Creative Education
2014. Vol.5, No.1, 4-6
Published Online January 2014 in SciRes (
Using Concept Mapping Instruction in Mobile
Phone to Learning English Vocabulary
Chiu-Jung Chen
Department of E-Learning Design and Management, National Chia-Yi University, Chia-Yi, Taiwan
Received November 17th, 2013; re vised December 17th, 2013; accepted December 24th, 2013
Copyright © 2014 Chiu-Jung Chen. This is an open access article distributed under the Creativ e Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights ©
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Mobile technologies have enabled various new learning approaches. The researcher investigated the ef-
fectiveness of using Short Message Service (SMS) with concept mapping for English as Foreign Lan-
guage learners’ vocabulary learning. The results indicated that after receiving English vocabulary lessons
via SMS, the concept mapping group performed significantly better than the random group on the test
scores, especially on the translation part.
Keywords: M-learning; SMS; Computer-Assisted Language Learning
Most teachers and language learners feel that vocabulary
learning is not an easy task, and most learners also have trouble
memorizing large amounts of vocabularies and phrases (Sch-
mitt, 2010; Oxford, 1990). An abundance of evidence about the
use of mobile devices, such as laptops, PDAs, and mobile
phones in education has been reported (e.g., Ally, 2009; Chen,
Hwang, Yang, Chen, & Huang, 2009; Chu, Hwang, & Tseng,
2010; Hwang & Tsai, 2010; Hwang, Yang, Tsai, & Yang, 2009;
Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2005; Shin, Chuang, & Hwang,
2010; Thornton & Houser, 2002; Vavoula, Sharples, Rudman,
Meek, & Lonsdale, 2009). Mobile technologies have been also
applied as language learning tools (Cavus & Ibrahim, 2009;
Chinery, 2006; Roschelle, Sharples, & Chan, 2005; Thornton &
Houser, 2003, 2004, 2005). Among the mobile devices, short
message service (SMS) is one of the major capacities of mobile
phones (Lu, 2008). Reasons for the high rate of sending SMS
messages include its low price and asynchronous nature (Mit-
chell, Heppel, & Kadirire, 2002).
Consequently, some work has been done to date on using
SMS through mobile phones to assist learning (Bollen, Eimler,
& Hoppe, 2004; Cavus & Ibrahim, 2009; Chen & Chung, 2008;
Lu, 2008; Markett, Arnedillo Sanchez, Weber, & Tangency,
2006; Mitchell & Doherty, 2003; So, 2009; Stone, Briggs, &
Smith, 2002). SMS technologies were also proved by many
researchers to be effective for language learning (e.g., Cavus &
Ibrahim, 2009; Kennedy & Levy, 2008, Levy & Kennedy, 2005;
Lu, 2008; So, 2009; Thornton & Houser, 2005), and research
on SMS or mobile learning is emerging more regularly in the
CALL literature (Stockwell, 2010). The reasons are that dis-
crete SMS messages can be provided in a short manner and
readily available for learners, such as in buses or waiting lines.
The learning process is not as interrupting as other media like
audio or video (So, 2009). Kukulska-Hulme & Shield (2008)
also point out another advantage that the mobile devices are
ideal for the “push” approach of learning by sending informa-
tion to the learners at set times and on set days.
In the past decade, various studies concerning applied con-
cept mapping in language learning: four of them focus on Eng-
lish reading (Cassata-Widera, 2008; Huang, 2005; Liu, Chen, &
Chang, 2010; Zittle, Johari, & Eastmond, 2005), four of them
on Chinese reading (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2001; Liu, 2001;
Ye & Zhan, 2000; Wu & Zeng, 2003), two of them are related
to vocabulary learning (Bahr & Danserearu, 2005; Liu, Peng,
Zhuo, & Lin, 2007), and the other eight are about writing (Feng,
2004; Giombini, 2004; Giombini, 2008; Hunter, 2008; Lin,
2002; Liu, in press; Straubel, 2006a, Straubel, 2006b). All of
the results indicate that using concept maps has more positive
effects than traditional teaching.
