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How to teach vocabulary

How to Teach Vocabulary

  • Should I Teach Vocabulary or Roots?
  • The Weakness of Workbooks
  • Game Ideas to Reinforce Vocabulary
  • Teaching Vocabulary Amid Read- Alouds
  • If You`re Teaching Latin, Should You Still Teach Roots?
  • Great Vocabulary Curriculum for High School
  • How to Teach Vocabulary: Specifics
  • In-Depth Vocabulary Study from Context

Should I Teach Vocabulary or Roots?
To me, it`s like choosing between teaching phonics and spelling.

What should you teach a first grader? Phonics or spelling? Well, you focus on phonics first and you build a solid foundation – a command of phonics. That provides the fundamental tools for spelling. Then you move on to spelling. If you didn`t have those phonics tools, every new spelling word would be harder to learn.

It`s the same way with vocabulary study. You lay a solid foundation of roots. Take a year to learn about 100 common roots and master them. (Note: many classroom-oriented roots workbooks give introduction and exposure to roots, but not mastery.) Then, with the fundamental tools in place, move on to vocabulary study. All future years of vocabulary study will be easier because you have the right tools – roots.

You study a *little* vocab while you`re learning roots. And you`ll add a *few* more roots to your “toolbox” in every year`s vocabulary study. It`s just like phonics vs. spelling – you do a little spelling when you`re first learning phonics, and you incorporate a little phonics when you move on to spelling. But mostly you lay the groundwork in one subject, and then you move on to the other.

Of course, you need to also cover the other side of vocab development – reading lots of good books. People who read the most (non-twaddle books) tend to have the best vocabularies. The Weakness of Workbooks
The only way to ensure that a student retains the vocabulary he`s exposed to is to see it in his reading and/or hear it used in conversation — over and over and over. Tests to not ensure retention. Even cumulative reviews won`t do that. They just slightly extend the amount of time it will take before the word is forgotten.

While I don`t believe a completely independent, out-of-context vocabulary study does much to improve a child`s vocabulary, I do believe that addressing the vocabulary in a child`s reading is helpful. So if a student is reading a science text, it is helpful if the meanings of the terms are addressed. If a child is reading a novel, it`s helpful if the meanings of unfamiliar words are addressed. I think this enhances his opportunity to learn the vocabulary that he reads.

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If They Don`t Retain It, What`s the Point?
I`ve been frustrated using the workbook approach to vocabulary because it feels like my kids are going through the motions, but I don`t feel like they are really learning anything for the long term. I`m eager to see how root study goes.

Game Ideas to Reinforce Vocabulary
We have one of those smaller size (but not the smallest) marker boards on the fridge. It is actually on the side of the fridge where it can be seen from the table where my kids are sitting when they are doing school work or eating meals or having a snack. When I want them to memorize something, like a bible verse, I write it on this board. It is amazing that I don`t even have to say anything. They are just constantly looking at it and talking about it and saying it.

You might get one of these and write the vocabulary words on it. Maybe make a game out of seeing how many times a day they can accurately use one in a sentence. For a little silly fun, you could have a specific time where they are to try to use them in a sentence as a substitute for some other word that has a totally different meaning. Another idea is every time they are going to use the word in a sentence, they have to say it in Pig Latin. I know my kids will conjure up all sorts of reasons to use a word if they can get silly with it. One thing my 9yo dd likes to do is take her vocabulary words and try to make one sentence using all of them. Have fun!

Teaching Vocabulary Amid Read-Alouds
I just focus on developing their vocabulary through the books I read aloud to them. When I get to a word I think is interesting for its difficulty, I say, “Synonyms”, and if they start rattling some off, I know that they are familiar with the word. If not, I might reread the sentence again if I think they should be able to get it from the context. If they still can`t get it, I give them two or more options to choose from, one of them being the correct meaning of the word. Then I reread the sentence again, just to reinforce the sound and meaning of the new word.

When I ask for synonyms of a word, I use that opportunity to add onto the list they give me, to broaden their vocabulary even though they might know the original word. I try to be efficient.

Also, if my children use a great new word in their conversation, I stop everything and comment on what a great word choice the word was, or I might say, “You hit the jackpot with *that* word,” or “What a great word (!) ” or some such gloriously gushing comment. My kids love to use new words because of this. I really do get excited and feel rewarded when they use a great new word that they learned a day or a week earlier. If You`re Teaching Latin, Should You Still Teach Roots?
We`ll be studying Henle next year *and* using Vocabulary Vine. Two reasons:

1.       It is my opinion that workbook vocabulary programs don`t accomplish much. Not only has my own experience shown this, but I am taking an ed. course, and research has demonstrated that workbooks don`t help much with retention. A root study arms the student with better tools for understanding a larger base of words.

2.       Latin is wonderful for *improving* vocabulary (don`t Latin students have better verbal SAT scores?), but I don`t think Latin “gets you there,” if that makes sense. I don`t think Latin necessarily creates a strong vocabulary. Besides, a root study is great reinforcement for any derivative work done in Latin.

Great Vocabulary Curriculum for High School
Vocabulary for the High School Student and Vocabulary For the College-Bound Student

Languishing at Latin? Given up on Greek? How about overwhelmed by Old English? If you re looking for a strongly roots-based vocabulary program, look no further–VFHHS and VFCBS will fit the bill. Part of a high school series which ends with The Joy of Vocabulary, these two work texts provide ample exposure to and practice with the vast number of English words drawn from both classical and modern foreign cultures. Each book contains 9-12 chapters with a thematic approach to vocabulary (e.g.: words from classical mythology and history; enlarging vocabulary through context; enlarging vocabulary through central ideas, such as agreement/disagreement; concealment/disclosure; poverty/wealth; etc.).

