Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.7, 1251-1258
Published Online November 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 1251
Strengthening Science Vocabulary through the Use of Imagery
Interventions with College Students
Marisa T. Cohen
Psychology Department, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, USA
Received October 5th, 2012; revised Novem ber 6th, 2012; accepted November 16th, 2012
This study was an extension of previous work designed to examine the effect of imagery on science
vocabulary learning. One hundred students enrolled in a private college in Brooklyn, New York were
randomly assigned to four different interventions: Word Only, Picture Presentation, Image Creation—No
Picture, and Image Creation—Picture. These interventions were developed taking into account the ability
of images to facilitate vocabulary learning, the dual coding theory, and depth of processing. Results
demonstrated that students in the imagery creation groups (Image Creation—No Picture and Image
Creation—Picture) scored higher on the outcome measures than students placed in the Word Only inter-
vention at immediate recall. However, there were no significant differences shown among the imagery
treatments or at delayed recall. The outcome scores from each group also followed the pattern predicted in
that the deeper the students processed the “to be learned” vocabulary words, the more words they were
able to acquire and retain. This work extends the previous research and highlights the benefits of
vocabulary instruction using imagery at all instructional levels.
Keywords: Vocabulary Instruction; Science Literacy; Imagery; Dual Coding; Depth of Processing
Literature Review
Given that the benefits of integrating science instruction and
literacy have been well documented, and the push for develo-
ping a scientifically competent society is ever so present (Mc-
Kee & Ogle, 2005; National Research Council, 1996; Thier &
Daviss, 2002; Yore, Hand, & Prain, 2002), there is a great need
for literacy-based interventions within the science content area.
In order for students to learn complex science material, they
must understand the terminology required so that they can
speak and communicate using the language of science.
Learning new content area material is very difficult without a
mastery of certain literacy skills, such as reading comprehend-
sion and vocabulary. A student cannot be expected to under-
stand novel concepts without a firm grasp of the basic termi-
nology used. Therefore, students must be instructed using ef-
fective interventions focused on building and strengthening
their vocabularies. This will allow them to further their quest
for knowledge in the discipline, anchored by a strong under-
standing of the integral components needed.
Science and Literacy
McKee and Ogle (2005) broadly define literacy as “…the
ability to use reading and writing, speaking and listening suffi-
ciently well to engage in thinking and to communicate ideas
clearly. [It also incorporates]…the ability to critically analyze
and evaluate information…” (p. 2). McKee and Ogle (2005)
stress the importance of vocabulary knowledge, a key compo-
nent of literacy, which is the ability to think about and under-
stand the meanings of words. In order to deeply think about
material, one must understand the content specific terminology
that identifies the ideas or phenomena presented.
McKee and Ogle (2005) note that literacy and science work
together to strengthen and clarify learning in each respective
domain, motivate students to understand what is going on
around them, and help students develop a desire to learn the
meanings of new words and understand their uses. The stronger
a student’s literacy skills, the better they grasp science material.
Thier and Daviss (2002) state that scientific understanding is
accessed through language, and effective science teaching and
learning depend on joining strong language skills with science
to communicate meaning in the context of the physical world.
The marriage of literacy and science also enables individuals to
confront questions that require the use of scientific thinking and
understanding of scientific information. Language is necessary
for both creating and conveying knowledge. Yore et al., (2003)
note that language is a means for “doing” science and cons-
tructing understandings. It is also an end whereby procedures
and scientific understandings are relayed to others.
Vocabulary and Its Impo rtance for
Science Instruction
While a good command of vocabulary is necessary for all
subjects, its effects on learning are all the more apparent in
content areas such as science. Science has its own language, in
which students are introduced to either completely new words
or novel uses of familiar words. Wilson (1998) states that a
particular scientific word should be taught to students at the
appropriate time, such as when it will fill a gap in the children’s
knowledge and when they have a clear need to use appropriate
vocabulary to describe something that has been experienced.
Wilson claims that if executed correctly, word learning can
enhance science learning. This in turn will facilitate the com-
mand of more complex language skills such as speaking, read-
ing, and writing.
When examining vocabulary interventions and techniques to
facilitate comprehension, it is important to discuss the forma-
tion of images, or mental representations, by students. The
creation of images while one reads text serves as an aid to un-
derstanding and remembering (Sadoski, Goetz, & Kangiser,
1988). Individuals asked to create mental images of events
described in sentences learn two to three times as much as those
who just read the sentences aloud (Anderson, 1971). Imagery is
a major component of cognitive processing, and as such war-
rants it own detailed discussion.
