Teaching Word Meanings (Literacy Teaching)

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Part of Collaborative Literacy , Making Meaning provides a full year of research-based, whole-class reading and vocabulary instruction for grades K—6.

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Reading lessons teach students comprehension and self-monitoring strategies that proficient readers use to make sense of text. Reading is an interactive process that involves thinking, questioning, discussing, rereading, and responding to texts.

In Making Meaning lessons, carefully selected nonfiction and fiction read-aloud texts provide a platform for rich discussions as students encounter increasingly complex texts and build their vocabularies. Lessons intentionally integrate academics with social skill development, creating an environment in which students learn to collaborate, agree and disagree respectfully, and take responsibility for their own learning.

This ensures that students have equal opportunity to access the text regardless of their reading abilities. Classroom Vocabulary Assessment for Content Areas. Test 1.

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Glossary of Reading Terms

Test 2. Dramatic Vocabulary: Introducing Action Words. Back to Top. Jump to Main Content. Site Search: Go Go. What the experts say about vocabulary: Words are the instruments that authors and poets use to enchant us, delight us, sadden us, amaze us. The first refers to those words a student can use when speaking and the latter refers to the spoken words that a student can understand.

Selecting vocabulary words

Each type of vocabulary supports literacy development, as well as learning in other subject areas. Vocabulary knowledge is especially important to reading and listening comprehension. Provide students with the opportunity to learn new word meanings indirectly, such as through conversations and shared storybook reading, explicitly teach word meanings, and teach effective word-learning strategies.

Word knowledge also includes syntactic awareness or awareness of the grammatical use of a word, such as the part of speech represented by a word [8]. We assume that students successfully analyze a word when they articulate its meaning and use it correctly in sentences that indicate understanding of both the word's meaning and correct syntactic usage. Once words are recognized, students use pragmatic awareness , or sensitivity to how words are used to communicate, to understand the purposes of their use [9].

All of these processes together constitute students' vocabulary knowledge. Word identification or recognition without comprehension of the meaning and use of a word reveals a deficiency in vocabulary knowledge. Good readers know a wide range of oral and print vocabulary. Typically, vocabulary knowledge results from extensive and repeated exposures to words through reading and speaking. One study estimated that good readers read approximately one million words per year [10].

Solving Word Meanings: Engaging Strategies for Vocabulary Development - ReadWriteThink

Good readers have superior vocabulary knowledge and possess the following characteristics. A reader's oral vocabulary is the collection of words used in speaking [11]. Skilled readers are able to use grade-level words fluently and clearly in their speech and understand those words when used by others in their speech. A skilled reader can recognize that word again with little effort [12]. To do this, readers must develop their decoding skills to the point that decoding occurs effortlessly. Skilled readers are able to read words in written text at or above their grade level and use these words in written communication [13].

When good readers encounter unfamiliar words, many translate this text into speech, either by decoding or getting help from someone else. Once the word is verbalized, good readers automatically recognize the word or engage in a self-regulated process to discover its meaning. This may include but is not limited to analyzing the word's morphology roots and affixes and syntax part of speech , searching for context clues, or looking up the word in the dictionary [14]. Because word identification is one of the foundational processes of reading, middle and high school students with poor or impaired word identification skills face serious challenges in their academic work.

Some struggling adolescent readers have difficulty decoding and recognizing multi-syllabic words. For example, words such as "accomplishment" leave many struggling readers unsure about pronunciation or meaning. This is often the case not just because their vocabulary is limited, but also because they are unaware of or not proficient in word-learning strategies based on understanding the meanings and functions of affixes e. In content areas in which text is more technical and abstract, insufficient vocabulary knowledge can become especially problematic for struggling readers.

A major goal of vocabulary instruction is to facilitate students' ability to comprehend text [16]. In addition, the meanings of many words vary from context to context and from subject to subject, making academic vocabulary especially difficult to acquire. For example, the word meter has distinct definitions in different content areas. In literature, a meter is a poetic rhythm and in math, it is a unit of measurement. In science, a meter is a device for measuring flow. Students may experience difficulty if they do not understand that words have multiple meanings [17].

Research findings suggest that there is not a single best way to teach vocabulary [18]; rather, using a variety of techniques that include repeated exposures to unknown word meanings produces the best results. Traditionally, independent word-learning strategies, such as the use of dictionaries and context clues, have been common strategies for teaching new vocabulary.

Dictionary usage involves multiple skills, such as using guidewords, decoding, and discerning correct definitions [19]. Using context clues involves integrating different types of information from text to figure out unknown vocabulary. These strategies are helpful after multiple encounters with a word but should be used in combination with other instructional practices [20].

The following vocabulary development strategies have been found to be effective in improving adolescent literacy levels. Pre-teaching vocabulary facilitates the reading of new text by giving students the meanings of the words before they encounter them. This practice reduces the number of unfamiliar words encountered and facilitates greater vocabulary acquisition and comprehension [21].

Leaving students on their own to grasp the content material as well as to decode possibly unfamiliar vocabulary is setting them up for failure. Teachers can introduce both the more unfamiliar specialized academic words that will be used in the lesson as well as non-specialized academic words used when talking about the content.

When considering which non-specialized academic words to emphasize, teachers should consider the structure or structures used in the text.


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Text structures organize ideas and information according to certain patterns. For example, cause and effect patterns show the relationship between results and the events, people, or ideas that cause the results to occur. Teachers can use the following guidelines when selecting vocabulary to pre-teach:. Once vocabulary words have been selected, teachers should consider how to make repeated exposures to the word or concept productive and enjoyable.

For example, when introducing a particular word, pronounce it slowly to draw attention to each syllable, provide the word's meaning, examine word parts e. After introducing all words, have students work in pairs or small teams to create groups of related words and to label these groups. Students can then take turns explaining to the class their reasons for grouping words in a particular manner. Students can also work in pairs to check each other's understanding of the new words [24]. Such activities provide multiple exposures to new words and can be structured in ways that are engaging and enjoyable for students.

Scientific research supports the use of direct, explicit, and systematic instruction for teaching vocabulary [25].

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