Vocabulary knowledge is just as important to comprehension as phonics is to reading. A reader gathers information for comprehension of unknown words in two ways.
One way is by word meaning (by using a dictionary); OR by the context clues around the unknown word. If a child has trouble remembering vocabulary words and their meanings, she will no doubt have a comprehension problem as well.
Unless a child knows what a word means or can understand the meaning from context clues, then her reading will be greatly hindered. If she sees the sentence:
Write the difference for the numbers below: 46 - 35
IF she doesn't know that the word difference means to subtract 23 from 45, than she may say, " One number has a 2 and a 3. The other number has a 4 and a 5."
It is estimated that children in the early grades learn 3,000 new words a year or 8 words per day. Children in grades 3rd to 9th are expected to know more than 88,000 word families. Therefore it is essential that new words be introduced to the child on a consistent basis.
It is important to understand these aspects of vocabulary knowledge:
Most words are learned implicitly or in layman's terms through everyday usage. When using a term you think the child might not be familiar with, ask him if he knows what the word means. If he says "no", then repeat the sentence and ask what he thinks it could mean. You may even want to have a clarifying sentence so that the student can easily guess the meaning of the word you have used.
For instance: I say the sentence, "Your mom wants the windows washed thoroughly but I'm not sure I can get them as clean as she wants them."
So when you ask a second time what the word means, he may say, "to get something clean all the way". YES! He understood that your 2nd sentence explained what the word meant.
The second way words are learned is called explicitly. Many teachers teach this way. This is when the teacher puts 5 - 10 words on the board and tells the student's to learn the definition!
IF teaching words explicitly, then use words contained in the student's other core reading books like history, social studies, science and spelling. Words should also be within their sphere of influence and background knowledge.
In other words, teach words that are relevant and useful. Learning words for the sake of learning a word is not useful because the child won't bother to use the word and it will soon be forgotten.
One activity for this way of teaching is by having the students write down two unfamiliar words from a chapter in a book they are reading. Have them look up the words in the dictionary and a thesaurus. Then have them find the definition and other words which mean the same thing and words that mean the opposite.
If you are a teacher, have these words posted and ask the students to use the word in a sentence. This is a great filler activity. As students are waiting to change classes or as they are standing in line use this activity.
If you are a home school parent, post these words on the refrigerator or on a bulletin board in your classroom. Everyday ask the child to use one of them in a sentence. When you know they know the meaning of the word and can use the word coherently, then put the word in a Word Jar. The word jar will be used as a review for later in the month.
Whether you are a home school teaching parent or a teacher at a traditional school, you may want to think about using stickers as a reward every time the student uses his word correctly in a sentence.
If the word is a place like the Eiffel Tower, then some background knowledge will be needed to understand this word. Using a map to show that it is in Paris, France will help as a visual clue.
Another way to help a child gain vocabulary knowledge is with reading and/or vocabulary activities. Simply writing on the concrete with sidewalk chalk can be a fun and educational time for the pre-schooler. Going for a walk and talking about words on signs can also be a fun time.
There are two kinds of words a child needs to know to help her build vocabulary knowledge:
Words that most individuals in a given culture would know. These communicate needs,express ideas and emotions. They also describe or discuss situations and events.
Content Specific Vocabulary:
Words pertaining to a given subject such as math or science. This also includes words pertaining to jobs or professions such as medical terminology or tools needed for a mechanic.
Many words in the English language have multiple meanings and can be used in more than one way. The word radio in radio operator is an adjective and tells us the person operates a radio.
The word radio is a noun when used in the phrase, "the news is on the radio." When a child has trouble seeing the difference, their comprehension will be affected.
For instance the following is taken from Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Here are some problems for you."
" Yuck! said the children."
" Ginny, get your apples," said Amelia Bedelia.
" What apples?" said Ginny.
Amelia Bedelia looked puzzled. She said, "But it says Ginny has four apples. Paul takes away two.
"Oops," said Amelia Bedelia. "I don't think I supposed to tell that part." She read the other problems. "These all have apples in them," she said. "Does anybody have apples?"
The children shook their heads.
Then Amelia Bedelia had an idea. "Let's go to my house," she said. "We have lots of apples."
What does this passage show us? In the classroom where Amelia was teaching, there was a student named Ginny. When Amelia was reading this problem, she thought it pertained to her students. When the students didn't have any apples, she had to think how she was going to solve this problem.
Some people would think that Amelia is just stupid; that she doesn't know anything. However, isn't it logical to think that if a paper that the teacher left for the substitute said there are some problems for the children, Amelia thought it meant the children in the classroom especially if one was named Ginny.
If children don't have a strong vocabulary knowledge, they could make the same mistake that Amelia did. If the student didn't know that the word problem had more than one meaning, they might think as Amelia did.
Vocabulary knowledge will make a difference in how children think. Parents and teachers shouldn't assume that their child or student is thinking of the same word meaning as they are. When we do this, we are shorting our students on knowledge and lose a teachable moment.
When we read a passage like the one from Amelia Bedilia, we need to make sure we ASK the student to tell us what is meant. Too often we think passages like this are so simple that we don't have the student explain what they are thinking. We miss seeing that they may need more vocabulary knowledge.
Many of our words can be used figuratively, going beyond the literal meaning. Words can be used as similes, showing exaggerations, idioms and humor. Because these go beyond the literal meaning, many students have a hard time grasping the meaning of words used this way.
In order for children to learn a word, they must be exposed to it at least four (4) times. For this to happen, the child needs to see the word in print either in a book or on a drill card at least 4 times. Using the word in written sentences and as a spelling word will also be beneficial for the child.
Exposing your child to a picture dictionary when they are very young (3 - 5 years old) will help him become familiar with unknown objects. It will also become a familiar book where he knows he can go and get information. Click on the images to see some children's dictionaries.
Having a broad vocabulary knowledge is a very important component of background knowledge. Reading to a child above their reading level will help a child build a strong vocabulary.
As we read to a child, we need to be cognizant of words that might be new to a child. We also need to ask them what they think the word means. We can do this by reading the sentence and then asking them what they think this is talking about.
Ask your child what the word means even if you think he will know. By asking him, you are giving him a chance to verbalize what he knows. This not only verifies that he knows the word's meaning but it gives him a chance to show what he knows. He will gain confidence as he shares with adults that he knows the meaning of a word.
How can students gain broader vocabulary knowledge? Having a vocabulary jar is fun and educational. Playing the dictionary game is a fun family game. You can find instructions to these and other games in reading activities.
I found a website that has excellent vocabulary games. This site is free and it has games for children of all ages and all grade levels. I find this site is great for reinforcing new vocabulary. While helping my learning disabled student, I found that my own vocabulary knowledge base was being built also. Your LD student may need some help on some of the word puzzles or other activities.
You may want to preview the site first. Then decide what game(s) you want him to tackle. Write down any words that may be new for him. Introduce those words to him. It isn't necessary that he memorize the meaning before playing the game on the computer. Play the game! Have fun!
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