Vocabulary seems to be one of the most important areas for students to understand while in school, to predict future success in high school courses. Teaching high school American History, I will comment on various best practices which discuss: how many words per week should be processed, the process for teaching new terms, how often I will work with these terms, materials and activities used to introduce terms, as well as the review of the terms, and how student accuracy of learning the vocabulary will be monitored.
Importance of Teaching Vocabulary
Students not able to read words accurately have both long and short-term consequences. In the short term, a student would have trouble reading a passage in class, or in whatever situation they are in (e.g., a bus schedule/map). However, the long-term consequences are much more severe. According to Archer, a struggling reader is likely to struggle in their school classes, drop out of school, obtain higher paying employment, and have difficulty doing well in post-secondary education (i.e., college or university classes) (Archer, Gleason, & Lachon, 2003).
There is a great need for teachers to get involved in the betterment of students learning how to read. The National Education Goals Panel mentions that twenty-eight percent of eighth graders and thirty-four percent of twelfth graders are proficient at reading standards. The issue needs to be tackled early, as the research also promotes that seventy-four percent of students with reading disabilities continue to have reading challenges in the ninth grade.
Number of Words Presented Per Week
Bromley discusses that it is important to not teach students more than three to five words per lesson. Teaching more than this does not allow the learner to develop a stable understanding of that vocabulary (Bromley, 2007). Allow students to decipher the word meaning on their own. This can sometimes be done based on their previous knowledge of the content, or when applicable, roots, affixes, or Greek/Latin origins.
Process and Frequency of Teaching New Terms
According to Irvin, it is important for struggling readers to gain fluency through having specifically targeted attention to studying not only the new vocabulary itself, but the understanding of root words, affixes, et cetera (Irvin, 2007). Over sixty percent of multisyllabic words can be understood by breaking down the word into small parts, and analyzing each of those parts (Bromley, 2007). Irvin believes, amongst other experts that vocabulary development is stressed as a key component of literacy,” (Irvin, 2007, p. 45). Research says that the understanding of vocabulary is as much as 70-80% of comprehension (Bromley, 2007).
Materials and Activities to Teach Vocabulary, Review Terms, and Engage Students
Students ought to hear vocabulary words often, and use them often (spoken) before those words become part of their vernacular. When reading a novel or article to students, allow them to hear unknown words. Give them time to say those words out loud, to pronounce them, and practice hearing each other say those words. By providing students the opportunity to hear vocabulary words, they can retrieve a greater number of richer words to be used in their writings, and discussions (Bromley, 2007). Another technique that assists struggling readers in understanding multisyllabic terms is separating writing in the syllabic form of the word (e.g. syllable ‘” syl-a-ble) (McEwan, 2007). This helps with the reading of the words, which assists in the long term understanding of the word, and the incorporation in the use of that word for future use.
Vocabulary, and the pronunciation of the words themselves, can be taught in novel ways. In Houston, Texas, a school of many struggling readers (several of which were English Language Learners), utilized audio copies of books read in class alongside their traditional paper copies. When the class was reading such novels as, Dear Mr. Henshaw and Soup and Me, students were following along in their books, as they listened to the unabridged audio versions of the novels (Beers, 1998). The norm in previous school years was disinterest, and extremely low comprehension scores. After students had read and listened to the book, students then were able to “compare the two books by discussing which they liked better and why,” (Beers, 1998, p. 32). While it seems unusual to have students read books in this way, it really is not when you consider the fact that for many years, research has shown, “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children,” (Beers, 1998, p. 33).
Flanigan and Greenwood employ a four-level approach to teaching vocabulary. In the first level (critical), students must learn the vocabulary in depth, before understanding of the content can be done. The second level (foot-in-the-door) must be taught to a lesser extent than level one word, of which a simple sentence definition will suffice. The third level (after), can be given a verbal definition, when it is come across in the lecture or reading. The forth, and last level refers to words that do not be defined as they do not fit into the learning objectives (Flanigan & Greenwood, 2007).
Engage students with excitement and enthusiasm with the words and content. With older students, it is also important to connect the content to the student themselves, or the community or world in which they live (Robb, 2002). Students appreciate the variety of activities associated with learning vocabulary. Whatever you can do as an instructor to mix up activities, allows students to stay engaged in learning. Such varieties for learning vocabulary can occur through asking students to find antonyms and synonyms for the vocabulary word, and using the word in a sentence (McEwan, 2007).
Robb mentions for older school aged-students, sometimes “fix-up strategies” are necessary. Some of these techniques amongst others include, re-reading a section and questioning the author (Robb, 2002). When employing these strategies, it is important to realize that great care ought to be made so that students understand, or comprehend what they are reading, so that they can hope to become lifelong readers.
Monitoring the Accuracy of Student’s Work
Student work can be monitored in a variety of ways. However, as with any form of assessment, the data must attempt to reflect student understanding of the material, rather than a regurgitation of mere facts. When students are expected to show what they know relating to recently learned vocabulary, it should reflect as close to classroom practice as possible. If students have practiced putting vocabulary into sentences or paragraphs, then the exam should students to do the same thing.
In conclusion, as educators, we must recognize and act upon the vital importance of vocabulary with our students. The choices we make on how many terms are assigned, the way in which those definitions are practiced, and tested make a lasting impact on the success of the student. This impact is felt not only throughout the years of primary and secondary education, but can also be felt in the student’s later success in life after school.
Archer, A. L., Gleason, M. M., & Lachon, V. L. (2003). Decoding and Fluency: Foundation Skills For Struggling Older Readers. Learning Disability Quarterly , 89-101.
Beers, K. (1998). Listen While You Read. School Library Journal , 31-35.
Bromley, K. (2007). Nine things every teacher should know about words and vocabulary instruction. Journal Of Adolescent and Adult Literacy , 528-537.
Flanigan, K., & Greenwood, S. C. (2007). Effective content vocabulary instruction in the middle: Matching students, purposes, words, and strategies. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy , 226-238.
Irvin, J. M. (2007). Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy: An Implementation Guide for School Leaders. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervisors and Curriculum Developers.
McEwan, E. K. (2007). Use and Teach Content Vocabulary Daily. Retrieved October 23, 2010, from Adolescent Literacy: http://www.adlit.org/article/19792
Robb, L. (2002). The Myth Learn to Read/Read to Learn. Instructor , 23-25.