conditions, and to use more effective activities to facilitate
students’ vocabulary learning.
One of the most important areas in ESL/EFL research pivots round the issue of the
most effective techniques of vocabulary teaching. There has been considerable research on
the ways to help students to retain vocabulary items (Khosravizadeh & Mollaei, 2011). Many
studies offer strategies for English vocabulary learning to improve students’ learning.
Although many studies have been conducted on the effects of the keyword method, the peg
word method, the loci method, argument mapping, concept mapping and mind mapping
(Bakken & Simpson, 2011; Pishghadam, & Ghanizadeh, 2006; Richmond, Cummings, &
Klapp, 2008), these techniques have rarely been compared together. There is controversy
about the relative effectiveness of each of these techniques in comparison with the others
(Hoffmann, 2010). There seems to be a paucity of research on this issue, and this study
attempts to bridge part of this gap by investigating the effect of mnemonic and mapping
techniques on L2 vocabulary comprehension and production.
2. Review of literature
Over the past few decades, a massive amount of research has been conducted on numerous
aspects of vocabulary learning strategies (Asgari & Ghazali Bin, 2011; Khosravizadeh, &
Mollaei, 2011). Bakken and Simpson (2011) hold that different vocabulary learning strategies
have superiority over traditional instructions in terms of increasing word consciousness and
word analysis. Some of the common vocabulary learning strategies include semantic
mapping, Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM), synonyms and antonyms, incidental
vocabulary learning, word part analysis, memorization strategies, cognitive strategies,
semantic field theory, meta-linguistic strategies, using monolingual and bilingual
dictionaries, social strategies, using English language media, and using songs and music
(Asgari & Ghazali Bin, 2011; Sedita, 2005).
2.1. Mnemonic techniques
The mnemonic techniques investigated in the present study included the keyword method, the
peg word method, and the loci method. Raugh and Atkinson (1974) define the keyword
method as associations between an acoustic similarity of an English keyword to a foreign
word and the visual association of the English keyword to the English definition of the
foreign word. Vocabulary learning through the keyword method is divided into two stages. In
the first stage, the student creates an English word (keyword) that is somehow similar to the
foreign word; in the second stage, the student visualizes the keyword (English word)
interacting with the English definition of the foreign word (Atkinson & Raugh, 1974;
Griffith, 1980; Raugh & Atkinson, 1974; Raugh, Schupbach, & Atkinson, 1975). According
to Masteropieri and Scruggs (1998), the keyword method is a mnemonic strategy to help
students learn new words.
The process of using the peg word method starts with learning a set of concrete words
(pegs) associated with the first 20 or so whole numbers. The same sound words or pegs are
such as “1 is a bun, 2 is a shoe, and 3 is a tree…..” (Bower & Reitman, 1972, p. 8). To learn
any new list of items, an individual must visualize the referent of the respective new words in
explicit interaction with the referent of the peg words in question.
Lindenberger, Kliegl and Baltes (1992) define the loci method as a method in which
new words are connected to locations, using visual imagery. When it is necessary to recall the
respective words, the locations are mentally imagined. According to Baltes and Kliegl
(1992), The key component of the method of loci is the forgoing of mental images or thought
linking words to be remembered in order of appearance to an invariant series of mental
landmarks. At recall, one mentally revisits the mental locations in order, retrieves the
associated mental image or thought, and decodes from these mental images the words to be
remembered (p. 121).
According to Cornoldi and De Beni (1991), the loci mnemonic method facilitates the
memorization of separated items and remembering passages. According to Nemati (2009),
“to use this technique, imagine a familiar location such as a room, then mentally place items
to be remembered there, to recall take an imaginary walk along the landmarks in the room
and retrieve the items in it” (p. 124). Bakken and Simpson (2011) also note that the loci
method or mental walk can be performed through imaginations and pictures to organize and
2.2. Mapping techniques
Since the present study has focused on three mapping techniques including argument
mapping, concept mapping and mind mapping, a brief introduction of each technique is given
An argument consists of a set of claims with well-structured associations between them
to support or reject claims and opinions (Patterson, 2007). An argument is composed of a set
of statements that involve a claim and some reasons, and these reasons support each other for
the claim. Arguments are presented to support each of the reasons and the reasons of
supporting arguments. An argumentation represents the structure of an argument map in such
a manner that includes a set of arguments (Hoffmann, 2010).
