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I am an ESRC funded PhD student in the Centre for Language and Communication Research. My research is in the field of vocabulary development, specifically children's ability to decode and analyse the meaning of unfamiliar and/or complex academic words. This doctoral project aims to trial and test creative intervention strategies which could aid both children's vocabulary development and pedagogical practices in the English language classroom.

The ability to cope with different levels of lexical complexity when reading, writing, spelling and speaking is not only fundamental to children’s academic success, but also to understanding semantic nuances in social relationships and life post-education. However, recent GCSE pass-rate statistics suggest that there is a 'gap' between the vocabulary children and teenagers are expected to know and understand and what they actually know and understand. My research, therefore, explores whether directly teaching children English word history, word construction and word-part meaningsby integrating elements of Latin, Greek, Old English and French into the classroominfluences children's vocabulary development and aids growth of key communication skillsets.

I completed a BA in English (First Class Hons.) at the University of Southampton before working as a secondary school English teacher and teaching assistant. I then moved to Cardiff University with a Master's Excellence Scholarship to study for an MA in Language and Linguistics in which I achieved a Distinction. For my Master's research, I was awarded the Nicholas Coupland Prize for Best Performance in Sociolinguistics.

Research interests

I'm particularly interested in whether increased etymological and morphological awareness, that is, the ability to decipher the meanings of individual word parts and map their root meanings onto the mental lexicon, influences children's knowledge and confidence when faced with difficult words in the school environment.

My other research interests include:

  • First language development
  • The school-vocabulary 'gap'
  • Morphology and etymology teaching 
  • Historical linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Literacy pedagogical practices 

Professional Memberships:

  • Member, British Association for Applied Linguistics 
  • Member, Linguistics and Knowledge about Language in Education (BAAL Special Interest Group)
  • Member, Vocabulary Studies (BAAL Special Interest Group)
  • Member, Lexical Studies Research Group
  • Member, National Literacy Trust
  • Member, United Kingdom Literacy Association 
  • Member, Mentor and Judge, English Speaking Union 

Teaching

Step-Up to University:

I am employed as a PhD tutor for Cardiff University's widening participation scheme 'Step-Up to University'. I deliver weekly masterclasses to A Level students from schools and colleges across South Wales. I teach on the following module(s): 

  • Languages, Literacy and Communication: Read. Said. Seen. 

The Brilliant Club's Scholars Programme:

I am a Brilliant Club PhD tutor delivering courses that widen access to Higher Education and promote university-style learning amongst secondary school students. This year, I will be delivering the following courses in a number of schools in South Wales:

  • From ‘Oniscus asellus’ to Chuggypigs and Billybuttons: Investigating English language variation and change. A Sociolinguistics-based module I have designed for Key Stage 4/5 students.

  • Through the looking glass: An introduction to literary theory. A pre-designed Key Stage 3 module. 

  •  Into the deep dark woods: Journey through literature. A pre-designed Key Stage 2 module. 

Thesis

English language vocabulary pedagogy: Investigating the impact of explicit etymology and morphology teaching on children’s vocabulary development in schools in Wales

Funding source

ESRC Wales DTP

Sara Pons Sanz

Dr Sara Pons-Sanz

Senior Lecturer