Mobile technologies not only enable anytime and anywhere
learning, but also provide an opportunity to develop and sup-
port situated learning. Nevertheless, without proper support,
these new learning scenarios might be too complex for students,
and the learning achievements could be disappointing (Hwang,
Shi, & Chu, 2011; Hwang, Wu, & Ke, 2011). Although concept
maps have been recognized as an effective way of assisting
students in interpreting and organizing their personal know-
ledge (Jonassen & Carr, 2000), only two studies proposed con-
cept mapping for supporting mobile learning activities in nature
science courses (i.e., Hwang, Shi, & Chu, 2011; Hwang, Wu, &
Ke, 2011). The experimental results of these two studies show
that the proposed approach not only enhances learning attitudes,
but also improves the learning achievements of the students.
Literature Revi ew
The possibility of learning language at any time and at any
place is highly desirable for busy learners (So, 2009). Studies
investigating using SMS for learning vocabulary have started to
appear in the literature, and the focuses of the research have
been varied (i.e., Chen, Hsieh, & Kinshuk, 2008, Cavus &
Ibrahim, 2009; Kennedy & Levy, 2008; Levy & Kennedy, 2005;
Lu, 2008; Thornton & Houser, 2005). One study has been con-
ducted in classrooms. For example, Chen et al.’s (2008) ex-
plored how to better match different instructional strategies
(written annotation and pictorial annotation) for presenting
English vocabulary learning content with learners’ individual
verbal or visual ability via SMS. The findings show that pro-
viding learning content with pictorial annotation in a mobile
language learning environment can help learners with lower
verbal ability and higher visual ability to learn better.
In addition to the indoor activities, the rest of the studies
have been conducted outside the classroom (i.e., Cavus & Ibra-
him, 2009; Kennedy & Levy, 2008; Levy & Kennedy, 2005; Lu,
2008; Thornton & Houser, 2005). These studies were based on
the “push” mode of operation, which means teachers control the
frequency and the timing of message sent to learners. Cavus
and Ibrahim (2009) developed a SMS-based system to test Tur-
kish undergraduate students. Participants were randomly di-
vided into three groups to receive messages, which were com-
posed of English technical words and the definitions in students’
mother tongue. Spaced repetitions of the same messages were
sent on different days to different groups for nine days. After
administering the post-test, the results showed that students
learned new words with the help of the mobile phones.
Similarly, Levy and Kennedy (2005) described a project of
sending Australian learners Italian language lessons related text
notifications through SMS. The project was entitled “Italian
Literature and Society”. Students were sent new words and
example context sentences about what they have learned during
class or details of upcoming programs they wanted learners to
watch. On an average of nine to ten messages were sent per
week. No measures of effectiveness were conducted in Kenne-
dy and Levy’s study. Surveys administered in these studies
indicated that learners felt that these messages were very help-
ful for learning vocabulary, although some indicated that the
messages were too frequent. Similar reports by the same au-
thors on the topic can be found (Kennedy & Levy, 2008).
To determine effectiveness, Thornton and Houser (2005)
compared Japanese university learners who received the e-mail
mini lessons against learners who could access the same ma-
terial through SMS and learners who were given the materials
on paper. Five individual lessons were sent three times a day
for a two-week period. The lessons include learning a single
word, some facet of a word, and examples. The result showed
that the learners who received the e-mail or SMS scored better
on post-tests compared with the paper group. The survey results
also indicated that most students preferred the SMS instruction
and had strong belief in it as an effective teaching method.
Lu (2008) explored the application of SMS in second lan-
guage learning in Taiwan for two weeks. The high-school stu-
dents were divided into paper group and SMS group. They
were received two sorts of 28 English words; one was on paper
while the other was through SMS for two weeks. Each of the
lessons contained English words, Chinese translations, and
syntactic categories. According to the result of the post-test,
students of SMS group recognized more English words after
reading the vocabulary lessons via SMS than students of paper
group. Students reported they read the SMS literally anytime
and everywhere-in commuting, between classes, or even before
going to bed. The study also stressed that frequent exposure
enhanced word recognition and retention.
