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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Vocabulary

  • Make it a regular activity. While vocabulary instruction is a regular part of the curriculum in most elementary schools, it tends to tail off in the upper grades. However, students continue to need help throughout grades K-12, especially if they're trying to make up for limited vocabulary learning in the pre-school years. That's not to say that vocabulary lessons should take up entire class periods, though — regular, 10-15 minute activities will be far more effective than a handful of hour-long sessions.
  • Teach more by teaching less. Not only is it ineffective to make students memorize random words, but it's counter-productive to give them too many words at one time.  In the long run, teachers can have a greater impact on vocabulary by giving students repeated exposures to 5-10 useful new words every week, rather than by drilling them on 20 or more words at a time (most of which will be forgotten within a couple of months).
  • Use new vocabulary in the classroom. Researchers have found that it usually takes 10-15 exposures for new words to stick in people's minds, and those words stick better when used in the flow of conversation, rather than studied as part of a list. When choosing new terms for study, teachers should look ahead to see what students will be reading about and discussing in the coming weeks, and after teaching the words' meanings, they should reinforce the new vocabulary by using it often and encouraging students to use it themselves.
  • Teach synonyms, antonyms, and alternate meanings of words. Students will have more success learning and remembering words if they study them along with clusters of related terms. Further, teachers should point out those words that mean different things in different contexts (e.g, the use of the term reaction in chemistry and its use in everyday conversation), helping students to appreciate the nuances of the language.
  • Show students what to do when they come across new words. Reading teachers often advise students to look for "context cues" to help them make sense of new words. In other words, students are supposed to figure out what the rest of the sentence or paragraph means and then make an educated guess as to the term in question. But students may need more specific guidance than that — teachers may want to show them exactly how to look up the word in a dictionary, for example, or to search for the term on the Web, in order to find a few more examples in which the word is used in a sentence.
  • Teach specialized vocabulary in the content areas. Teachers in the content areas have a responsibility to teach the specialized terms (e.g., mitosis), or specialized meanings of common words (e.g., mathematicians' understanding of the words square and root), that students are about to encounter in class. Periodically, they ought look ahead in the textbook or syllabus to see what terms will be used, check to see whether students know those terms already, and explain those as needed.

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