These are the methods we often use in teaching vocabulary
Pre-teaching Vocabulary Words
One of the most effective methods of helping children learn new vocabulary words is to teach unfamiliar words used in a text prior to the reading experience. Adults (either alone or with the child(ren)) should preview reading materials to determine which words are unfamiliar. Then these words should be defined and discussed. It is important for the adult to not only tell the child(ren) what the word means, but also to discuss its meaning. This allows the child(ren) to develop an understanding of the word’s connotations as well as its denotation. Also, discussion provides the adult with feedback about how well the child(ren) understands the word. After pre-teaching vocabulary words, the child(ren) should read the text.
Repeated Exposure to Words
It may seem common sense that the more times we are exposed to a word, the stronger our understanding becomes. However, repeated exposure to new vocabulary words is often ignored. Adults often forget a person (especially a child) needs to hear and use a word several times before it truly becomes a part of her vocabulary. Providing multiple opportunities to use a new word in its written and spoken form helps children solidify their understanding of it.
Like pre-teaching, the keyword method occurs before a child reads a particular text. In this method, unfamiliar words are introduced prior to reading. However, rather than encouraging the child to remember a definition for a new word, the adult teaches him a “word clue” to help him understand it. This “word clue” or keyword might be a part of the definition, an illustrative example or an image that the reader connects to the word to make it easier to remember the meaning when reading it in context. The idea behind the keyword method is to create an easy cognitive link to the word’s meaning that the reader can access efficiently during a reading experience.
The word map is an excellent method for scaffolding a child’s vocabulary learning. Like the other explicit instructional methods, the adult (either alone or with the child(ren)) should preview reading materials to determine which words are unfamiliar. For each of these new vocabulary words the child (with the support of the adult) creates a graphic organizer for the word. At the top or center of the organizer is the vocabulary word. Branching off of the word are three categories: classification (what class or group does the word belong to), qualities (what is the word like) and examples. Using prior knowledge the child fills in each of these three categories. Word maps help readers develop complete understandings of words. This strategy is best used with children in grades 3-12.
While root analysis is taught explicitly, the ultimate goal is for readers to use this strategy independently. Many of the words in the English language are derived from Latin or Greek roots. They either contain a “core” root (the primary component of the word) or use prefixes or suffixes that hold meaning. Adults should focus on teaching children the most commonly occurring roots, prefixes and suffixes. As each is taught examples of its use in common word should be shared and examined. The reader should see how the root helps her understand the word’s definition. Children should then be given practice analyzing words to determine their roots and definitions. When a reader is able to break down unfamiliar words into their prefixes, suffixes and roots they can begin to determine their meanings.
Restructuring Reading Materials
This strategy is particularly effective for helping struggling readers improve their vocabularies. Sometimes grade level materials are inaccessible to readers because there are too many unfamiliar words in them. Adults can restructure the materials in several different ways to help readers comprehend them more easily. A portion of the difficult words can be replaced with “easier” synonyms to help the reader understand the overall text. Vocabulary footnotes (definitions provided at the bottom of the page) can be added for particularly challenging words so that the reader can easily “look up” the word while still reading the text. An accompanying vocabulary guide can be provided for the text. Words that are included in the guide should be highlighted or printed in bold text to direct the reader to check the vocabulary guide if the word or its meaning is unfamiliar.
To effectively acquire new vocabulary, students must go through four essential stages:
- First, they notice a new word with help;
- Secondly, they recognize the word at first with help,
- Then later on their own;
- And lastly, they are able to both recognize and produce the word.
It is essential that you, as the teacher, make use of activities that target each of these stages; more often than not, we make the mistake of merely introducing new vocabulary, and we don’t give students the opportunity to put these new words to use.
So, here are the ways to teach vocabulary effectively
Stage 1: Noticing and understanding new words
1. Introducing nouns, things, objects, animals, etc…
Visual elements work best with concrete nouns, but try to go beyond flashcards & illustrations. Try to use real objects whenever possible, or even sounds, smells, and tastes. Appeal to all of your students’ senses!
2. Introducing adjectives
Opposites, like “big” and “small”, “long” and “short”, are usually illustrated with pictures, but here’s another case where realia will help you teach new adjectives; the use of real life objects is wonderful for words like “soft” and “rough”, adjectives that may take precious minutes of class time to explain. For more advanced adjectives, like “stunning”, “gorgeous”, “spectacular”, “huge”, or “immense”, bring in photos of famous sights from around the world like the Louvre, Egyptian pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, etc…then use these new adjectives to describe these places in ways that clearly illustrate their meaning.
3. Introducing abstracts
There are things you simply cannot teach with a flashcard. What works best in these cases are synonyms, definitions, substitutions, or simply placing students within a given context. Consider this simple example: To teach the difference between “early” and “late”, remind students what time class begins, then state that those who arrive before this time are “early” while those that arrive after this time are “late”.
Stage 2: Recognizing new words
Bingo is one of the most versatile games employed by ESL teachers. For younger learners, make bingo cards with illustrations, and call out each word. For those who can read, do the opposite, make the cards with words, then draw the flashcards from a bag. For teens or adult learners, you can make cards with the definition and call out the words, or vice versa.
Another type of exercise with countless possibilities. Students may be required to match opposites, synonyms, or a word with its definition, as well as a picture to a word.
6. Fill in the blanks (with options)
Hand out a piece of written text (anything from a description, song, letter, to even a short story) with blank spaces that must be filled in from a list of words. You can adapt this to longer texts, and also have longer word lists.
Stage 3: Producing vocabulary
From a newspaper photo of a recent event to a personal account of a recent trip, there are countless things students can describe while putting new vocabulary to good use. This goes for both oral and written descriptions. You may give them some guidance, like indicating that they have to use at least five adjectives in their description, or five words related to sports, weather, etc…to no guidance at all.
8. Fill in the blanks (no options)
Supply students with a piece of written text with blank spaces that have to be filled in with any word that fits. You may give them indications for each space, like “noun”, “adjective” or “adverb”, if they’re advanced students. You can then read several out loud to compare the different words used to fill in each blank.
9. Mind maps or brainstorming
Tell students they need to think of words they can use to describe the weather. Write “weather” at the center of a blackboard or whiteboard and circle it. Write every word supplied by students as “rays” that shoot out this circle. They should reply with previously taught words, like “chilly”, “scorching”, or “mild”. You may even have sub-circles shooting off to the side for winter, summer, etc…words. This works great for vocabulary review lessons.
10. Guess what I’m thinking
Students take turns describing something, like a place: “I’m thinking of a place that is so huge it takes visitors hours to see all of it. It has stunning works of art. It is a breathtaking building, very old, but with a modern glass pyramid in the front.” Students choose to be as obvious or as cryptic as they like. Even little ones can do this with simple descriptions: “It’s an animal. It has a very long neck and big brown spots.” Or simply state a series of words: “Africa, black and white, stripes”.
It’s better to teach vocabulary in context, in other words, teach highly descriptive adjectives when the lesson is about travel. Or clothes and accessories when you’re talking about shopping. Never teach a list of words just because, or students won’t have a chance to practice this new vocabulary.
On a final note, remember to cater to different learning styles or multiple intelligences.
Use songs and music, real life objects, or puzzles, but the more you mix the better. Remember the difference between recognizing and producing words: to practice recognition the words have to be supplied by YOU; then students use them to fill in blanks or match them. For students to effectively and accurately produce vocabulary, they have to spontaneously recall the words.
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