Students told to create images have been shown to learn new
material more efficiently. In a study by Anderson and Kulhavy
(1972) using high school seniors, comprehension increased
with the amount of imagery the students reported. In this study,
63 seniors were instructed to form mental images while reading
a textbook passage. Students were assessed as to their compre-
hension abilities by a combined short answer and multiple
choice test. A follow-up questionnaire indicated that more than
half of the control group employed imagery on their own while
studying the passage, which confounded the results. Also, one
third of the group instructed to form images did not do so.
Possibly due to the lack of fidelity to treatment, results failed to
show a difference between the group instructed to form images
and the one just instructed to read the text. However, the stu-
dents from both groups who formed images outperformed those
who did not.
One theory which examines the use of imagery in the pro-
cessing of information, and has been empirically tested by
numerous studies is dual coding. Paivio’s dual coding theory
states that information is processed along two distinct channels:
verbal and visual. Research has shown that memory for verbal
information is enhanced when the information is accompanied
by a visual presentation, either real or imagined (Anderson &
Bower, 1973). The dual coding theory links vocabulary to
comprehension through the use of images in improving under-
standing and enabling deeper processing. As such, this theory
was used to frame the design of the vocabulary interventions in
the present study.
Present Study
In order to test the assumptions of the dual coding theory, as
well as extend the author’s previous research, the effects of
various manipulations with regard to image presentation and
image creation on word learning and retention were examined
using a group of college students. Four different interventions
altering how vocabulary was presented were used: a Word Only
method, which involved the simple verbal presentation of the
word; a Picture Presentation, in which the vocabulary was
paired with a picture; an Image Creation—No Picture interven-
tion, in which students were told to draw a visualized image on
paper; and an Image Creation- Picture intervention which was
similar to the previous image creation intervention, but added a
visual prompt of a picture.
Based on the theory of dual coding, it was hypothesized that
students instructed via any of the imagery interventions, would
demonstrate better mastery of the vocabulary than when pre-
sented with only the word, because adding an imagery com-
ponent facilitates vocabulary learning (Sadoski, 2005). There-
fore, it was predicted students would demonstrate better voca-
bulary acquisition after the Picture Presentation, Image Crea-
tion—No Picture, and Image Creation—Picture interventions
compared to the Word Only intervention. Furthermore, it was
hypothesized that the imagery interventions would aid the
students in remembering the vocabulary words presented to
them, acquiring their meaning, as well as retaining this know-
ledge over time.
Creating images, especially by drawing them, increases the
depth at which students process information and the meanings
of words. This is because “…drawing requires careful observa-
tion of an object’s or phenomenon’s distinctive characteristics
[which enables] students to attend to details they might other-
wise overlook” (Armon & Morris, 2008: p. 49). Therefore, ac-
cording to depth of processing, the Image Creation—No Picture
intervention should be the most effective, as it required the
students to process the “to be learned” information at the deep-
est level. This is because the participant must become active in
creating an image and drawing it on paper. The Image Crea-
tion—Picture intervention should be the second most effective
treatment because it also required deep processing, however the
picture was provided. The Picture Presentation intervention
should be the third most effective, as imagery was employed;
however, the level of processing was not as deep as the afore-
mentioned interventions because the pictures were presented to
the students. The least effective strategy for vocabulary learn-
ing should be the Word Only presentation, as the word was
only presented in one code: verbal, only allowing for shallow
Finally, it was hypothesized that student responses to assess-
ments created with the aim of determining how useful the in-
terventions were would mimic the quantitative results. These
responses should match the pattern predicted in the depth of
processing hypothesis, with those in the image creation inter-
ventions reporting the greatest benefits.
To summarize, there were four specific hypotheses set at the
beginning of the study. The first hypothesis was that imagery
would facilitate vocabulary acquisition. The second hypothesis
was that the depth with which one processes the vocabulary
influences vocabulary acquisition. The third hypothesis was
that the interventions would enable students to retain the voca-
bulary over time and facilitate delayed reca ll of the words. The
fourth and final hypothesis was that the qualitative results
would mimic the quantitative data.
Participants were recruited from five different psychology
classes (General Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Sta-
tistics, and two research recitation classes) at a private college
in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Data were collected from 100
students, 25 males and 75 females. The mean age of the stu-
dents was 20.82 years.
