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Are you looking for a way to revitalize vocabulary instruction?

While most educators agree that learning new words is an essential part of education, most have difficulty naming or describing specific strategies for vocabulary instruction. Beyond simply copying definitions out of a dictionary or glossary, or using terms in self-generated sentences, what can teachers do to take word learning to the next level? How should they initially introduce new words and have students work with them to deepen their understanding?

Should every difficult or unknown word be studied?

When deciding upon which words to include for potential study, how can teachers choose the words with the most potential impact? Just because a word is hard or obscure doesn’t mean it’s worthy of instructional time. The words that ought to be looked at score high in two criteria: importance and usefulness. Important words are central to the text or topic of study. Not knowing them will negatively impact comprehension. Useful words extend beyond the lesson or discipline. They expand general knowledge as they will be seen in many content areas.

How can new words be introduced in a comprehensive manner?

When teachers run across a new word that they want to share with students, they typically define it for them. Beyond definitions, though, what can teachers do to provide a rich context for unknown terms? A simple way to remember the seven ways to present new words, or the ABCs of direct vocabulary instruction, is to think of the first seven letters of the alphabet. Teachers can activate prior knowledge, explores bases/affixes, examine context clues, provide descriptive definitions, give examples/non-examples, look at friendly words/synonyms, and even highlight grammar usage.

What can students do to help new words stick in their memories?

Students come into every situation with wide and varied experiences that are unique to them. As they encounter new content and words, most of what they experience will be lost in the shuffle unless tied to something already known. They can purposefully find connections between unknown words and known facts to enhance memory recall. Semantic maps are a useful tool for fitting unfamiliar terms into familiar pockets of knowledge.

What types of tasks encourage deep processing from a variety of perspectives?

Many activities, both basic and complex, exist that require students to process new vocabulary utilizing the four major learning styles: mastery, understanding, self-expressive, and interpersonal. By understanding the learning preferences of students, teachers can choose basic tasks that meet their preferred learning style and stretch them to explore other styles. Complex tasks, by design, ask students to generate novel responses within all four learning styles.

How can learned vocabulary be reviewed in meaningful and enjoyable ways?

Once a set of vocabulary terms is studied, disuse will slowly erode their place in the minds of students. Playing with words is an engaging way to not only learn new terms and explore shades of meaning but also to keep old terms fresh. Who says that vocabulary instruction needs to be dull and dreary?


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