As with other roots programs, this one includes plenty of material on Latin and Greek elements; but what I especially appreciate is its inclusion of words from Anglo-Saxon as well as words taken whole into English from modern foreign languages. How much less rich a language English would be without such words as elite, nonchalant, and sobriquet (French); crescendo, dilettante, and gusto (Italian); renegade, bonanza, and peccadillo (Spanish)! The varied approach to the vocabulary keeps the student engaged: each lesson begins with a defined vocabulary list, followed by assorted exercises, such as filling in blanks in sentences; choosing a synonym or antonym; analogies; and my favorite, condensing a lengthy sentence into one of no more than four words (great practice in concise writing!) Review exercises could be used as tests, if desired.

How to Teach Vocabulary: Specifics
Why Study Vocabulary? Why is a good vocabulary important?

o        People judge you by your vocabulary. An impressive vocabulary makes an impression.

o        So you can speak concisely and precisely.

o        So you can better understand what you read and hear. When you don`t recognize a word in your reading, it depletes your understanding of the piece.

o        SAT preparation

2.       How to Build Vocabulary, Step 1: Teach Roots

o        Why? Learning vocabulary without roots is like learning to read without phonics. More than 70 percent of English comes from roots – 95% of words of more than one syllable! An understanding of these roots is a powerful tool for learning and understanding English vocabulary. According to Samuel C. Brownstein, “Learning fifty key word parts can help you unlock the meaning of over 100,000 words!” Which is easier to learn, fifty roots or 100,000 new words?

A  knowledge of roots will give you a richer understanding of known words, clues to decipher unknown words, hints to help you learn new words quicker, memory joggers to recall nearly-forgotten words, and a grasp of how words are built, as a foundation for learning technical vocabulary. Besides, roots are fun to play around with!

o        How? Find a roots curriculum that teaches for long-term retention, not just an introduction and overview. It should tap into the fun of roots – roots are fun, so learning them should be fun too. Be sure it teaches the common Latin prefixes such as re-, con-, de-, ex-, etc. They`re more common than any other roots, but for many programs ignore them. Don`t waste your study time on obscure words nobody actually uses. If your curriculum can`t find useful words to demonstrate a root, is the root really all that useful???

Vocabulary Vine is a roots curriculum that provides long-term retention through a variety of learning steps, and it taps into the fun of playing with roots. It takes what students already know – familiar words – and uses them to help him master something new – roots.

Master about 100 common roots. Start looking for them in language. Learn to read an etymology (word origin information) in a good college dictionary. Whenever you look up a word, check its roots in the dictionary.

Once you`ve learned some roots, you`ll start noticing them in tough vocabulary words you encounter in your reading. Everyone will start using their roots knowledge (one prong of your vocab program), to decipher words from your reading (the other prong of your vocab program).

3.       Step 2: Read, Read, Read!

o        Until junior high, I`d skip vocab workbooks and use the time reading instead. Why? A good book is more enjoyable. You learn words in context. You see yow they`re used, yielding a richer understanding. You see the words serve a real purpose; they`re not just for a contrived worksheet. A real author needed this word for real writing. Be sure it`s quality literature, not blither.

o        As you read aloud to your children, you`ll encounter words they might not know. Ask them if they know what it means. Teach them to decipher words through context and roots. Then re-read the sentence to reinforce pronunciation & meaning in context. If mom doesn`t know a word, be a role model: grab a dictionary (keep it close) and look it up. Whenever you look up a word, check the roots. It will help you better understand and retain the word. If it`s a useful root, add it to your card set.

o        Play games with new vocabulary words.

4.       In Junior High or Senior High

o        The teen years are the time for more intensive study. Many people switch to a vocabulary program when their students graduate out of spelling, typically in junior high. By senior high many focus more energy on vocabulary in preparation for the SAT.

o        If you`re looking for a high school curriculum, I recommend Vocabulary for the High School Student and Vocabulary For the College-Bound Student. See above.

o        See Resources for Teaching Vocabulary for ideas to supplement any vocabulary study. You may want to incorporate the SAT high-frequency vocabulary lists in your studies.

In-Depth Vocabulary Study from Context
We work vocabulary off of a passage in a story we are already reading. It has to be a story hard enough that it needs a little bit of discussion to totally understand every detail in the passage. Here are some suggestions for working with vocabulary words in a passage:

Choose vocab word(s) from a passage you choose to work on… ´Choose important words, not just “unknown” words; it is surprising how much you can learn from analyzing words you supposedly already know. Then we work with the words in the following fashion

for analysis:

  • phonetic analysis for spelling and endings
  • identify how the word functions as a part of speech in its sentence
  • look it up and find the appropriate definition for the word in the dictionary (pay attention to part of speech) and copy the definition
  • verify the meaning in the sentence

for imitation:

  • copy the original sentence
  • look at the word`s endings (e.g. noun plurals, verb tenses, comparatives for adjectives and adverbs)
  • use a thesaurus; work with antonyms and synonyms to the word.

Finally, take Aristotle`s ten categories and work the word through all the possible or appropriate predications (all the things one can say about that word). This list is from Aristotle`s Ten Categories

1.       WHO or WHAT (1) is the subject of this discourse?

2.       WHAT KIND of a subject is it (i.e. he, she, or it)?

3.       HOW MUCH OR HOW BIG is it?

4.       WHOSE is it, TO WHOM does it belong, or WHO is affected?

5.       WHAT HAPPENED or WAS DONE?

6.       HOW DID IT FEEL? or WHAT WAS SUFFERED in this event?

7.       WHERE?

8.       WHEN?

9.       WHAT was the SITUATION?

10.   WHAT WAS CUSTOMARY or HABITUAL about it?

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