Meaningful learning requires that the learner engage in sub-
stantial cognitive processing during learning, but the learner’s
capacity for cognitive processing is severely limited. A central
challenge facing instruction designers is the potential for cogni-
tive overloadin which the learner’s intended cognitive
processing exceeds the learner’s available cognitive capacity
(Mayer & Moreno, 2003; Sweller, 1999; Sweller, 2005). With-
in cognitivism implications, the technique of using a concept
map for organizing and relating the learning concepts can help
learners to visualize a certain knowledge structure in a graph-
ic-diagrammatic form. From a cognitive perspective, the con-
cept map has been used as a psychological instrument to struc-
ture, guide, and transform knowledge on the basis of psycho-
logical traditions (Liu, 2010). Novak (1993) argued that visua-
lization of concepts and relations may be efficient at “chunking”
knowledge to increase the storage capability of students’ short-
term memory.
Some researchers have examined the effectiveness of the
concept mapping strategy for assisting word learning (i.e., Bahr
& Dansereau, 2005; Liu, Peng, Zhuo, & Lin, 2007; Margosein,
Pascarella, & Pflaum, 1982). Although the participants and
learning content were different among the three studies, most of
the results showed that the concept mapping strategy is effec-
tive in word learning (Liu, 2010). Liu et al. (2007) taught fifth
grade students with concept mapping and visualized learning,
enabling learners to draw representative learner-constructed
maps to assist in the comprehension of target vocabulary. It was
found that in the process of comprehending words to draw
maps successfully, learners had to think about the words’ mor-
phology, semantics, phonetics, etc., and thus their memoriza-
tion of the vocabulary was enhanced
The college students from two English classes participated in
this study. The researcher divided the participants from these
two classes into two groups: the random group and the concept
mapping group. The concept mapping group was provided with
concept mapping strategy instruction in teaching and four vo-
cabulary concept maps which were to be used in conjunction
with the SMS messages that the students received to learn the
target vocabulary. As for the random group, the instructor used
traditional instruction in class to learn the same target vocabu-
A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships of vo-
cabularies. It was the strategy used in the study to support
learners to organize information through visual aids. In this
present study, the target vocabularies consisted of nouns (n),
verbs (v), adjectives (adj), and phrasal verbs (phr v). These
vocabularies were further categorized into concept map catego-
ries. Each concept map was coupled with a diagram and a sec-
tion that explain the reasons to constitute the certain map.
The random group received the target vocabulary items sent
by SMS message once each day during the experiment in ran-
dom order; that is to say, they received two semantically unre-
lated words each day. For the concept mapping group, the Eng-
lish vocabulary items were divided into two sections and each
section was sent by SMS message for one week. Moreover, the
vocabulary was divided into semantically related pair sets and
delivered by SMS message twice each day. Each message sent
to both groups was composed of two English vocabulary items,
followed by their syntactic categories, Chinese translation, and
example sentences.
The purpose of the tests was to evaluate the subjects’ voca-
bulary knowledge after they had read the messages. There was
vocabulary comprehension test used in this experiment which
was designed by the researcher of this study. Each test was
composed of 30 items and divided into three parts: Translation,
fill-in-the-blanks, and multiple choices. The total score of each
test was 100 points.
In order to analyze the differences between the random group
and the concept mapping group on the two comprehension tests.
The differences in the delivery strategies between the random
and concept mapping groups were not significant. However,
there was a significant difference between the random and
concept mapping groups regarding the translation part with the
concept mapping group performing better than the random
Specifically, the results indicate that after receiving English
vocabulary lessons integrated with the concept mapping strate-
gy via SMS for two weeks, the concept mapping group per-
formed significantly better than the random group on the trans-
lation part of the test. Thus, integrating the concept mapping
strategy with SMS can be seen as having a positive effect on
English vocabulary learning.
In conclusion, the above discussion suggests that learning
English vocabulary with the help of the concept mapping strat-
egy is an effective method for learners. Therefore, when partic-
ipants have to learn English words with SMS, offering them
concept maps can help them learn better.
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