How Effective Are Intentional Vocabulary-Learning Activities? A Meta-Analysis

Stuart Webb*, Akifumi Yanagisawa, Takumi Uchihara

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


The present meta-analysis aimed to summarize the extent to which second language vocabulary is learned from the most frequently researched word-focused activities: flashcards, word lists, writing, and fill-in-the-blanks. One hundred effect sizes from 22 studies were included in meta-regression analyses and administered separately for the observations measured with meaning-recall and form-recall tests. The results revealed that the average percentage learning gains were 60.1% and 58.5% on meaning-recall and form-recall immediate posttests. These gains dropped to 39.4% and 25.1% on delayed meaning- and form-recall tests, respectively. These results suggest that learning through word-focused tasks is far from guaranteed. Moreover, the percentage learning gains among the different activities ranged from 18.4% to 77.0% on immediate posttests and from 23.9% to 73.4% on delayed posttests indicating that there is much variation in efficacy among the activities. Moderator analyses revealed that learners’ place of study and direction of learning affected learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)715-738
Number of pages24
JournalModern Language Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Dec 1
Externally publishedYes


  • activity type
  • fill-in-the-blanks
  • flashcards
  • intentional learning
  • meta-analysis
  • second language acquisition
  • vocabulary
  • writing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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