In terms of ethnicity, 44% of the sample was Caucasian, 23%
was Latino, 15% was African American, and the other 18%
identified themselves as “Other” or a mix of the aforemen-
tioned categories. English was the first language learned by
76% of the students, and 54% of the sample spoke English at
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Pre-Intervention Me a sures
Development of target vocabulary. The earth science words
were selected from the Earth Science Vocabulary List (Person-
alized Programming Service, n.d.), which contains 1610 earth
science words needed for comprehension of this content area.
The words chosen were all easily visua l ized nouns.
A definition for each word was generated from Merriam-
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1996), by simplifying these
definitions to provide a clear understanding of the words. Sen-
tences illustrating the use of the words accompanied these defi-
nitions, and were reviewed by a teacher independent of the
study to be certain that they were appropriate for the subjects.
Selection of pictures. The pictures used for the Picture Pre-
sentation and Image CreationPicture interventions were found
through a Google image search. The pictures were printed in
color, pasted onto 4” × 6” index cards, and were laminated.
Demographic information. All consenting students were
given a demographic information sheet. This enabled the re-
searcher to collect information on characteristics of the partici-
pants that may have been useful in analyzing the results, such
as age, gender, number of languages spoken, first language
learned, and what language was spoken at home. Though no
specific differences between the students, based on their demo-
graphics were hypothesized, the information collected enabled
the researcher to examine if there were any unanticipated dif-
ferences between the students.
Vocabulary pretest. A researcher designed vocabulary pre-
test was given to the students, containing 25 earth science
words. The test consisted of the vocabulary words followed by
four choices: three definitions and a “Not sure/Do not remem-
ber” choice. Students were instructed to select the correct defi-
nition of the word. Sixteen words which 80% or more of the
students did not know were selected for the interventions.
Prior vocabulary knowledge. The SAT verbal score was
obtained for each student in order to get a sense of their vo-
cabulary abilities. Twenty percent of the students had no score
on record, because they were transfer students or never submit-
ted it with their application. These students were asked to pro-
vide the score in a self-report fashion.
This study examined predictions based both on the dual cod-
ing theory. The various manipulations of imagery employed in
the interventions created a between-subjects variable with four
different levels.
Training condition. Before each intervention was carried
out by the researcher, a training condition was conducted using
the word “dog”. This word was chosen as it is simple and fa-
miliar to the students, allowing them to focus on the type of
task they would be engaging in, rather than on the definition of
the word itself. Each group was instructed via the intervention
they were assigned to. For example, the students who were
assigned to Picture Presentation were shown a picture of a dog;
the Image Creation—No Picture treatment participants were
told to come up with an image of a dog in their minds and to
draw it; the Image Creation—Picture treatment participants saw
a picture of a dog and then drew it on paper; and the Word Only
treatment participants heard the word dog repeated a second
Word Only intervention. For the Word Only treatment, a
variation of the procedure used in a 1978 study by Hargis and
Gickling (as presented in Sadoski, 2005) was used. The re-
searcher first presented the participants with the word written
on a 4” × 6” index card, pronounced the word, provided the
definition of the word, and gave the participants a sentence
containing the word. Finally, the researcher presented the word
on the index card again and repeated the word.
Picture Presentation intervention. For the Picture Presen-
tation intervention, the aforementioned procedure was carried
out. However, instead of repeating the word, in step six, the
researcher presented a picture of the word. For example, if the
word “school” was taught, a picture of a schoolhouse was pro-
vided on an index card.
Image Creation—No Picture intervention. The procedure
used for the Picture Presentation intervention was repeated;
however, instead of showing a picture, the researcher instructed
the student to create a mental image of the word and to draw it
on a sheet of 8½” × 11” paper. The decision to have the par-
ticipant draw the word was formulated to make the process
active and to check to see that indeed an image was created in
response to the word.
Image Creation—Picture intervention. The procedure
used for the Image CreationNo Picture presentation was re-
peated; however instead of showing the participants the word
written on an index card, they were presented with a picture of
the word. This step was changed to help clarify what the defini-
tion meant, assuring that students would not form inaccurate
images in their heads. Students were told that they did not need
to copy the picture shown, but could use it to help guide them.
All four groups were shown the word, heard the word, given
a definition, and had it presented in a sentence in the same se-
quence in order to equalize the treatments. The fifth and sixth
steps varied between the interventions. See Table 1 for the
format in which each intervention was carried out, which was
used in the aforementioned Cohen and Johnson (in press) study.
