Teaching English Vocabulary Using Games

Teachers must make sure students have understood the new words, which will be remembered | | | |better if introduced in a “memorable way” (Hubbard et. al. 1983:50). Bearing all this in mind, teachers have | | | |to remember to employ a variety of techniques for new vocabulary presentation and revision. | | | |Gairns and Redman (1986) suggest the following types of vocabulary presentation techniques: | | | |Visual techniques.

These pertain to visual memory, which is considered especially helpful with vocabulary | | | |retention. Learners remember better the material that has been presented by means of visual aids (Zebrowska | | | |1975:452). Visual techniques lend themselves well to presenting concrete items of vocabulary-nouns; many are | | | |also helpful in conveying meanings of verbs and adjectives.

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They help students associate presented material | | | |in a meaningful way and incorporate it into their system of language values. | | | |Verbal explanation.This pertains to the use of illustrative situations, synonymy, opposites, scales (Gairns | | | |and Redman 1986:74), definition (Nation 1990:58) and categories (Allen and Valette 1972:116). | | | |Use of dictionaries. Using a dictionary is another technique of finding out meanings of unfamiliar words and | | | |expressions.

Students can make use of a variety of dictionaries: bilingual, monolingual, pictorial, thesauri,| | | |and the like. As French Allen perceives them, dictionaries are “passports to independence,” and using them is| | | |one of the tudent-centered learning activities (1983:83). | | | | | | | | | | | |Using games | | | |The advantages of using games.

Many experienced textbook and methodology manuals writers have argued that | | | |games are not just time-filling activities but have a great educational value.W. R. Lee holds that most | | | |language games make learners use the language instead of thinking about learning the correct forms (1979:2). | | | |He also says that games should be treated as central not peripheral to the foreign language teaching | | | |programme. A similar opinion is expressed by Richard-Amato, who believes games to be fun but warns against | | | |overlooking their pedagogical value, particularly in foreign language teaching. There are many advantages of | | | |using games.

Games can lower anxiety, thus making the acquisition of input more likely” (Richard-Amato | | | |1988:147). They are highly motivating and entertaining, and they can give shy students more opportunity to | | | |express their opinions and feelings (Hansen 1994:118). They also enable learners to acquire new experiences | | | |within a foreign language which are not always possible during a typical lesson.

Furthermore, to quote | | | |Richard-Amato, they, “add diversion to the regular classroom activities,” break the ice, “[but also] they are| | | |used to introduce new ideas” (1988:147).In the easy, relaxed atmosphere which is created by using games, | | | |students remember things faster and better (Wierus and Wierus 1994:218). S. M.

Silvers says many teachers are| | | |enthusiastic about using games as “a teaching device,” yet they often perceive games as mere time-fillers, “a| | | |break from the monotony of drilling” or frivolous activities. He also claims that many teachers often | | | |overlook the fact that in a relaxed atmosphere, real learning takes place, and students use the language they| | | |have been xposed to and have practised earlier (1982:29). Further support comes from Zdybiewska, who | | | |believes games to be a good way of practising language, for they provide a model of what learners will use | | | |the language for in real life in the future (1994:6). | | | |Games encourage, entertain, teach, and promote fluency. If not for any of these reasons, they should be used | | | |just because they help students see beauty in a foreign language and not just problems that at times seem | | | |overwhelming. | | | |Choosing appropriate games.There are many factors to consider while discussing games, one of which is | | | |appropriacy.

Teachers should be very careful about choosing games if they want to make them profitable for | | | |the learning process. If games are to bring desired results, they must correspond to either the student’s | | | |level, or age, or to the material that is to be introduced or practised. Not all games are appropriate for | | | |all students irrespective of their age (Siek-Piskozub 1994:37). Different age groups require various topics, | | | |materials, and modes of games.For example, children benefit most from games which require moving around, | | | |imitating a model, competing between groups and the like (Siek-Piskozub 1994:38). Furthermore, structural | | | |games that practise or reinforce a certain grammatical aspect of language have to relate to students’ | | | |abilities and prior knowledge. Games become difficult when the task or the topic is unsuitable or outside the| | | |student’s experience. | | | |Another factor influencing the choice of a game is its length and the time necessary for its completion.

Many| | | |games have a time limit, but according to Siek-Piskozub, the teacher can either allocate more or less time | | | |depending on the students’ level, the number of people in a group, or the knowledge of the rules of a game | | | |etc. (1994:43). | | | |When to use games. Games are often used as short warm-up activities or when there is some time left at the | | | |end of a lesson.

