Teaching Vocabulary Or, Prevailing Upon Moppets to Relish the Acquisition of Lexical Enlightenment
Some research • First graders from higher SES groups know roughly twice as many words as their peers who come from lower SES backgrounds (Graves, Brunetti, & Slater, 1982) • High school seniors ranked at the top of their class know about 4X as many words as their lower-performing classmates (Smith, 1991) • High-knowledge third graders know roughly as many vocabulary words as low-performing high school seniors (Smith, 1991).
Kids get better at reading (and improve their vocabularies) by reading (Allington, 2002) • Kids with low levels of vocabulary who are poor readers are unlikely to do the large amount of reading needed to grow their vocabularies (Stahl, 1999). • Vocabulary problems of children who enter school with limited vocabularies worsen over time (White, Graves, & Slater, 1990).
Teaching Vocabulary • Direct Instruction • Purposeful introduction of particular words • Often done prior to students’ reading • Can involve interpreting dictionary definitions • Inference/Context • Having children infer word meanings by solving the word in context
The Dictionary: Some Drawbacks • Weak Differentiation: no way to distinguish among subtleties (vague) • Vague Language: not enough info for kids to understand (subliminal) • More likely interpretation: not in kids’ language (normal) • Multiple pieces of information: too much information for kids to use efficiently (exotic)
The Role of Context • Context does play a role, and that role is perhaps more complicated than we’ve heretofore recognized. • Sometimes written contexts are not sufficient to help students successfully acquire words. (5 to 15 of every hundred unknown words encountered in text are learned by context)
Misdirective Context • Context points a reader to an incorrect word meaning • Michelle was reviewing her investment portfolio. She had a great deal of ready cash, several investment properties, and any number of stocks and bonds. Knowing how much money she’d made last year, she was anticipating a ghastly meeting with the IRS officer.
General Context • Context gives the reader only enough information to have a general idea of a word’s meaning. • The haunted house was full of sinister creatures.
Non-Directive Context • Context does not give enough information for a reader to make a reasonable guess about a word’s meaning. • Betty and Tanisha were talking about last Friday’s faculty party. They talked about each attendee in turn. When they got on the subject of Leon, they agreed that he was the most affable person they know.
Directive Contexts • Context is likely to lead the reader to an accurate word meaning • Nancy had worked really hard on preparing the accreditation report. Her colleagues were so grateful to her that they applauded her and complimented her throughout the hour-long meeting. It was obvious that Nancy enjoyed their effusive praise.
So, What Does it Mean? • The idea that kids learn new words from encountering them in text is an oversimplification of reality. • Teachers have to evaluate words and contexts carefully when relying on student inference as a means of vocabulary acquisition and when choosing which words to actively teach.
Levels of Vocabulary Words • Tier 1: Basic words • Dog, pencil, scary, darkness, walk • Meanings don’t really need to be taught • Tier 2: High Frequency Words that Cross Disciplines • Committee, evaluate, argumentative, upheaval • Tier 3 : Specialized Vocabulary • Phoneme, sonnet, archipelago, isotope
Our Focus: Tier Two!! • Familiar to mature language users • Used to provide more specific, sophisticated meanings • Rich knowledge in this type of word can have significant impact on comprehension across disciplines. • Recommendation: teach 400 words/year
Identifying Tier 2 Words • Importance and utility: Are the words generally useful? Will students encounter them in multiple texts? • Instructional potential: Do the words relate to other words the students know? • Conceptual understanding: Do students have an understanding of ideas related to the new word?
Words Beyond the Text • If the text is about a dirty dog, you can introduce the word filthy. • If the text refers to an island that is far from civilization, you can introduce the word remote. • If a character is a story doesn’t like to spend money, you could introduce the words parsimonious or miserly.
How to Explain Words • Give examples of PARTICULAR circumstances in which the word might be used. • “You word use the word heave when someone lifts something that is very heavy. • Give examples in everyday language. • “Someone who is persuasive can talk others into doing things.”
Your mission… • Identify Misdirective, General, Non-Directive, and Directive contexts. • Identify Tier 2 Words or overarching ideas that can be used to introduce/reinforce vocabulary. • Choose most crucial words (at least three). • Develop a kid-friendly definition for each. • Consider ways to reinforce students’ learning with these words.
Making it Real and Relevant • Carefully consider the words you choose. • Teach students to relate words to their background knowledge • Teach new words in relation to known words. • Teach words systematically and in-depth. • Give multiple opportunities for word use: pre-reading, during reading, post reading, throughout the school day • Awaken interest in and enthusiasm for words.