Vocabulary Problems

Vocabulary is an essential skill for learning to read and write, and vocabulary strategies are necessary when students are reading to learn across the core curriculum content standards (CCCS). Students use vocabulary to understand (receptive) and use (expressive) words to acquire and convey meaning. It is an important prerequisite for developing reading comprehension and oral and written expression. When a student does not have a strong vocabulary he/she may struggle to gain meaning from text while reading and understand new concepts presented in oral discussions. Therefore, the following direct and indirect strategies, which have been effective in increasing students' vocabularies, should be considered when intervening with an individual student:

1. Help student develop word-learning strategies that they can use with new words that have not been taught directly:

a. Utilize reference tools, such as dictionaries. First model its use. For example, with a dictionary, there is frequently more than one definition of a word. Therefore, an explanation of which definition applies and why, given the context of the text. Also, reviewing synonyms may assist in learning other words.


b. Information about word parts to figure out the meanings of words in text. Teach the student common prefixes and suffixes (affixes), base words, and root words, which can help the student learn the meanings of many new words. For example, if the student learns just the four most common prefixes in English (un-, re-, in-, dis-), he/she will have important clues about the meaning of about two thirds of all English words that have prefixes. Prefixes are relatively easy to learn because they have clear meanings (for example, un- means not and re- means again); they are usually spelled the same way from word to word; and, of course, they always occur at the beginnings of words.

Learning suffixes can be more challenging than learning prefixes. This is because some suffixes have more abstract meanings than do prefixes. For example, learning that the suffix -ness means "the state or quality of" might not help students figure out the meaning of kindness. Other suffixes, however, are more helpful. For example, -less, which means "without" (hopeless, thoughtless); and -ful, which means "full of" (hopeful, thoughtful). Also, teach the word roots as they occur in the texts students read, as well as those root words that students are likely to see often. About 60% of all English words have Latin or Greek origins.

c. Use context clues to determine word meanings. Context clues are hints about the meaning of an unknown word that are provided in the words, phrases, and sentences that surround the word. Context clues include definitions, restatements, examples, or descriptions. Because students learn most word meanings indirectly, or from context, it is important that they learn to use context clues effectively. The teacher models how to use context clues to determine word meanings.


2. Directly teach three types of words:

a. Important words: words that are critical for understanding a concept or the text. Therefore, before the student reads a text, it is helpful to teach them specific words they will see in the text. Teaching important vocabulary before reading can help the student learn new words and comprehend the text.

b. Useful words: words that students are likely to see and use again and again

c. Difficult words: words with multiple meanings, idiomatic expressions

3. Provide multiple teaching and learning opportunities with targeted vocabulary words over an extended period of time. Words are typically learned from repeated encounters (often 8-10 exposures), rather than from a single context or encounter. Also, the more the student uses the new words and the more they use them in different contexts, the more likely they are to learn the words. At every opportunity, draw the student's attention to the words to be learned. Point out the words in textbooks and reading selections, and have the student use the words in their own writing. Have the student listen for and find in print the words as they are used outside of the classroom-in newspapers, magazines, at museums, in television shows or movies, or the Internet.

4. Actively involve the student in constructing meaning and the components of vocabulary learning rather than in memorizing definitions or synonyms. This type of activity should occur in all subject to extend the content and context of vocabulary learning. Assist the student in developing a word consciousness-an awareness of and interest in words, their meanings, and their power. Word-conscious students know many words and use them well. They enjoy words and are eager to learn new words-and they know how to learn them. Call the student's attention to the way authors choose words to convey particular meanings. Encourage the student to play with words by engaging in word play, such as puns or palindromes. Help the student research a word's origin or history. Encourage them to search for examples of a word's usage in their everyday lives.

5. Connect vocabulary instruction to reading. Discuss reading selection before, during and after reading, talking with student about new vocabulary and concepts and helping them to connect the words to their prior knowledge and background. Also, providing the student with many opportunities to read and/or listen to reading in and out of school. When reading aloud, discuss the selection before, during, and after you read. Talk with students about new vocabulary and concepts and help them relate the words to their prior knowledge and experiences.

*Note - An array of vocabulary instruction examples, aligned with New Jersey's CCCS, are hyperlinked here.



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Retrieved April 1, 2006, from http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org