Yet, as Lee observes, a game “should not be regarded as a marginal activity filling in odd | | | |moments when the teacher and class have nothing better to do” (1979:3). Games ought to be at the heart of | | | |teaching foreign languages.Rixon suggests that games be used at all stages of the lesson, provided that they| | | |are suitable and carefully chosen. At different stages of the lesson, the teacher’s aims connected with a | | | |game may vary: | | | |Presentation.

Provide a good model making its meaning clear; | | | |Controlled practise. Elicit good imitation of new language and appropriate responses; | | | |Communicative prastice.Give students a chance to use the language (1981:70). | | | |Games also lend themselves well to revision exercises helping learners recall material in a pleasant, | | | |entertaining way. All authors referred to in this article agree that even if games resulted only in noise and| | | |entertained students, they are still worth paying attention to and implementing in the classroom since they | | | |motivate learners, promote communicative competence, and generate fluency. However, can they be more | | | |successful for presentation and revision than other techniques?The following part of this article is an | | | |attempt at finding the answer to this question. | | | | | | | | | | | |The use of games for presenting and revising vocabulary | | | |Vocabulary presentation. After the teacher chooses what items to teach, Haycraft suggests following certain | | | |guidelines.

These include teaching the vocabulary “in spoken form first” to prevent students from pronouncing| | | |the words in the form they are written, placing the new items in context, and revising them. A number of | | | |techniques can be adopted to present new vocabulary items. The presentation of new vocabulary is classified | | | |according to verbal and visual techniques following Gairns and Redman’s classification. Among visual | | | |techniques are flashcards, photographs and pictures, wall charts, blackboard drawings, word pictures, | | | |incongruous visuals, realia, mime, and gesture.Students can label pictures or objects or perform an action.

| | | |Verbal techniques consist of using illustrative situations, descriptions, synonyms and antonyms, scales, and,| | | |as described by Nation (1990:58), using various forms of definition: definition by demonstration (visual | | | |definition), definition by abstraction, contextual definitions, and definition by translation. Allen and | | | |Valette (1972:116) also suggest the use of categories-organising words into sets, subclasses and | | | |subcategories often aided by visual presentation.Those learners who are more autonomous can make use of | | | |other techniques such as asking others to explain the meaning of an unknown item, guessing from context or | | | |using either of a variety of dictionaries. | | | |I shall now proceed to present practical examples of games I have used for vocabulary introduction and | | | |revision. | | | |Description of the groups.

For the purpose of vocabulary presentation, I chose two groups of third form | | | |students. With one of them I used a presentation game and with the other translation and context guessing.In| | | |both groups, students’ abilities varied-ranging from those whose command of English was very good, able to | | | |communicate easily using a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures, and those who found it | | | |difficult to communicate. The choice of lexical items to be introduced | | | |After covering the first conditional and time clauses in the textbook, I decided to present students with a | | | |set of idioms relating to bodily parts-mainly those connected with the head (taken from The Penguin | | | |Dictionary of English Idioms ).The choice of these expressions was determined by students’ requests to learn| | | |colloquial expressions to describe people’s moods, behavior, etc. Moreover, in one of the exercises the | | | |authors of the textbook called for examples of expressions which contain parts of the body. For the purpose | | | |of the lesson I adapted Gear and Gear’s “Vocabulary Picture-Puzzle” from the English Teaching Forum | | | |(1988:41). Students were to work out the meanings of sixteen idiomatic expressions.

All of them have Polish | | | |equivalents, which made it easier for students to remember them. | | | | | | | | | | | |Description of vocabulary picture-puzzle | | |To prepare the puzzle, I cut two equal-sized pieces of cardboard paper into rectangles. The selected idioms | | | |were written onto the rectangles in the puzzle-pieces board and their definitions on the game board. On the | | | |reverse side of the puzzle-pieces board, I glued colorful photographs of landscapes and then cut the | | | |puzzle-pieces board into individual pieces, each with an idiom on it. The important thing was the | | | |distribution of the idioms and their definitions on the boards.The definitions were placed in the same | | | |horizontal row opposite to the idioms so that when put together face to face each idiom faced its definition.

| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |Puzzle Pieces Board | | | |(Figure) The idioms and their definitions were the following (all taken from The Penguin Dictionary of | | | |English Idioms p. 77): | | |to be soft in the head: foolish, not very intelligent; | | | |to have one’s hair stand on end: to be terrified; | | | |to be two-faced: to agree with a person to his face but disagree with him behind his back; | | | |to make a face: to make a grimace which may express disgust, anger; | | | |to be all eyes: to be very attentive; | | | |to be an eye-opener: to be a revelation; | | | |to be nosy: to be inquisitive, to ask too many questions; | | | |to be led by the nose: to be completely dominated by, totally influenced by; | | | |long ears: an inquisitive person who is always asking too many questions; | | | |to be all ears: to listen very attentively; | | | |to be wet behind the ears: to be naive, inexperienced; | | | |a loose mouth: an indiscrete person; | | | |one’s lips are sealed: to be obliged to keep a secret; | | | |to have a sweet tooth: to have a liking for sweet food, sugar, honey, ice cream, etc. | | | |to grind one’s teeth: to express one’s fury; | | | |to hold one’s tongue: to say nothing, to be discrete; | | | |The task for students. Work out the puzzle by matching the idioms and their definitions. First, put | | | |puzzle-pieces on the desk with the word facing up.

Take one and match the idiom to the definition. Having | | | |done that, place the puzzle-piece, word-side-up, in the chosen rectangle. When you have used up all the | | | |pieces, turn them over. If they form a picture of a landscape, the choices are correct. If not, rearrange the| | | |picture and check the idiom-definition correspondences. | | | |The game objectives. To work out the puzzle, students had to match idioms with their definitions.The | | | |objective of the game was for each pair to cooperate in completing the activity successfully in order to | | | |expand their vocabulary with, in this case, colloquial expressions.

| | | |All students were active and enjoyed the activity. Some of their comments were as follows: “Very interesting | | | |and motivating” “Learning can be a lot of fun” etc. | | | |Students also had to find the appropriate matches in the shortest time possible to beat other participating | | | |groups. The element of competition among the groups made them concentrate and think intensively. | | | |Translation activity. The other group of students had to work out the meanings of the idioms by means of | | | |translation.Unlike the previously described group, they did not know the definitions. The expressions were | | | |listed on the board, and students tried to guess their proper meanings giving different options.

My role was | | | |to direct them to those that were appropriate. Students translated the idioms into Polish and endeavored to | | | |find similar or corresponding expressions in their mother tongue. Unlike the game used for the purpose of | | | |idiom introduction, this activity did not require the preparation of any aids. Fewer learners participated | | | |actively or enthusiastically in this lesson and most did not show great interest in the activity.

| | | |Administering the test.In order to find out which group acquired new vocabulary better, I designed a short | | | |test, for both groups containing a translation into English and a game. This allowed learners to activate | | | |their memory with the type of activity they had been exposed to in the presentation. | | | | | | | | | | | |The test checking the acquisition of newly-introduced reading vocabulary | | | |I.Match the definitions of the idioms with the pictures and write which idiom is depicted and described: | | | |to be inexperienced | | | |to listen very attentively | | | |to be terrified | | | |to be dominated by someone | | | |to be attentive | | | |to be insincere, dishonest | | |The proper answers are the following: | | | |d . , to be wet behind the ears | | | |a .

, to be all ears | | | |e . , to have one’s hair stand on end | | | |f . , to be led by the nose | | | |b . , to be all eyes | | | |c . , to be two-faced. | | | |II.Translate into English (the translated sentences should be the following): | | | |He is soft in the head.

| | | |She is two-faced, always criticizes me behind my back. | | | |Mark has a sweet tooth, so he is not too slim. | | | |Will you hold your tongue if I tell you something? | | | |Why are you such a loose mouth? | | | |Don’t be nosy! This is none of your business. | | | |The results of the test. The following table shows how many students did better at the game, how many at the | | | |translation and how many did equally well at one and the other: | | | |Analysis of the results. Group I received an average mark of 3. 9 as compared to 3.

obtained by group II. In | | | |other words, the group which had learned vocabulary through games performed significantly better. However, it| | | |is especially interesting and surprising that group II also received high scores for the game. Even though | | | |learners in group I had the material presented by means of translation, most students got better marks for | | | |the game. | | | |Summing up.

Even though the results of one activity can hardly lead to informative conclusions, I believe | | | |that the results suggest that the use of games for presentation of new vocabulary is very effective and | | | |enjoyable for students.Despite the fact that the preparation of a game may be time-consuming and suitable | | | |material may be hard to find, teachers should try to use them to add diversion to presentational techniques. | | | | | | | | | | | |Revising vocabulary | | | |Many sources referred to in this article emphasise the importance of vocabulary revision.

