Word knowledge has particular importance in literate societies. It contributes significantly to achievement in the subjects of the school curriculum, as well as in formal and informal speaking and writing. Most people feel that there is a common sense relationship between vocabulary and comprehension--messages are composed of ideas, and ideas are expressed in words. Most theorists and researchers in education have assumed that vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension are closely related, and numerous studies have shown the strong correlation between the two (Baker, 1995; Nagy, 1988; Nelson-Herber, 1986).
Although the opportunities for vocabulary instruction are especially pronounced in language arts and reading, vocabulary instruction properly belongs in all subjects of the curriculum in which learners meet both new ideas and the words by which they are represented in the language. This Digest will consider several viewpoints on teaching vocabulary, offer some strategies for implementing vocabulary teaching, and suggest some sources for further reading.
Vocabulary development in any subject can proceed by asking students to reveal any vocabulary framework that they already have. Those known words may help them associate meaning with new vocabulary. In that way, definitions and the particular meaning within a given sentence have a context and a set of relations to build on.
One group technique that enables students to list synonyms and/or definitional phrases that they already associate with the topic involves the construction of a simple T-bar chart. Suppose, for example, an article on protecting the environment includes the word "menace." The teacher lists words that students associate with threats to the environment. Associated terms and synonyms are them listed in the T-bar chart.
With this kind of visual representation of a word and related terms, a matrix is begun for most students and the definition is enriched. The semantic context may now be rich enough for the reader to use this word in its context (Moore et al, 1989). To build background and to understand vocabulary in content area reading, students need the benefit of seeing multiple relationships.
Another technique to help students see a word in a broader context is to have them answer the following questions: (1) what is it?; (2) what is it like?; (3) what are some examples? Schwartz and Raphael (1985) believe that this list of 3 questions helps students see relationships between familiar and less familiar terms and also brings the meaning of an unknown term into focus by requiring analogies and examples.
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Bear, Donald R., et al (1996). Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction. New York: Merrill. [ED 386 685]
Christen, William L., and Thomas J. Murphy (1991). "Increasing Comprehension by Activating Prior Knowledge." ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication. [ED 328 885]
Cooter, Robert B., Jr. (1991). "Storytelling in the Language Arts Classroom." Reading Research and Instruction, 30(2), 71-76. [EJ 424 278]
Hodapp, Joan B., and Albert F. Hodapp (1996). "Vocabulary Packs and Cued Spelling: Intervention Strategies." Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the National Association of School Psychologists (Atlanta). [ED 396 271]
Kueker, Joan (1990). "Prereading Activities: A Key to Comprehension." Paper presented at the International Conference on Learning Disabilities (Austin, TX). [ED 360 785]
McKeown, Margaret G., and Isabel L. Beck (1988). "Learning Vocabulary: Different Ways for Different Goals," Remedial and Special Education (RASE), 9(1), 42-46. [EJ 367 432]
Moore, David W., et al (1989). Prereading Activities for Content Area Reading and Learning. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. [ED 300 786]
Nagy, William E., et al (1985). "Learning Word Meanings from Context: How Broadly Generalizable?" Technical Report No. 347. Urbana,IL: Center for the Study of Reading. [ED 264 546]
Nagy, William (1988). Teaching Vocabulary to Improve Reading Comprehension. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English; Newark, DE: International Reading Association. [ED 298 471]
Nelson-Herber, Joan (1986). "Expanding and Refining Vocabulary in Content Areas." Journal of Reading, 29, 626-33.
Ruddiman, Joan, et al (1993). "Open to Suggestion." Journal of Reading, 36(5), 400-09. [EJ 459 161]
Schwartz, Robert M., and Taffy Raphael (1985). "Concept of Definition: A Key to Improving Students' Vocabulary." Reading Teacher, 39(2), 198-205. [EJ 325 191]
Szymborski, Julie Ann (1995). Vocabulary Development: Context Clues versus Word Definitions. M.A. Project, Kean College of New Jersey. [ED 380 757]
Wilkinson, Molly (1994). "Using Student Stories to Build Vocabulary in Cooperative Learning Groups." Clearing House, 67(4), 221-23. [EJ 486 167]