Also, in order to equalize the exposure to the words, the amount
of time for the variable steps was held constant at 30 seconds.
This means that the word and picture cards were held up for a
total of 30 seconds and students were only given this amount of
time in which to create their pictures before moving to the next
Table 1.
Format of the Interventions.
Word Only Picture
No Picture
presented on
index card
1. Word
presented on
index card
1. Word
Presented on
index card
1. Word
presented on
index card
2. Word
pronounced 2. Word
pronounced 2. Word
pronounced 2. Word
3. Definition
given 3. Definition
given 3. Definition
given 3. Definition
4. Word used
in a sentence 4. Word used
in a sentence 4. Word used
in a sentence 4. Word used in
a sentence
5. Word
5. Word
5. Word
5. Student
shown a picture
of the word
6. Word
repeated 6. Picture
presented 6. Student
created a
mental image
and drew it
6. Student
created a mental
image and drew
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 1253
Post-Interve ntion Mea sures
Students’ acquisition and retention of the science vocabulary
was assessed by a battery of experimenter designed vocabulary
comprehension tests. The measures were given a day after the
instruction of the vocabulary words, to assess immediat e recall,
and two weeks later. The tests given two weeks after the vo-
cabulary instruction enabled the researcher to determine if the
interventions allowed for efficient retention of the vocabulary
words. At each time point, the students’ vocabulary knowledge
was assessed using two measures: a word fill-in task and defi-
nition word match task.
Word fill-in task. The word fill-in tasks were similar to
Cloze tests in that they consisted of simple sentences with
blanks in place of the vocabulary words instructed. Students
were given a series of sentences with one or two blanks for the
earth science words. They were instructed to pick the word
from the choices provided next to the blank in order to correctly
fill in the sentence. This required students to not only remember
the definitions of the vocabulary words they were taught, but
also to select the specific words that made sense in the context
of the sentences. The number of correct words filled in the
blanks was added to determine the number of points awarded.
The delayed word fill-in tasks were comprised of the same
word choices as the immediate recall fill-in tasks, but the con-
tent of the sentences was slightly altered to prevent students
from remembering their answer choices.
Definition word match. All 16 words instructed were in-
corporated in the definition word match tasks. Students re-
ceived two word matches, each with eight words for the earth
science terms. On the left side of the page, students were pre-
sented with all eight vocabulary words. On the right side of the
page, they were provided with the definitions of the words, in a
rearranged format. Students were instructed to select the defini-
tion that corresponded to each word.
The delayed definition word match tasks were rearranged, by
mixing up the groups of words, to prevent any repeated testing
Vocabulary Learning Evaluations
Upon completion of the delayed recall measures, each stu-
dent was given an evaluation form. This was used to elicit stu-
dents’ opinions about the intervention he/she was exposed to.
Research Design
A quasi-experimental design was used for the purpose of this
study. While students were randomly assigned to each interven-
tion, they could not be randomly assigned to classes, as these
were intact groups.
The independent variable was the interventions, which con-
sisted of four “levels”. These levels varied in terms of the ma-
nipulations with regards to image presentation and image crea-
tion. The way in which the manipulations were manifested
within the interventions, as in the researchers previous study, is
shown by Figure 1.
The dependent variable in this study was vocabulary com-
prehension, which was measured by two different tasks: word
fill-in and definition word match at two different time points:
both immediately after the interventions and two weeks later, to
examine delayed recall. Therefore, this study also employed a 2
(outcome task: word fill-in, definition word match) × 2 (time
point: immediate recall, delayed recall) within-subjects design.
The researcher visited all classes and randomly assigned the
participating students numbers ranging from 1 to 100. After this,
the participants took the earth science vocabulary pretest. They
were instructed to record their numbers on the upper left hand
corners of the papers, and were allowed approximately 30 min-
utes to complete these tests. After one class was finished, the
researcher rotated through the remaining classes, so all of the
pretests could be analyzed together.
Once all of the pretests were scored, the researcher selected
16 earth science vocabulary words with which 80% or more of
the students were unfamiliar. These words were used for the
interventions and outcome measures.
Within each class, students were randomly assigned to one of
the four interventions by signing up for vocabulary training
appointments with the researcher. Four time slots were offered
to each class, and each slot was randomly assigned to each of
the four interventions. Students were to meet the researcher in a
laboratory during the time slot they signed up for and were
instructed on the earth science terms as per the intervention
they were randomly assigned to.