This process aims | | | |at helping students acquire active, productive vocabularies. Students need to practise regularly what they | | | |have learnt; otherwise, the material will fade away.Teachers can resort to many techniques for vocabulary | | | |consolidation and revision. To begin with, a choice of graphs and grids can be used.

Students may give a | | | |definition of a given item to be found by other students. Multiple choice and gap filling exercises will | | | |activate the vocabulary while students select the appropriate response. Teachers can use lists of synonyms or| | | |antonyms to be matched, sentences to be paraphrased, or just some words or expressions in context to be | | | |substituted by synonymous expressions. Doing cloze tests will show students’ understanding of a passage, its | | | |organisation, and determine the choice of lexical items.Visual aids can be of great help with revision. | | | |Pictures, photographs, or drawings can facilitate the consolidation of both individual words as well as | | | |idioms, phrases and structures. There is also a large variety of word games that are “useful for practising | | | |and revising vocabulary after it has been introduced” (Haycraft 1978:50).

Numerous puzzles, word squares, | | | |crosswords, etc. , are useful especially for pair or group work. | | | |I shall now present the games I have used for vocabulary revision. | | | |Description of the group. I gave teachers a questionnaire to determine their view of using games for | | | |vocabulary teaching.

In response to the questionnaire, many teachers said they often used games for | | | |vocabulary revision. Some claimed they were successful and usually more effective than other methods. To see | | | |if this is really true, I decided to use a crossword puzzle with a group of first year students. | | | |The crossword puzzle. After completing a unit about Van Gogh, students wanted to expand their vocabulary with| | | |words connected with art.

The students compiled lists of words, which they had learnt. In order to revise the| | | |vocabulary, one of the groups had to work out the crossword puzzle. | | | |Students worked in pairs. One person in each pair was provided with part A of the crossword puzzle and the | | | |other with part B.

The students’ task was to fill in their part of the puzzle with the missing words known to| | | |their partner. To complete the activity, learners had to ask each other for the explanations, definitions, or| | | |examples to arrive at the appropriate answers. Only after getting the answer right could they put it down in | | | |the suitable place of their part of the crossword. Having completed the puzzle, students were supposed to | | | |find out what word was formed from the letters found in the shaded squares. | | | |The word in shaded squares: STAINED GLASS.

| | | |Students enjoyed the activity very much and did not resort to translation at any point.They used various | | | |strategies to successfully convey the meanings of the words in question-e. g. , definitions, association | | | |techniques, and examples. When everyone was ready, the answers were checked and students were asked to give | | | |examples of definitions, explanations, etc. , they had used to get the missing words. | | | |Definitions.

The other group performed a similar task. Students were to define as follows: | | | |I. Define the following words: shade, icon, marker, fresco, perspective, hue, daub, sculptor, still life, | | | |watercolor, palette, background. | | | |II.

Find the words these definitions describe: | | |a public show of objects | | | |a variety of a colour | | | |a wooden frame to hold a picture while it is being painted | | | |a pale or a delicate shade of a colour | | | |a picture of a wide view of country scenery | | | |an instrument for painting made of sticks, stiff hair, nylon | | | |a painting, drawing, or a photograph of a real person | | | |a piece of work, especially art which is the best of its type or the best a person has made | | | |painting, music, sculpture, and others chiefly concerned with producing beautiful rather than useful things | | | |a line showing the shape (of something) | | | |a person who is painted, drawn, photographed by an artist | | | |a picture made with a pen, pencil, etc. | | | |The test. To learn which group acquired and consolidated the vocabulary better, I prepared and administered a| | | |short test.

One part of it was a matching exercise-students were to match a word and its definition. The | | | |other part consisted of a crossword puzzle. The learners’ task was to write in the defined words and give a | | | |definition to the word that was formed of a sequence of letters in a horizontal line. All definitions were | | | |taken from The Longman Active Study Dictionary of English. | | | |I.

