— Classrooms that Work: They Can All Read and Write By Patricia M. Cunningham and Richard L. Allington, 2007. Page 90.
Read Part 1 - Introduction
Read Part 2 - Why is Vocabulary Instruction Important
Read Part 3 - What Vocabulary Instruction Should Look Like
I am going to include my reference list below. However I will not cite each tip or activity because they can be find in several of the articles, I have learned about them in class, and read about them in several books. Therefore, they exceed the three sources needed for it to be general resources. These are solely tips and ideas without using technology. Technology and vocabulary will make up the final part of this series.
General ideas and tips
- teach words that have recently been added to the dictionary
- during read alouds stop to talk about words and explain what they mean in context
- encourage students to ask about words that they are not familiar with
- Use KWLs
- Teach context clues: read to the end of the sentence or paragraph, return to word using context, use captions, charts, graphs and footnotes to aid understanding
- use think alouds to teach how to use context to determine word meaning
- offer opportunities to use new words
- use wait time when asking questions
- when a student speaks, expand on their language
- model rich language
- use vocabulary words in conversations with students
- provide multiple exposures to words
- explicitly teach new vocabulary by teaching meaning and word structure
- ask students to make connections from new vocabulary to known words
- have students creatively peer teach new words before new chapters or units
- since many students cannot understand the definitions in dictionaries, this is not a strategy to use alone
- Ask students to develop a list of words that are not currently in the dictionary that they believe should be added. Have them make entries for the words that could appear in a dictionary.
- Have students rewrite paragraphs using synonyms
- Have students peer edit classmates’ work and make suggestions about stronger vocabulary that could be used
- have students write paired sentences (using 2 or more vocabulary words)
- have students compare and contrast two words
- practice learning words 3-dimensionally - prepare a definition, a sentence, a drawing, and a real object for each word
- Play find that word - have students find the unit’s words in books, conversations, articles, and television to share with the class
- Semantic Impressions / Story Impressions As a class or in a group, provide vocabulary words in the order they appear in the text. Have students write a story using the words in the same order.
- Word Expert Cards can be used to peer teach vocabulary words. Students make a greeting card that shows a drawing and the word on the front of the card. Inside they provide the page number the word is found in the text, the sentence it is used in the text, the part of speech, the definition in their own words, and their own sentence using the word. These cards are then used to teach other students in their class or group the word.
- Anything Goes - Used to review vocabulary. Students are asked questions about a specific word (ie: can you give me the two meanings of this word, what is the difference between this word and another, can you use this word in a sentence, etc.)
- Connect Two - Words are presented in two columns, students choose one word in each column to compare and contrast (including morphology, part of speech, and meaning). This can be done orally or done with a double bubble graphic organizer.
Why Is Vocabulary Instruction Important?
If you are also a teacher, you are probably thinking to yourself, “Well this is obvious.” Vocabulary instruction is important because without understanding the meaning of the words you read, you cannot comprehend text (Christ & Wang 2010). In observations of sixth graders in a school with a population that was ethnically diverse and came from low-income homes, Kelley, Lesaux, Kieffer, and Faller (2010) found that approximately 10% of English Language Arts time was spent on teaching vocabulary. These students scored lower on standardized tests than students who were part of classrooms with increased vocabulary instruction. In these classrooms, words were taught with nonfiction texts in 45 minute periods, and the words were used for two weeks. Therefore, the discussion needs to be, “Why is more vocabulary instruction important?”
One of the main reasons I believe that vocabulary instruction needs an increased role in the classroom because it is one of the areas that my struggling and good readers alike have the most difficulty with. They have little knowledge, besides asking me, how to determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word. As I proctor some standardized tests this month to students that are in my classes and others, I notice a number of them having a difficult time understanding what is being asked of them. Kelley et al. (2010) states, “academic vocabulary, the specialized and sophisticated language of a test, is a particular source of difficulty for students who struggle with comprehension” in urban middle schools (p. 5). I would argue that this is also the case in many middle class suburban schools. Bromley (2007) identifies vocabulary as being instrumental in students’ comprehension of texts, reading fluency, and achievement. Along similar lines Richek (2005) concludes that vocabulary knowledge is one of the top predictors of reading success. If we want our students to succeed, they need quality vocabulary instruction. Not a list of words that are squeezed in using a dictionary.
Furthermore, I believe vocabulary instruction is important because once students begin to struggle with vocabulary and comprehension, they disengage. Good readers on the other hand, that read often continue to improve their vocabulary knowledge and comprehension skills. Struggling readers then fall even further behind their peers. It is for this reason that I believe more vocabulary instruction is important at all grade levels.