Novak and Canas (2006) define concept mapping as a graphical tool for knowledge
organization and presentation. Pishghadam and Ghanizadeh (2006) hold that in creating
concept maps, concepts, words or phrases are placed as nodes in boxes. Links are presented
to connect structures between nodes. Labels or arrows represent these links. A fixed link also
connects two concepts or propositions. Novak and Canas (2006) believe that concept maps
are composed of linking words with lines that indicate important and useful relationships,
statements, and propositions.
Mind mapping is a new technique developed by learning researchers in 1960s. Tony
Buzan is the initiator of mind mapping (Murley, 2007). Jelger and Haefeli (2007) define
mind map as a diagram to indicate associated ideas, words, and tasks. According to Douma,
Ligierko and Romano (2009), mind mapping is a productive way for the visual presentation
of complex issues and graphical teaching of difficult topics.
Although several studies have been conducted on each of the above-mentioned
techniques, there is a relative dearth of research on the comparative effectiveness of these
techniques on L2 vocabulary comprehension and production. It is the aim of the present study
to address this issue. More specifically, the present study addresses the following research
(1). Are there any significant differences among the effects of the mnemonic and mapping
techniques on L2 vocabulary comprehension?
(2). Are there any significant differences among the effects of the mnemonic and mapping
techniques on L2 vocabulary production?
The participants of the present study were 151 Iranian female students from a public pre-university school in Islamshahr. They were in the pre-intermediate level of language
proficiency. They were assigned to six groups and each group randomly received one of the
selected presentation techniques. Group A (n=20), group B (n=23), group C (n=22), group D
(n=28), group E (n=30) and group F (n=28) received the keyword method, the peg word
method, the loci method, argument mapping, concept mapping and mind mapping
3.2. Materials and Instruments
The materials and data collection instruments used in this study were as follows:
A standard language proficiency test (KET or Key English Test) including 30 items in
multiple choice format was administered as a pre-test to homogenize the participants as well
as to determine their language proficiency level. Although KET is a fairly established test
with established psychometric characteristics, to check the reliability of the test in the context
of the present study, the KR-21 formula for estimating reliability was used, and the reliability
index of the test turned out to be .84.
A lexical knowledge pre-test was also used; it included 180 vocabulary items chosen
from the Pocket Persian-English Dictionary contextualized in 130 sentences. The target
words were bolded and underlined in each sentence, and the students were asked to write the
meaning of the words in Persian. The aim of this test was to elicit unknown words for the two
At the end of the experimental period, two post-tests were used in two formats. The
multiple choice format test, including 30 items, was used as a vocabulary comprehension
post-test to assess the effects of the selected presentation techniques on vocabulary
comprehension. To check the reliability of the test in the context of the present study, the
KR-21 formula for estimating reliability was used, and the reliability index of the test turned
out to be .81. Another 30-itemtest in the fill-in-the-blanks format was used as a vocabulary
production post-test to measure vocabulary production.
Before introducing the instructional treatment, a standard 30-minutes pre-test (a KET test)
including 30 items in multiple-choice format was administered to homogenize the
participants and to determine their proficiency level. The mean and standard deviation of the
scores were computed (Mean = 14.31, SD = 3.17). To homogenize the participants, those
participants whose score was more than one standard deviation above or below the mean
were excluded from all subsequent analyses. The results of the pre-test revealed that 151
students were homogenous; they constituted the participants of the study.
Then, the word knowledge pre-test was administered to ensure that the students had no
prior knowledge of the target words. It included 180 bolded and underlined vocabulary items
which were contextualized in 130 sentences. The words were chosen from the Pocket
Persian-English Dictionary. Most of the sentences were selected from Oxford dictionary and
some were teacher-made. The time allocated for the pre-test was 40 minutes. As a result of
this test, of the total of 180 vocabulary items, 60 words were eliminated because they were
familiar for the participants. The remaining 120 unknown words were selected for inclusion
in the post-tests.
