Vocabulary is a large chunk of comprehension. If you do not know the meaning of a word, it can have a negative affect on your understanding. That’s why I created this Wow! Words chart to teach vocabulary words to my 2nd grade son.
Teach Vocabulary in Context
My son is one of those readers who struggles to figure out the meaning of words as he reads. I will give it to him. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out the meaning of words, even in the context of a story. With vocabulary words like this, I pull them out ahead of time and teach the meaning. (You can read more about that here.)
But there are other times when the context of the sentence or paragraph helps a reader figure out the meaning. And for these situations, I don’t always pull the word out ahead of time and teach him the meaning. I want him to use the context to help him figure out the meaning.
Even with all the support from the text, my son was still giving me the “I don’t know” answer when I would ask him about a word’s meaning. I’ll be honest. I began to get frustrated because I felt he wasn’t trying to figure out the meaning of words by himself.
Strategies for Figuring Out a Word’s Meaning
Then, as I was re-reading Debbie Miller’s book, Reading with Meaning, while working on another project, I came across her chapter on making inferences. In this chapter, she mentioned a cool activity she used to teach vocabulary.
She had a photo of a vocabulary chart with three columns labeled, 1- New Word, 2- What we infer it means, and 3- What helped us? That last column (What helped us?) was an a-ha! moment for me. I needed to SHOW my son how to figure out a word’s meaning by modeling it over and over with him. (pg. 109 from 1st edition)
The four main strategies that Miller mentions on her vocabulary chart are:
- using pictures
- thinking about what you already know (prior knowledge or schema)
- using other words in the sentence or context that give you clues
What Words Do I Use to Teach Vocabulary?
Not all words are created equal when it comes to teaching vocabulary. For a little refresher, I went back and read portions of an amazing book by Beck and McKeown called Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. In this text, the authors talk about word levels.
Some words do not need to be taught because kids already know the meaning of them (such as baby, tree, or carpet). Other words are rare and only need to be taught when the specific need arises (such as obtuse, phoneme, or pommel).
But within the context of a book, there are other words that are used in high frequency and are found across a variety of texts that they need to be addressed. (pg. 8 in 1st ed.) These words are VERY useful to teach vocabulary. Examples may include words such as, perplexed, delighted, or infant. To teach these words, skim through the passage or text before your child reads it. Go ahead and locate words ahead of time (maybe two or three) that you think would be effective to teach as vocabulary words. If you need to look them up in the dictionary to get a good grasp of the word, do it! (I sometimes do.)
Using a Chart to Teach Vocabulary
I created a chart for my son to use as we came to these important vocabulary words within the context of his reading. For the first few words, I modeled these strategies for him so he could hear and see the strategies used in an effective way.
It sounded a little something like this: “There’s a big word in this section: astonished. Look at the expression on the character’s face. She looks amazed that the other character can do that, don’t you think? So between her expression and the fact that the other character did something amazing, I am going to guess that astonished means amazed.”
In the left-hand column, I quickly wrote astonished and in the right-hand column, I recorded the word’s meaning*. All of this happened in a matter of 20 seconds so that I didn’t interrupt the flow of the book.
When the child is reading to you and gets to one of those great vocabulary words, wait until after the child has read the word in context to make sure he has read enough of the passage that he can create his own meaning. Then stop briefly and talk (10-20 seconds) about the word’s meaning. If you are asking him to write the word in the chart, let him do it after he has finished reading so comprehension is not compromised. Long interruptions in the middle of a book don’t usually foster comprehension.
*For words that have more than one meaning, stick with the meaning used within the context of our reading. If, however, you come across the same word in another text with another meaning, ask the child to go back to that word on the chart and write the other meaning beside or under the original “word meaning”.
Teach Vocabulary: Apply Vocabulary
The ultimate goal in teaching new vocabulary is application. Using it in everyday language. Using it when writing. I placed this page in his Writer’s Notebook (be on the lookout for a post about his Writer’s Notebook in a couple of weeks) to hopefully encourage him to use these new words in his own writing. I was astonished when my son independently used the word delighted in a story not too long after we had studied its meaning. You bet I did a little celebration dance with him!
What did I learn from all this?
When a child just stares at you with that blank, “I don’t know” expression, sometimes he simply doesn’t know. We can call it “laziness” and get frustrated, but it probably won’t get any better (ask me how I know this).
Many times, young learners need to be shown explicit strategies as we teach vocabulary. After they’ve watched and heard us model it, we can begin to release the responsibility to them, until they can independently apply the strategies for themselves.
To download a copy of the Wow! Words Vocabulary sheet,
click on the image above or HERE!
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