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Sara Garcia and Micailee Bartch. Teaching Word Meaning. S tudies show that beyond the early grades, students acquire new vocabulary primarily when someone explicitly and directly explains to them the meanings of new or unfamiliar words (e.g., Biemiller , 1999; Biemiller & Slonim , 2001).

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direct vocabulary instruction

Studies show that beyond the early grades, students acquire new vocabulary primarily when someone explicitly and directly explains to them the meanings of new or unfamiliar words (e.g., Biemiller, 1999; Biemiller & Slonim, 2001).

Intentional vocabulary instruction is only effective when it is tied directly to texts that students are reading.

The bulk of vocabulary instruction should take place before and after reading, in order not to distract the students’ comprehension.

Before reading, teachers explicitly teach concept-critical words (words that are essential for understanding a unit concept and/or a selection’s topic). Teachers use activities that allow all students to show that they understand the words’ meanings.

During reading, Teachers call attention to the target concept-related words, but do not dwell on them. In addition, the teacher takes note of general vocabulary words (words in a selection that may be unfamiliar or new to students but that appear often in the texts they must read and understand) and simply tells students the words’ meanings in the context, often by using appositives or synonyms.

After reading, teachers reinforce the concept-related words, not through worksheets or drills, but through activities that require students to use the word both in their discussion of and writing about the selection. Throughout (and beyond) a unit, teachers also call attention to these words as they appear in other selections and contexts.

Direct Vocabulary Instruction
semantic maps

Semantic maps can be an effective means to expand students’ knowledge of words with which they are already familiar but which have multiple meanings or are part of an extensive network of related words (Johnson & Pearson, 1984; Pittelman, Heimlich, Berglund, & French, 1991).

A semantic map is a graphic organizer that is organized around a word that represents an important concept. On the map, related words are clustered around the target word according to criteria that teachers or students choose. These criteria might include such features as similar or dissimilar attributes, connotative or denotative meanings, or even shared linguistic components.

Semantic Maps
context clues

One way that readers make inferences is by using context clues to figure out the meaning of an unknown word. By first making a prediction about the unknown word's meaning and then reading to determine if the context clues found in the text support the prediction, students can make inferences and develop vocabulary skills.

It is very important to teach students to use context clues. If they are not taught they often will just skip over, not understanding the text or can also become frustrated easily and just stop reading.

Context Clues
hierarchical array

A Hierarchical Array allows students to group words according to their hierarchical and taxonomic relations (William E. Nagy, NCTE/IRA, 1988)

Used in order to arrange information from one inclusive category to more and more exclusive categories.

This map helps students understand relationships among different related terms or ideas and allows the student to see the different levels of the words.

The teacher provides a few words related to the specific theme and then asks the students to generate other words that are related. The students then categorize them and explain their relationship to one another.

Hierarchical array
linear array

Arranges vocabulary words according to differences of degree (William E. Nagy, NCTE/IRA, 1988)

A linear array explains that words can be connected to each other in many different ways.

The process is done by the teacher first providing two items and then inviting the students to generate other words. The group or individual then goes back and arranges the words based on intensity, size, chronology, position, ect.

Another way to have the students complete a linear array is to give them 4 words and have them place them in order. An example is on the following slide. The students were given the words child, grandparent, great-grandparent, and parent. The students then are asked to place them in order from youngest to oldest.

Linear array