Subsequently, the students were assigned to six groups and each group was randomly
assigned to one of the treatment conditions. In the first session, a full explanation of the
selected techniques (the keyword method, the peg word method, the loci method, argument
mapping, concept mapping and mind mapping) was presented to each group of participants.
The instructional treatment lasted for 9 sessions, and one more session was allocated to
administering the post-tests. Learning sessions were held twice a week, each session lasting
45 minutes. The words were divided into nine successive lists of 20 words. Every session, 20
new words were taught according to the selected technique to each group and a brief review
regarding the respective technique was given to improve the quality of the learning treatment.
Each group of students was required to work on the new words at home and bring back their
works to the class. The teacher’s job was to correct students’ errors.
3.4. Data Analysis
Two separate one-way ANOVA procedures were used to analyze the obtained data and to
answer the research questions. One examined the effects of the keyword method, the peg
word method, the loci method, argument mapping, concept mapping and mind mapping on
vocabulary comprehension, and the other one investigated the effects of the same techniques
on vocabulary production.
4. Results and Discussions
4.1. Investigation of the first research question
The first research question aimed to investigate the effects of the selected presentation
techniques on L2 vocabulary comprehension. To this end, a one-way ANOVA procedure was
used. Table 1 contains the descriptive statistics.
As it is shown in Table 1, the peg word method group has the highest mean, followed closely
by the loci method group, the keyword method group, the mind mapping group and the
concept mapping group. The participants of argument mapping technique have the lowest
In order to see whether the observed mean differences among the groups are
statistically significant, the one-way ANOVA procedure was used. Table 2 shows the results
of the ANOVA procedure
Based on Table 2, the observed F value and the significance level (F(5,145) = 11.192,
P < 0.05) show that there are statistically significant differences among the six groups. At the
same time, the index of the strength of association shows that 15% of the total variance
among groups can be attributed to the effect of the independent variable; namely,
presentation techniques. To locate the differences between the means, the post-Hoc Scheffe
test was utilized. The results are given in Table 3.
As it can be seen in Table 3, the difference between the keyword method group and the
argument mapping group is statistically significant, indicating that the keyword method
group performed better than the argument mapping group. Similarly, the mean differences
between the peg word group and the concept mapping group, the peg word group and the
argument mapping group and finally the peg word group and the mind mapping group are
statistically significant, suggesting that the participants of the peg word group have
outperformed their counterparts in the other three groups.
In addition, the difference between the peg word method group and the loci method
group is statistically insignificant. Furthermore, although there is a difference between the
means of the concept mapping group and the loci method group, the difference is statistically
insignificant. Although the loci group performed better than the concept mapping group,
there is only a trend towards a meaningful difference. Based on the obtained results, there are
no statistically significant differences between the concept mapping and the mind mapping
groups. The implication is that the participants’ performance was more or less similar.
The results further indicate that the difference between the means of the loci method
group and the argument mapping group is significant. The loci method group members
outperformed their counterparts who received argument mapping.
As it can be observed in Table 3, the differences among the effects of the other
techniques are not statistically significant, indicating that the participants’ performance in
those groups was almost similar on the vocabulary comprehension test.
4.2. Investigation of the second research question
The second research question aimed to investigate the effects of the selected presentation
techniques on L2 vocabulary production. To this end, another one-way ANOVA procedure
was used. Table 4 displays the descriptive statistics on vocabulary production.
Based on the above results, it can be observed that the peg word method group has the
highest mean, followed closely by the loci method group, the argument mapping group, the
mind mapping group and the keyword method group. It can be seen that the concept mapping
group has the lowest mean in comparison with other groups.
In order to see whether or not the observed mean differences among the groups are
statistically significant, another one-way ANOVA was used. Table 5 presents the results of
the ANOVA procedure.