Twenty-four hours after the instruction of the terms, the re-
searcher returned to the class and administered the earth science
immediate recall outcome measures. She gave the students the
earth science fill-ins and word matches, and instructed them to
record their identification numbers on the papers. Participants
were given 10 to 15 minutes to complete these assessments.
Two weeks after the initial vocabulary instruction, the re-
searcher returned with the delayed outcome measures to assess
retention of the earth science vocabulary words. The same pro-
cedure used for the immediate recall outcome measures was
After the words were instructed and assessed using the com-
prehension measures, the researcher visited the class to give the
students the vocabulary learning evaluations. Students were
given 10 minutes to complete this assessment.
Data Analyses
Statistical analyses enabled the researcher to determine how
effective the interventions were in improving the participants’
science vocabulary acquisition and retention. Descriptive statis-
tics were computed for each outcome measure and the verbal
SAT scores to examine the means and standard deviations, as
well as identify any outliers.
Examination of the relationships between the variables.
Demographic variables, such as age, gender, ethnicity, number
Figure 1.
Layout of the interventions.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
of older or younger siblings, and number of languages spoken,
were entered into a general linear model to determine if any
were significant predictors of the outcome scores.
Benefits of imagery and deep levels of processing (Hypo-
theses 1, 2, and 3). To test the first two hypotheses, as well as
the third regarding the benefits of imagery as well as deep lev-
els of processing, a series of statistical tests was carried out. A
one-way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used to ex-
amine any differences between the students in the intervene-
tion groups for fill-in and word match tasks, using the compos-
ite score. This test was conducted at both the immediate and
delayed recall time points. The verbal SAT scores were used as
a covariate in the statistical model. Pairwise comparisons were
also conducted to determine where any observed statistical
differences l ie.
Participants’ perceptions regarding the utility of the in-
terventions (Hypothesis 4). To examine the fourth hypothesis
focusing on the utility of the interventions, the first four ques-
tions of the vocabulary learning evaluation form were coded to
represent the answers the students provided. Numbers were
assigned to the answer choices in the following way: 3 = com-
pletely agree, 2 = somewhat agree, 1 = somewhat disagree, and
0 = completely disagree. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA)
was carried out for each question to explore any differences
between students’ perceived usefulness of the interventions and
the particular intervention they were assigned to.
Data were collected from 100 students. Thirteen of these
students were in the researcher’s General Psychology class, 28
in Developmental Psychology, 37 in the two Research Methods
recitations combined, 20 in Statistics, and an additional 2 stu-
dents who were both in the Developmental and one of the Re-
search Methods recitation classes. There were 75 females in
this sample and 2 5 m al es.
The mean age of the students was 20.82 years, with a range
from 18 to 42 years of age. The mean number of older siblings
was 0.91(SD = 1.22), ranging from 0 to 5; for younger siblings
it was 1.03 (SD = 1.43), ranging from 0 to 8. The mean verbal
SAT score, from the 88 students for whom it could be provided
for was 480.34 (SD = 78.12), with a minimum of 290 and a
maximum of 660.
The breakdown of ethnicity is as follows: 44% Caucasian/
White, 15% African American, 23% Hispanic, 18% identified
themselves only as “Other”. In terms of first language learned,
76% spoke English first, and for 9% it was Spanish. For lan-
guage spoken at home, 54% spoke English, and 19% spoke
English and Spanish in the home. The remaining 27% was dis-
tributed amongst a variety of other languages.
Influence of Demographic Variables
Looking at all the aforementioned demographic variables at
immediate recall, by entering them into a general linear model
to screen for any potential demographic predictors, correcting
for the covariate and intervention assigned, only these two
variables reached significance at immediate recall; verbal SAT:
F(8.65) = 5.85, p = 0.02; intervention: F(8.65) = 5.02, p = 0.03.
At delayed recall, it was shown that the number of younger
siblings had a significant effect F(1.74) = 4.73, p = 0.03. This
effect remained even when the intervention and verbal SAT
score were added in to the equation F(1,64) = 4.14, p = 0.05.
Examining this relationship more closely, it was shown that as
the number of younger siblings increased, the composite score
on the delayed outcome measures also increased r(81) = 0.22, p
= 0.05.
Significant correlations were shown between verbal SAT
score and immediate recall composite outcome measures r(74) =
0.36, p = 0.00, and between verbal SAT score and the delayed
recall composite outcome measures r(73) = 0.65, p = 0.00.
