Sure, I know learning vocabulary is almost like a tradition in America. We’ve been writing our spelling and vocabulary words for decades. We’ve also been finding those science and history bold faced terms that sound like Greek, and trying to look them up. Vocabulary is everywhere… it’s in our math, our language arts, our science, our history, even in art and music. So, are we missing it by requiring students to mundanely write out vocabulary definitions that are longer than my arm? Can it be done another way?
For the most part vocabulary instruction in America has been based on a written or oral learning process. Yet, we know that learning vocabulary works best when the new words are connected to old meanings. That simply means that the new knowledge is taught via connections to the knowledge the student has already (aka schemata.) These connections to meaning are like routes on a map, and they enable understanding. Proverbs 14:6 says, “…knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.” It is the connections that make the understanding, and it is these connections in learning that I have based my teaching methods on for over 20 years. If you want a child to learn something – connect it to what he already knows!
Secondly, learning is easy when we can see the process. Just like doubting Thomas in the Bible. He didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw His wounds and touched them. Who knows… maybe Thomas was a visual/tactile learner and just really couldn’t “get it” without seeing and touching. so many children are just like that. Allow them to use more than just their ears, and they have understanding for life.
Third, if we can get the student to apply this knowledge or internalize it through use they will be able to solidify it in their thinking. We’ve heard so many times, if we do something more than 14 times it becomes a habit. Similiar is true here, if the student can use the vocabulary word (or other new knowledge) in a real life situation it begins to become part of his/her daily life.
Several popular vocabulary instruction strategies that incorporate these three key ideas include:
1) Pre teaching words prior to reading
2) Using the context of words within a story to understand their meaning.
3) Word walls
4 ) Shades of meaning – using paint cards with hues of a color – give students words that are varying intensities of the same idea. The student organizes them according to what they believe is the most intense (darker hue) to the least intense (lighter hue).
5)Root word analysis – use picture cards of the root word – and then add prefix and suffixes.
7) Charades with vocabulary words
8) Synonym lists for vocabulary words – finding synonyms that they already know is enabling them to make connections!