Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jeannine M. Fontaine, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Michael M. Williamson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Gary J. Dean, Ph.D.


The present study aimed to compare the effects of semantic and thematic clustering on learning English vocabulary by Saudi students. It investigated whether thematic grouping or the use of meaningful context facilitates vocabulary learning. It was also conducted to shed light on how the use of context might be combined with clustering in order to facilitate learning. The study consisted of two parts. In the first part, the quantitative stage, 160 participants studied four lists of English words representing semantic clustering, unrelated grouping, thematic clustering, and contextualized presentation. They were tested twice; immediately after the study phase and a week later, on recall for the words in each list. Tests were English-to-Arabic and Arabic-to-English. In the second part, the participants' reflection, four participants from each level representing the two participants who learned the greatest number of words and the two who learned the smallest number of words were asked individually some questions about their reflection on the word lists. An Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was used to analyze the quantitative data collected. In analyzing the data, measurement of the dependent variable has been achieved by simply counting the number of recalled words from each eight-word set. Results of Arabic-to-English and English-to-Arabic tests showed that participants recalled more words from the thematic list than from the semantic list. Words from the semantic list were the least to be recalled by all participants. The difference was significant in some results while they were insignificant if others. Participants' answers to the questions I asked showed that all participants claim that they use repetition as their technique for learning new vocabulary. It was unanimous. Along with repetition, some Highest participants claim using other techniques such as the Keyword method and the use of sentences. All participants claim that teachers never tried to provide them with different techniques to learn vocabulary. When it comes to which list was easier to learn, two out of six participants talked with prefer the unrelated list, two prefer the semantic list, and two have no preference of one over the other. On the other hand, most of the participants who studied the thematic list and the context show a clear preference for the thematic presentation for new words.