Acquisition Results
An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was conducted to
compare the effectiveness of the four interventions in improv-
ing the vocabulary acquisition of the students at immediate
recall. The independent variable was the intervention, and the
dependent variable was the composite outcome score of the two
outcome measures at immediate recall. Participants’ verbal
SAT scores were used as the covariate. There was a significant
difference shown between the interventions F(3.69) = 3.38, p =
0.02. The means followed the pattern predicted by the hy-
potheses: Image Creation—No Picture (M = 27.40, SD = 3.65),
Image Creation—Picture (M = 25.41, SD = 4.26), Picture Pres-
entation (M = 22.47, SD = 8.05), and Word Only (M = 20.17,
SD = 6.20).
With respect to the interventions, follow-up comparisons
among the four intervention conditions indicated that college
students assigned to the Word Only intervention demonstrated
a statistically significant difference from those in the Image
Creation- No Picture (p = 0.00) and Image Creation—Picture
presentation (p = 0.00). The students in the group which did not
employ imagery scored the lowest. See Table 2 for the results
of the comparisons.
This data support the first hypothesis in that students as-
signed to the image creation interventions (Image Creation- No
Picture and Image Creation-Picture) significantly outperformed
those in the Word Only intervention. There is only partial sup-
port for the second hypothesis with regards to depth of pro-
cessing, being that the pattern was as predicted, however results
did not demonstrate significant differences between each and
every intervention.
Retention Results
A second ANCOVA was carried out to examine retention,
this time using the delayed recall composite score as the de-
pendent variable. Participants’ verbal SAT scores were once
again used as the covariate. There was no significant effect of
the intervention on the retention of the vocabulary words, how-
ever the means followed the pattern predicted by the hypothes-
is: Image Creation—No Picture (M = 26.75, SD = 6.12), Image
Creation—Picture (M = 25.24, SD = 5.506), Picture Presenta-
tion (M = 23.05, SD = 5.71), and Word Only (M = 21.71, SD =
7.91). Overall, there was no support for the third hypothesis.
Results from the Vocabulary Learning Evaluations
With regards to the vocabulary learning evaluation forms,
there were no statistically significant differences between the
groups in terms of their self-rated abilities to learn the words (p
= 0.24), remember the words (p = 0.83), how useful they
thought the interventions were (p = 0.49), how fun they thought
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 1255
Table 2.
Immediate recall comparisons.
Multiple Comparisons
Immediate Recall Com po si te Score
Tukey HSD
95% Confidence Interval
(I) Intervention Assigned (J) Intervention Assigned Mean Difference (I-J)Std. ErrorSig. Lower Bound Upper Bound
Picture Presentation –3.50 1.78 0.21–8.16 1.16
Image Creation- No Picture–7.85* 1.84 0 –12.68 –3.03
Word Only
Image Creation- Picture –6.09* 1.87 0.01–10.98 –1.19
Word Only 3.50 1.78 0.21–1.16 8.16
Image Creation- No Picture–4.36 1.82 0.09–9.13 0.42
Picture Presentation
Image Creation- Picture –2.59 1.85 0.50–7.43 2.26
Word Only 7.85* 1.84 0 3.03 12.68
Picture Presentation 4.36 1.82 0.09–0.42 9.13
Image Creation- No Picture
Image Creation- Picture 1.77 1.908 0.791–3.24 6.77
Word Only 6.09* 1.87 0.011.19 10.98
Picture Presentation 2.59 1.85 0.50–2.26 7.43 Image Creation- Picture
Image Creation- No Picture–1.77 1.91 0.79–6.77 3.24
Based on obse rved means.
The error term is Mean Squa r e (Error) = 35.470.
*The mean di f f er ence is significant at the 0.0 5 level.
the interventions were (p = 0.08), or in the number of students
who needed to use another method besides the intervention that
they were assigned to in order to remember the words (p =
0.41). Based on the aforementioned data, there is no support for
the fourth hypothesis in that the qualitative results do not mimic
the quantitative results.
Influence of Demographic Variables
It is important to note that the number of younger siblings in-
fluenced the outcome scores at delayed recall; more specifically,
as the number of younger siblings increased within a family,
the composite score on the delayed outcome measures in-
creased. While this relationship was not examined by this par-
ticular study, this effect could be due to the practice individuals
have with vocabulary memory methods as a result of aiding
younger siblings in this task. However, without further investi-
gation this is merely speculation.
