It is estimated that students learn between 3,000 and 4,000 new words each year, with the typical student knowing some 25,000 words by the end of elementary school (Graves and Watts-Taffe, 2002). It is obvious that five pre-selected vocabulary words from a basal textbook doesn't make the grade. Even if a new word is taught each day, in addition to five pre-selected vocabulary words for the week, that is still less than 400 words a year. So, how can we maximize vocabulary acquisition? Here are five ways to support your readers in becoming vocabulary virtuosos.
Learning Vocabulary in Context
The key words today are research-based and direct/explicit instruction. As teachers we need to be informed of the most up-to date research, and we need to individualize our instruction with focused, intentional concentration. However, when direct instruction is the game, independent reading suddenly looks like the bad guy. But do not fear, the reading research is here! In regards to teaching vocabulary, research shows that independent reading is not only the good guy in your corner, but it is our super hero!
Vocabulary Strategy: Exposure to New Words Through Reading
Citing Richard Allington's work, the time spent reading in class is critical to vocabulary acquisition. Consider these numbers tied to achievement:
Achievement Percentile Min. Read/Day Words/Year Exposure
90th 40.4 2,357,000
50th 12.9 601,000
10th 1.6 51,000
*Source adopted from Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding, 1988.
2,357,000 words. How many of those words will be new to your students? Will those 2,357,000 words be the same for your lowest reader and highest reader? Reading naturally exposes students to an individualized vocabulary plan of action. A vast majority of vocabulary is learned in the context of reading, and the research supports it.
Vocabulary Strategy: Replace the Unknown with a Known
Let's take the introduction to my post as an example. Did you have to look up the definition of virtuosos in the dictionary before proceeding? Probably not. More than likely, you have heard the word virtuoso before (the arts perhaps) and recognized virtuosos as a plural form. If that wasn't the case, you probably replaced the word with another word that made sense to you.
Example- Learn how to support your readers in becoming vocabulary
This can explicitly be taught to your students. Through read-alouds, you can model this thinking process by saying, "I'm not sure what virtuosos means, but when I reread the sentence and replace it with the word expert...it seems to make sense. Readers often do this while reading." This can be followed up with a practice in application during the reading block. It can also be discussed during book talks and share time.
Vocabulary Strategy: What's Under the Post-It Note?
Utilizing a big book, strategically cover up some challenging words with post-it notes. As you read to the class, stop and discuss how a reader can figure out the covered word(s). This builds on the strategy above and is an easy way to focus on new vocabulary within a read-aloud. This also demonstrates how readers sometimes use picture clues to help identify an unknown word. In this case, seeing the circular steps aids in identifying the word cycle.
Vocabulary Strategy: Word Study Word Wall
We explicitly teach vocabulary through root words, prefixes, and suffixes each week. We utilize Heather Renz's amazing word study lists and resources, and I have her work posted on my site with permission. Heather has 21 weeks worth of slide shows, study stem lists, and tests and I added more to create 31 weeks in total. Last year, I could not believe how often the study of these words benefited us. With the teaching of five stems a week, you are actually teaching hundreds of words throughout the year. The best part is that our studies are individualized, with some students attacking easier words like biceps while others attack complex words like bicuspid. The test format also allows students to show what they have learned, based on where they are as a reader.
Each week, five words go onto our word study word wall. Of importance:
~ We don't start the year with the words already posted. They go up as they are taught.
~ The word stem is written with a one word definition.
~ A picture clue is included for each stem.
~ The cards are student made, not store bought.
~ Students use movement to remember each stem. Ex- crossing your arms in an "X" for anti.
More detailed information can be found on our class page, including the day to day process of enforcing the word stems we are learning.
Vocabulary Strategy: Expanding Vocabulary Chart
Building on the Sister's CAFE menu (authors of The Daily Five), we have an expanding vocabulary wall in our room. The use of the board is simple. We take note of the new words we are exposed to together throughout the year. When we are reading something and an interesting word is discussed, we record it on the board. My only suggestion is that it doesn't include words from independent reading as it will quickly become a board of random words for your students.
And lastly, please remember that reading and writing are integral to each other. The words read together and posted on the expanding vocabulary chart can be the new words tried out during writing time. It is when this is applied in writing that we can truly see an understanding of the learned word.
To access more information on how we utilize word studies in our classroom- visit us here.