Match the definitions with the words below: | | |a public display of objects | | | |the scenery or ground behind the main object | | | |charming or interesting enough to be made into a picture | | | |a wooden frame to hold a picture while it is being painted | | | |(a picture painted with) paint mixed with water | | | |a picture of a wide view of country scenery | | | |a board with a curved edge and a hole for the thumb on which an artist mixes colours | | | |a picture made with a pen, pencil, etc. | | | |a colour | | | |painting, music, sculpture, and others chiefly concerned with producing beautiful rather than useful things | | | |A. picturesque, B. landscape, C. hue, D. exhibition, E. watercolor, F.

background, G. palette, H. easel, I. | | | |fine arts, J. drawing | | | |II. Work out the crossword puzzle and define no. 9. | | |(Figure) a thing made to be exactly like another | | | |a person who is painted, drawn, photographed by an artist | | | |an instrument for painting made of sticks, stiff hair, nylon | | | |a variety of a colour | | | |a stick of coloured wax, chalk used for writing or drawing especially on paper | | | |a piece of work especially art which is the best of its type or the best a person has done | | | |a pale or a delicate shade of a colour | | | |a line showing the shape (of something) | | | |: | | | |The correct answers were: | | | |I.

1,D; 2, F; 3, A; 4, H; 5, E; 6, B; 7, G; 8, J; 9, C; 10, I. | | | |II. 1. copy, 2. model, 3.

brush, 4. tone, 5. crayon, 6. masterpiece, 7. tint, 8. outline, 9.

portrait: a | | | |painting, drawing of a real person. | | | |The results of the test. The results turned out to be very good with the average mark of 4. . The following | | | |table presents students’ performance on the test with regard to its particular parts: | | | |*Except for the spelling mistakes, which show that a student does not fully know the word (Palmberg 1986:18),| | | |both of the students would have gained an equal number of points for both parts (one student wrote | | | |”masterpiese”, the other “brash”). | | | |Analysis of results.

The results show that the crossword puzzle, though seemingly more difficult since it | | | |required the knowledge of words and their definitions and not mere recognition and matching, was easier for | | | |27. % of the learners and granted them more points for this part of the test. For the majority of the | | | |students (nearly 60%) both activities proved equally easy and out of the group of thirteen, eleven students | | | |had the highest possible score. | | | | | | | | | | | |Summing up | | | |These numbers suggest that games are effective activities as a technique for vocabulary revision.Students | | | |also prefer games and puzzles to other activities. Games motivate and entertain students but also help them | | | |learn in a way which aids the retention and retrieval of the material (This is what the learners stated | | | |themselves).

| | | |However, the numbers also show that not everyone feels comfortable with games and puzzles and not everyone | | | |obtains better results. | | | |Although one cannot overgeneralise from one game, student feedback indicates that many students may benefit | | | |from games in revision of vocabulary. | | | | | | | | | | |Conclusions | | | |Recently, using games has become a popular technique exercised by many educators in the classrooms and | | | |recommended by methodologists. Many sources, including the ones quoted in this work, list the advantages of | | | |the use of games in foreign language classrooms.

Yet, nowhere have I found any empirical evidence for their | | | |usefulness in vocabulary presentation and consolidation. | | | |Though the main objectives of the games were to acquaint students with new words or phrases and help them | | | |consolidate lexical items, they also helped develop the students’ communicative competence. | | |From the observations, I noticed that those groups of students who practised vocabulary activity with games | | | |felt more motivated and interested in what they were doing. However, the time they spent working on the words| | | |was usually slightly longer than when other techniques were used with different groups. This may suggest that| | | |more time devoted to activities leads to better results. The marks students received suggested that the fun | | | |and relaxed atmosphere accompanying the activities facilitated students’ learning. But this is not the only | | | |possible explanation of such an outcome. The use of games during the lessons might have motivated students to| | | |work more on the vocabulary items on their own, so the game might have only been a good stimulus for extra | | | |work.

| | |Although, it cannot be said that games are always better and easier to cope with for everyone, an | | | |overwhelming majority of pupils find games relaxing and motivating. Games should be an integral part of a | | | |lesson, providing the possibility of intensive practise while at the same time immensely enjoyable for both | | | |students and teachers. My research has produced some evidence which shows that games are useful and more | | | |successful than other methods of vocabulary presentation and revision. Having such evidence at hand, I wish | | | |to recommend the wide use of games with vocabulary work as a successful way of acquiring language competence. | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |References | | | |Abbs, B.

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1989. Word builder. Oxford: Heinemann International. | | | |Wierus, B. and Wierus, A. 1994.

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| | | |Zdybiewska, M. 1994. One-hundred language games. Warszawa: WSiP. | | | |Zebrowska, M. (ed.

) 1975. Psychologa rozuo jowa uzieci i mlodziezy. Warsaw: PWN | | | |Agnieszka Uberman is a teacher in the English Department of Pedagogical University in Rzeszow, Poland. |