Hypotheses 1 and 3 focused on the use of imagery in facili-
tating the acquisition and retention of science content vocabu-
lary by the learners. It was predicted that those in the imagery
intervention groups would score significantly higher on the
outcome measures at both time points, compared to the students
in the Word Only intervention.
Based on the pairwise comparisons, the participants in the
Word Only group scored significantly lower than the students
in the two image creation groups (Image Creation—No Picture
and Image Creation—Picture) at immediate recall. Imagery,
more specifically image creation, is an important component of
vocabulary interventions. At delayed recall there were no sig-
nificant differences shown, which suggests that these interven-
tions may not be strong enough to aid a college age sample in
remembering words over time. Perhaps with greater exposure
to the vocabulary words, and more opportunities to illustrate
their meaning, these interventions would have significantly im-
pacted the students’ learning over time.
Overall, after examining the results of the immediate and de-
layed recall outcome measures, hypothesis 1 was supported
while hypothesis 3 was not. Imagery was shown to facilitate the
acquisition of science vocabulary learning, but it did not aid in
the retention of these words. However, it is important to note
that while there were no effects as a result of imagery in sup-
port of hypothesis three, some trends were witnessed as a result
of depth of processing.
Depth of Processing
Hypotheses 2 and 3 related to depth of processing and its po-
tential effects in facilitating the acquisition and retention of the
science content words. It was hypothesized that the Image Cre-
ation—No Picture intervention would help the students acquire
and retain the novel vocabulary words the best. This is because
this intervention affords the students the deepest level of proc-
essing, as they must create a picture which clearly illustrates the
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Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 1257
meaning of the word, without any assistance in the form of a
visual prompt. While this intervention was anticipated to be the
most effective in this particular study, in previous works
(Cohen & Johnson, in press), this was not the case. This is hy-
pothesized to be a developmental issue. In an earlier version of
this study, focusing on fifth grade biology learners, Image
Creation—Picture was predicted to be the most efficient inter-
vention in terms of word acquisition and retention. Image Crea-
tion—Picture, when compared to the Image Creation—No Pic-
ture intervention, helps to clarify the meanings of the vocabu-
lary words, as students are presented with the images first. For
Image Creation—No Picture, the student must focus on under-
standing and learning the definition, as well as creating a plan
for drawing a picture of the word without any visual prompt.
This may be easier for older students such as those included in
this study, but such an active and cognitively difficult strategy
may not be productive for the younger students. The trends
shown by the Cohen and Johnson study (in press) suggest this
aforementioned pattern with the younger students.
In this particular study, the trends were as predicted in terms
of the composite outcome scores at both immediate and delayed
recall. Students in the Image Creation—No Picture intervention
scored the highest, followed by those in the Image Creation—
Picture group, the Picture Presentation group, and finally the
Word Only group. While differences were not significant be-
tween each group, the order of this data suggest that possibly
with more challenging words or a larger sample, these results
may show significance.
Students’ Perceptions of the Interventions
Vocabulary learning evaluations. While the vocabulary
learning evaluations brought in a qualitative piece to the study,
the questions were quantitatively analyzed. Analyses of co-
variance were used for the first five questions of these forms.
It was interesting that no differences were found between the
intervention groups in terms of their perceptions of their ability
to learn the words, remember the words, the utility of the inter-
ventions, and how fun they perceived them to be. In addition,
no differences were found between the students exposed to the
different interventions in terms of how many used another me-
thod to help them remember the words as asked by question 5.
However, this is not all that surprising. The intervention
evaluation form was given to the students two weeks after the
initial instruction of the vocabulary words. Perhaps too much
time passed in order for the students to accurately remember
how they learned the words and the specifics of the interven-
tions to which they were exposed.
During the interventions themselves, many students were
eager to describe the benefits of the condition they were ex-
posed to. Many participants discussed how helpful the incorpo-
ration of images was to them. One participant from the Picture
Presentation group said, “What I remembered was purely from
meeting once with you. Seeing the pictures helped because I’m
more of a visual experience or hands on learner. The pictures
helped a lot.”
Some students who used imagery also employed additional
strategies to facilitate their acquisition and recall of the terms.
One student in the Image Creation—Picture group noted, “For
the word mesa, I remembered it because in Spanish that means
table. It’s a flat surface. Cumulus, I remembered because it
accumulates water.” Other students described using techniques
such as repetition of the words during the initial instruction
phase and process of elimination during the outcome measures.
