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Developing Vocabulary Knowledge (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Teaching Vocabulary Knowledge

The main goal when providing reading vocabulary instruction is to develop an association between the printed form of a word and its meaning or meanings, in the case of a word with more than one meaning. It appears the deeper and richer that association, the more likely the reader will remember the meaning of the word when she encounters it in a passage she is reading.

An issue that affects word-meaning instruction is deciding which words to teach. The short-term answer is fairly simple: Teach the meaning of words that will be important in the material being read today. If the student does not know the meaning of words that are essential to understanding what is currently being read, then those words need to be the target of current vocabulary instruction.

There is also a need for all students to develop a wide vocabulary to use in the variety of reading situations they might encounter. No word lists can cover all possible reading situations. However, there are list of words that apply to more specific situations. Word lists to help prepare a student to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test or words that all fit under the study of U.S. history are two examples. A list of basic sight words can be used to find high frequency words that have concrete meanings associated with them. These words can be used for instruction of students whose word-meaning vocabulary knowledge is well below that of their peers. A list of words considered to be essential for each grade level has been developed by R. J. Marzano, J. S. Kendall, and D. E. Paynter (2005). It may be useful to teachers wanting to provide more general but grade-appropriate vocabulary instruction.

Researchers do not agree on how most of a student’s vocabulary knowledge is learned. Some evidence shows that a reader learns the meaning of more words from reading and using language than by direct instruction of vocabulary words (Nagy, Herman, & Anderson, 1985). This would seem to indicate that the number of words taught through direct instruction will probably not be enough to develop the level of vocabulary knowledge demonstrated by competent adult readers. However, Andrew Biemiller (2001) has reported that 80% of the root words students learn by sixth grade are the result of direct instruction. Regardless of the number of words learned through this method, no reading research has argued against providing direct instruction in vocabulary. A complete reading instruction program should include opportunities for direct and indirect growth in word knowledge.

Teaching word meanings in isolation should be avoided. The large number of multiple-meaning words makes teaching words out of context an uncertain situation. Students may successfully learn one meaning of a word but find that the meaning does not apply in the story or textbook that they are currently reading.

ELL Students and Vocabulary Instruction

ELL students generally can benefit from development of their English word-meaning vocabulary. The instruction for vocabulary development can be through both direct and indirect approaches. However, copying isolated vocabulary words and looking up the definitions in a dictionary is not recommended. The words in the dictionary definitions may not be familiar to ELL students, resulting in frustration and no meaningful learning (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2008). Echevarria and colleagues do recommend the use of the Oxford Picture Dictionary for the Content Areas (Kauffman & Apple, 2000) as a resource for ELL students and vocabulary instruction.

Teaching ELL students the meaning of words that will be important in the material currently being read is critical. The first step in introducing those words should be to find out if your second-language learners have the necessary background knowledge to understand the new vocabulary. Developing the general vocabulary knowledge of ELL students is also important. A list of 2,000 to 2,500 basic English vocabulary words is suggested (Folse, 2004). The list is made up of frequently occurring words in the English language.

Several studies have demonstrated the success of using words in the ELL student’s first language that are similar to English words in vocabulary instruction (Carlo, August, & McLaughlin, 2004). The use of these words, which are known as cog- nates, has also been recommended for content-area instruction of ELL students (Bravo, Hiebert, & Pearson, 2007).

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