Think about how you learn a new word and apply those same principles to your instruction. That is one way I think about instruction, the second (and more important) is through research (more on that later). When it comes to vocabulary, I learn best when I have a dictionary and thesaurus present, find the clues in the surrounding sentences and paragraphs, read an example given to me, break it down into different parts, and then have a variety of opportunities to use it in my day-to-day life. The same is true for your learner(s) as well! The second aspect that drives my instruction is educational research. I'm not just handing you a general list; these five things are proven to be effective because they are learning principles. In other words, you are teaching your learner(s) to learn on their own. The goal is to give them tools so they can apply them anywhere, anytime - with or without you.
1. Provide a literacy-rich environment. Read amazing books to them and with them - filling your library with books about words! Here are a few of our favorites...
2. Teach words in context and how to use clues to determine the meaning of a word. Let's see what this looks like in the classroom: this week we are reading about Abraham Lincoln (because his birthday is February 12). We learned that Abraham struggled with depression. Brielle struggled to understand the word depression. So we talked about how the heading of that page gives us the main idea of that paragraph. Obviously depression is the main idea. What are some clues to help us understand depression? The illustration. Does it show happiness or sadness? Reread the contrast of enjoying life but he "carried with him a terrible sadness." How did he sit? Does that visual give us an idea of happiness or sadness? Why do you think no one dared go around him? This conversation helped her define depression all by herself and then we used the dictionary app on my phone to explore it further. A lot of vocabulary instruction is "impromptu" because I'm surprised at the words she doesn't know and cannot prepare for, which is why it's so important to know the strategies we implement to understand a word. This approach has proven to be an effective strategy that personalizes education to the needs of my student(s).
The "Mark My Words!" Bookmark is an effective strategy I've used for my elementary reader as well as junior high struggling readers. This lesson is one you can apply to any text and use the basic concepts in it to teach a variety of learners how to identify the meanings of words in context.
3. Teach word parts. Prefix meanings, root words, and suffix meanings. Example: I shared how I knew the prefix anti- means not or against, so when the author stated that Abraham Lincoln was antislavery, I know it means "not or against" slavery. But I have a list of common prefixes, root words, and suffixes that I want my daughter to know by the end of 2nd grade.
4. Provide opportunities to experience words differently daily. Most of the time we
experience words in literature because the majority of our learning is literacy-based. However, every Wednesday we play word games such as hangman, going on a word hunt (where I hide the words in areas that are related to the word, like "second" on a clock), we build word webs starting with one word and seeing how we can build one of our words of the week from that word and continue seeing how many different ways we can build upon one word, etc. Every day we do 10-15 minutes of vocabulary work using Rasinski's Word Ladders, or "Word Play" Task Cards, or "Odd Word Out".
5. Teach how to use resources. Dictionary and thesaurus skills are extremely important tools that are relatively cheap, easy to find, and free online. It is a skill I still use today to define unknown words! I use a children's dictionary for my 2nd grader to use on her own, an adult's version of a dictionary and thesaurus that we use together, and we also use the dictionary app on my phone. I want my learners to see how many different ways they can gain access to word meanings. I also what to learn this strategy as early as possible because they are going to encounter unknown words as they read. Giving them the tools to identify and understand these words is necessary for success!
Establishing a solid vocabulary foundation is essential for literacy success. Hopefully, these tools help you help your learner(s) learn to the best of their ability. If you are still struggling, contact me! It is my life's work to ensure that learners can apply these foundational skills to a lifetime of learning.
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