Wasik (2010) recognizes that learning vocabulary is a vital element when a child is developing reading skills and it plays a significant role in their success throughout school. According to Hart and Risley (1995), children they studied that were 3 years old and came from low income households knew 600 fewer words than other 3 year olds from wealthier families. By the time these children were in the 2nd grade, the difference between the two populations was estimated at 4,000. Students generally begin to lose interest in reading by 4th grade, and even more so if the student is identified as a struggling reader (Applegate & Applegate 2010). This piece of data clearly indicates to me that we must increase vocabulary instruction at the primary level in order to limit the decrease in at-risk students’ motivations to read.
Furthermore, it is important that vocabulary instruction does not only include teaching of words. We also must spend increased instructional time teaching how to use context cues, the meaning of specific morphemes, related words, and outside resources in order to determine what a word means in specific contexts. “If our goal is to help students improve understanding … then words need to be pulled apart, put together, defined informally, practiced in writing, and played with regularly …” (Kelley 2010). A significant amount of time must be spent on learning and using words in a variety of media with different shades of meaning for a student to truly understand a word and begin to include it in their own speaking vocabulary. There needs to be specific vocabulary instruction time carved into not only the Language Arts periods, but the content areas as well.
(Listed in order that they appeared, and when possible linked to the publishing organization’s online copy of it — although a subscription may be required. Also, yes I read all of these — except the book, which I only read a small part of).
Bridging the Vocabulary Gap: What Research Tells Us about Vocabulary Instruction in Early Childhood, Tanya Christ and Christine Wang, Young Children, July 2010
What Teachers Can Do to Promote Preschoolers’ Vocabulary Development: Strategies From an Effective Language and Literacy Professional Development Coaching Model, Barbara A. Wasik, The Reading Teacher, May 2010
Hart, B., & T. Risley. 1995. Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young children. Baltimore: Brookes.
Throughout my studies in undergraduate and graduate school, I have focused on literacy and using texts to create meaning. While working on my bachelor of arts in English, I used reader-response to evaluate Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and different genres of children’s literature that dealt with death in two different independent studies (the longest papers of my life, over 40 and 100 pages respectively). While in undergrad I also completed the Education program to get my Early Childhood teaching license and a minor in Education. In those classes, I was not only interested in how readers draw meaning from a text, but also how young minds begin to make meaning from sounds and morphemes. I continued to explore various ideas involving the process of learning to read while completing my masters of education in literacy. I took a semester to do an inquiry on the links between phonemic awareness skills and phonics and the implications for teachings in lower socio-economic districts.
I continue to read and look for resources to improve upon my knowledge and teaching abilities regarding these concepts and skills. However, I continue to challenge myself to broaden my knowledge of literacy in other aspects as well. If you could not tell from my introduction of this essay, I am a logophile. I am currently in my sixth year of teaching. I complete field experiences in a rural area, my student teaching in England, my first years of teaching in a very diverse district that had students of from low socioeconomic statuses (and in a classroom where most of my students were on IEPs). I currently teach in a middle class community, at a school with very little diversity. In all of these settings, I have been increasingly concerned by the lack of vocabulary knowledge of students. While they may be able to decode words, many students do not understand grade-level texts. Oftentimes, I find it is not because they lack higher-order thinking skills. They lack vocabulary knowledge, and the tools to help them understand a new word. This affects their comprehension, as well as their writing.
I am writing this essay mostly so that I can organize my own thoughts, and in order to ensure that what I have read is internalized and can influence my teaching. I am posting it here so that perhaps other teachers may benefit from my “professional reading time.” I believe it is not only important to follow education news and blogs, but also to stay current on educational research, published journal articles, and books on the topic of reading. In the following parts of this exploration, I will discuss the importance of vocabulary instruction today, what vocabulary instruction should look like, and resources and other literature on vocabulary for various grade levels.
Early in the year, I posted a link to wordstash.com . I have been using it with several groups of my students in grades 4-8. I included this site in my list of helpful learning resources that I sent to my co-workers as their “Christmas present” and in a letter home to parents during parent-teacher conference time. I know a few families have used it at home, even in subjects that they do not see me for (particularly science vocabulary).
For my 4th graders that struggle with reading comprehension and fluency, I use vocabulary units from Ed Helper to create “vocabulary jars” and do various activities with them from analogies to reading the words in context, to challenging them to use it in conversation at home. When I introduce new words, we look them up on wordstash.com. Often the options to see the words used in an article gets them interested in the word, and helps them use the word in a sentence of their own.
I also encourage them to use this when they come across a word in their reading at home that they do not know or cannot figure out how to pronounce. This site will say the word for them, and since they already like the site, they are more likely to use it to look up a word instead of continuing to read without understanding.
By building their vocabulary, I have noticed that their ability to use context cues along with decoding skills when they try to read an unknown word has improved. With more words to pull from, their accuracy improves.
How do you / would you use this site with your students?