Despite these positive statements regarding the interventions,
hypothesis 4 was not supported by the results of the evaluation
forms. The students’ answers did not reflect those shown by the
quantitative results. Perhaps if students were given more time
and open-ended questions, they could have been more explicit
as to their perceptions of the interventions and expressed their
ideas about vocabulary learning more clearly.
Overall Discussion
The first hypothesis was supported in that imagery facilitated
vocabulary acquisition. The second hypothesis was only par-
tially supported in that the trends were as predicted with regards
to depth of processing, however differences between the inter-
ventions failed to show significance. The third hypothesis was
not supported, being that there were no differences found be-
tween the imagery and no imagery interventions at retention,
however trends once again followed what was predicted as a
result of depth of processing. The fourth and final hypothesis
regarding the qualitative results also lacked evidence.
Overall, this study lent some support to the utility of images
and deep levels of processing. This study provided a way to
connect abstract psychological concepts with actual classroom
practice. These theories are worth examining further so as to
devise more effective interventions to implement in the class-
room with this age group of students.
While great care was taken to reduce as many confounding
variables as possible, there were limitations to this study. While
these limitations may not have affected the results in any major
way, they are important to discuss.
The individual differences of the participants, which included
their prior knowledge and abilities, may have influenced the
results. In terms of prior knowledge, vocabulary words which
centered on content familiar to certain participants may have
been more easily remembered by them. The use of the verbal
SAT scores as a covariate was able to counter this limitation to
an extent by ascertaining the degree of the participants’ prior
vocabulary knowledge. Selecting words which 80% or more of
the students were unfamiliar with, also removed some of influ-
ence of individual differences, as it was less likely that the stu-
dents had experienced the words before. Individual differences
exert confounding effects on many vocabulary and imaging
As was evidenced by the Anderson and Kulhavy study
(1972), it is difficult to assume that the participants were not
forming images on their own, even if they were not explicitly
told to do so. In the aforementioned study, analysis of a post-
experimental questionnaire demonstrated that a majority of
those in the control group consisting of high school seniors re-
ported forming images during reading. Perhaps in the current
study, students used strategies to memorize the vocabulary
words besides those which were presented to them in their in-
tervention condition. Even though students were told to use the
interventions provided, this cannot be entirely prevented or
Finally, the results of this study may not apply to vocabulary
words from all disciplines and content areas. Requiring students
to create their own images may not be possible in all situations.
As per the dual coding theory, visual imagery may not work as
effectively for abstract words. The concreteness of the vocabu-
lary on which one is instructed plays a major role in the ability
of students to create imagery and to learn it. Further research
must be done to determine when dual coding is valuable as an
intervention, and when it is not.
Future Research
In future studies it would be beneficial to separate results in
terms of the quality and quantity of memory to see how effec-
tive the interventions actually are. For example, quality is the
thoroughness with which information is remembered, such as
how detailed the definitions are upon recall. The quantity of
memory focuses on how much is remembered, or how many
definitions can be recalled, despite their total accuracy. While
this study examined quantity, it did not look at quality. Perhaps
measures in which students are instructed to write the defini-
tions from memory should be incorporated into future research.
These definitions could then be studied in terms of the level of
understanding and specificity they convey.
Research should also aim to assess the image evoking ability
of various types of words and texts. This would enable curricu-
lum designers and textbook publishers to implement interven-
tions in content areas in which little to no imagery is evoked by
the reading materials.
Educational Implications
This study extended work by the author in ascertaining whe-
ther the interventions which had previously been proven to
improve the vocabulary learning of fifth grade students would
be appropriate and beneficial for a college aged sample. While
results were modest, students seemed to enjoy the exercise and
those in the image creation imagery interventions did show a
marked improvement over those in the Word Only intervention
at immediate recall.
Even though significant differences were not witnessed be-
tween every single intervention on the pairwise comparisons,
this study has important implications. Students were instructed
on only 16 vocabulary words and were tested both the day after
instruction and two weeks later. As research has shown, per-
haps multiple exposures to the vocabulary would have led to
even more significance.
Regardless of which type of intervention is implemented,
teachers must reme mber to stress the importance of vocabulary
learning and comprehension strategies and incorporate them in
content area learning. This will serve both to further assist those
who are doing well in continuing to learn, and to bridge the
achievement gap between students.
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