As it can be seen in Table 5, the observed F value and the significance level (F(5,145) =
19.25, P < .05) are indicative of statistically significant differences among the effects of the
six techniques. Meanwhile, the index of the strength of association shows that 13% of the
total variance among groups is due to the effect of the presentation techniques. Another Post-Hoc Sheffee test was used to locate the differences among the groups. Table 6 summarizes
Based on Table 6, there are statistically significant differences between the keyword
method and the peg word method groups. It can be concluded that the peg word group
performed better than the keyword group. Similarly, the difference between the keyword and
the concept mapping groups is statistically significant with the keyword group outperforming
the concept mapping group. In addition, the results also revealed that the difference between
the keyword and the loci method groups is statistically significant. It is worth noting that
there are no statistically significant differences between the keyword method and the mind
mapping groups as well as between the keyword method and the argument mapping groups.
Moreover, the results show that the mean differences between the peg word and the
concept mapping groups as well as the peg word and the mind mapping groups are
statistically significant. The participants of the peg word method performed better than their
counterparts who received concept mapping and mind mapping techniques. A close look at
Table 6 shows that although there is a difference between the means of the peg word group
and the loci group, the difference is not statistically significant. Meanwhile, the mean
differences between the concept mapping group and the loci, argument mapping and mind
mapping groups are statistically meaningful. It may be concluded that concept mapping is
less effective than the loci method, argument mapping and mind mapping techniques on l2
Likewise, the difference between the loci method and the mind mapping groups is
statistically significant, indicating that the loci group performed better than the mind mapping
group. The observed mean differences among the effects of other techniques are statistically
Based on the findings of the present study, the peg word method group had the highest mean
of all groups on both vocabulary comprehension and production tests. The loci method group
had the second highest mean on both tests. This indicates that the peg word method and the
loci method groups functioned better than the keyword mnemonic and mapping techniques
on L2 vocabulary comprehension and production. The obtained results also indicated that the
differences between the means of the peg word method group and the loci method group
were not statistically significant on either posttest. The findings of Bower and Reitman
(1972), similar to the findings of this study, indicated that the loci group and the peg word
group had similar effects on learners’ recall. Moreover, this finding is in line with the
findings of Roediger (1980), who reported that the peg word and the loci method learners had
the same recall levels. They recalled more words than the other mnemonic subjects such as
the link and imagery conditions. In Roediger’s study, the peg word and the loci methods
provided good retrieval cues through rhyme process and a set of locations, respectively. In
addition, the peg word method and the loci method equally enabled the learners to recall
words. However, the peg word learners were more successful at recalling particular
numbered items. Unlike the finding of this study, in which the peg word method group
performed slightly better than the loci method group on vocabulary comprehension and
production, Roediger (1980) found that the participants of the peg word group were a bit
poorer than the participants of the loci method on both instant and delayed tests. This finding
is also similar to that of Wang and Thomas (2000), who found that the peg word method and
the loci method groups performed similarly.
The findings of the present study also showed that the keyword method group had the
third highest mean after the peg word method and the loci method groups on vocabulary
comprehension, but a low mean on vocabulary production test. The keyword method group
had a poor performance on both tests. This finding indicates that the peg word method and
the loci method groups outperformed the participants who received the keyword method.
This finding is in contrast with the results of the study by Richmond, Cummings and Klapp
(2008), who found that the keyword mnemonic learners were more successful than the loci,
the peg word and the free study learners.
Like this study, in which there was no significant difference between the peg word
method and the loci method groups on vocabulary comprehension and production,
Richmond, Cummings and Klapp (2008) showed that there were no differences between the
loci method, the peg word method and the free study conditions in recognizing the uses of
specific and general transfer tasks.
The findings of this study also show that the keyword method is more effective than
concept mapping on vocabulary production. Moreover, the keyword method is more effective
than argument mapping on vocabulary comprehension. It is worth noting that the
performance of the keyword mnemonic group was slightly better than the mind mapping
group on vocabulary comprehension. Conversely, the mind mapping group performed a bit
better than the keyword mnemonic group on vocabulary production test.
Based on the obtained results of the present study, the concept mapping group had a
low mean on vocabulary comprehension, and the lowest mean of all on vocabulary
production, suggesting that concept mapping is one of the least effective techniques on L2
vocabulary comprehension and production. Similarly, the mind mapping group had the fourth
lowest mean on both vocabulary comprehension and production tests. Thus, mind mapping
technique is not very effective on L2 vocabulary comprehension and production. This finding
is different from that of Douma, Ligierko and Romano (2009), who found that online mind
maps and concept maps are productive instructional tools to draw students’ attention and
interest, and to teach sophisticated concepts and topics. They held that these maps help
students take notes, study before an exam, and organize sophisticated research.
There are various factors accounting for such findings as well as the differences
between the findings of this study and those of other similar studies. One possible reason
which may account for such meaningful differences may be partially due to the fact that in
the present study, each selected technique was compared with other techniques, whereas
other studies have usually compared each of the techniques only with a control group.
The results of this study confirm that the peg word method and the loci method are very
effective and successful visual instructional tools to improve L2 vocabulary comprehension
and production. One possible reason for this may be due to satisfaction or positive beliefs of
the participants for using the peg word and the loci method procedures. It needs to be noted
that the effect of the above-mentioned techniques on vocabulary learning may also be largely
influenced by the cultural setting.
The findings of the study also indicate that the argument mapping group has the lowest
mean among all groups on vocabulary comprehension, but the third highest mean after the
peg word method and the loci method groups on vocabulary production. This indicates that
argument mapping is one of the least effective techniques on L2 vocabulary comprehension
and not very effective on production either. It is worth noting that the argument mapping
technique needs higher educational knowledge and must be applied for complex issues
(Sedita, 2005). Therefore, it may be concluded that argument mapping should be utilized for
higher levels to show the structure of complicated debates. This could explain why it did not
turn out to be effective on a lower level of lexical learning.
Another reason may be that the selected mapping techniques including argument
mapping, concept mapping and mind mapping require more training time, helpful examples,
and instructions on how to utilize the respective mapping technique in educational settings
properly. This accounts for the lower level of achievement of the participants of these groups.
Still another factor is that the participants of the present study were at pre-intermediate
proficiency level, whereas the demand of the selected mapping techniques may have been
higher than the level of the participants. They usually require participants with higher
educational knowledge or proficiency level.
One other factor contributing to the obtained results may have been the participants’
familiarity with the implemented techniques. In fact, the selected mapping techniques were
not very familiar in our educational system in comparison with other methods. This novelty
could have generated either enthusiasm or confusion.
The results of this study suggest that the peg word group achieved the highest mean among
all the groups on both vocabulary comprehension and production tests. The participants who
received the loci method had the second highest mean on both tests. The keyword group had
the third highest mean on vocabulary comprehension; they had poor performance on
vocabulary production. With respect to the results, the argument mapping group had the
lowest mean on vocabulary comprehension. The concept mapping group had a low mean on
vocabulary comprehension, and the lowest mean on vocabulary production. The participants
who received mind mapping had a better performance in comparison with the concept
mapping group on both tests. From an educational perspective, mnemonic instructional
methods such as the peg word method and the loci method are very effective and valuable
visual training tools. The results of this study corroborate the viability of mnemonic
instructions in different languages and various fields. The findings of the present study also
showed that despite significant advantages of mapping techniques such as argument, concept
and mind mappings as successful visual educational tools, they failed to help students to
achieve good results in comparison with the other three techniques. Such failure may be
partly due to the fact that they are not very common and accepted in our educational system.
Based on the findings of the present study, it may be concluded that different
techniques of vocabulary presentation have differential effects on second language
vocabulary learning. This implies that careful and informed selection of the teaching
techniques can facilitate learners’ vocabulary learning. This may also have theoretical and
pedagogical implications for teachers, learners, researchers and syllabus designers. The
findings of the present study may have theoretical implications for researchers in the findings
may shed light on some of the less explored and more controversial aspects of vocabulary
The findings may also have pedagogical implications for teachers; a clearer
understanding of the nature of the causal relationship between presentation techniques and L2
vocabulary learning may help teachers make more informed decisions about their choice of
teaching activities. These findings may also encourage learners to make use of the more
effective and productive techniques and lexical associations in their self-study.
Materials developers may also find the findings of this study useful and relevant to their
profession because the knowledge of how the different mnemonic and mapping techniques
influence vocabulary learning can help syllabus designers develop materials and design
activities that require the use of the more productive and useful techniques. This way,
materials developers can act as agents of change, encouraging the use of more effective
techniques and discouraging the use of less effective ones.