Vocabulary-Building Activities

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Apr 24, 2014

The vocabulary overview guide, vocabulary concept circles, vocabulary maps (list-group-label or LGL and semantic mapping), and vocabulary self-collection strategy (VSS) listed in the following pages provide organized and easily managed ways of scaffolding vocabulary acquisition to meaning structures. The visuals can also be used as study guides and references for writing pieces.

Vocabulary Overview Guide.  There is another approach available for the improvement of word-analysis skills among college-age individuals. Carr (1985) has offered three steps to improve vocabulary understanding, interest, and involvement in learning:

  1. Before reading- (a) Define vocabulary by using familiar context after surveying material titles and headings. (b) Underline unknown words. (c) Try to help students use context first in determining meaning. (d) Use the dictionary to help with meaning. (e) Write definitions to reinforce concepts and usage.
  2. During reading- Reinforce vocabulary comprehension by keying in on prereading words.
  3. After reading- Complete a vocabulary overview guide by having students write (a) titles and category titles, (b) vocabulary terms, (c) definitions a long with synonyms and antonyms, and (d) clues to meaning.
  4. Study- Have students read titles and categories. Students use clues and predict words in pairs, continually review learned terms, and add synonyms and antonyms to previously learned terms.

Vocabulary Concept Circles. One practice format for vocabulary involves development of categorization skills through the use of vocabulary circles divided in fourths. This technique allows students with dyslexia to receive visual assists when trying to determine essential features or relationships among vocabulary terms.

Vocabulary Maps/Word Maps.  Semantic mapping, also known as list-group-label (LGL), was developed by Taba in 1967. Taba developed this method of categorizing vocabulary terms in order to assist students with technical vocabulary in science and social studies texts. Students use three basic strategies: 1) listing stimulus words from the lesson; 2) making group/label lists, with a main topic as well as various subtopics; and 3) doing a followup, with reinforcement and checking. Students must have prior knowledge of the words to be classified for these techniques to be successful. LGL can be used to review material for tests and can assist a teacher in a prereading situation in determining where further instruction is needed. In a postreading situation, LGL can help a teacher assess what learning has taken place.

Word analysis skills training needs to be continued at the college and university levels for students with learning disabilities.

Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy (VSS).  Another approach that can be used with the college-age student is Haggard's (1986a, 1986b) Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy (VSS). This approach was developed for students at all levels to help them create vocabulary lists that need to be learned based on interest levels and prior schemata. The four steps are as follows: (1) select words to be learned, (2) define words, (3) finalize word list(s), and (4) extend word knowledge. Students survey material and select words to be learned. (This can be a team effort.) In a class situation, students can nominate words to be learned, with students contributing in a discussion format as to the meaning(s) of the word(s) presented. Followup activities include using the chosen words in other activities, such as in composition writing with review providing opportunities for reinforcement. According to Haggard (1986b), the VSS approach provides " internal motivation...[for] vocabulary acquisition and development...allows one to develop systematic, personalized strategies for word learning...[and] increases sensitivity to new words and enjoyment in word learning..." (p. 640).

Using Vocabulary Phrases in a Chain-of-Events Outline.  Students with dyslexia can list a "chain of events" in an outline format versus using a graphic organizer before writing. The following example demonstrates how "chaining" helps connect sequences of discrete thought elements as well as establish cause-and-effect relationships.

Topic: How to Scramble Eggs

Chain of Events:

get ingredients

turn on stove

preheat pan with a little margarine or butter

crack open eggs

stir in milk

stir ingredients in pan

cook until liquid is gone


serve with toast


How to Cook Scrambled Eggs

by Kenny Spafford

To make the best scrambled eggs, gather two eggs and a half cup of milk. Then preheat the stove to medium with a pan on top of it. Add enough butter or margarine to the pan and heat until melted. Next, crack the two eggs in the pan and add a half cup of milk. Later, stir the eggs until well cooked and very soft. If the eggs are still like a liquid, cook for a few more minutes until the liquid is gone. Finally, put the eggs on a plate and add pepper with onions on top for flavor. This makes two servings. Serve with toast. Eat and enjoy.

Charting Characteristics and Word Features.  Characteristics (+) or examples and nonexamples (-) can be charted with narrative information that clarifies identified concepts or responds to questions.

Word Banks.  Word banks are useful for collecting learned sight words and word families. As words from reading are mastered as sight words, they can be printed on note cards and stored for periodic review and practice. The collection of words can be used in classifying activities in which words are grouped or sorted according to similar phonetic or visual properties. For example, the student might assemble a word family utilizing the silent e pattern or a common structural ending (e.g., tion, ed, ful). Visual patterns are also studied (e.g., bridge, fudge, badge). The development of vocabulary through word banks and other instructional methods has been shown to increase both word knowledge and comprehension (Adams, 1990). Vocabulary words in word banks can be used in high-interest word games.

Keyword Strategies.  Keyword strategies are essentially memory strategies that combine familiar concepts with unfamiliar terms by some unusual but memorable linkage(s). For example, one could try to remember the meaning on the term radiant by picturing radii extending from the center of an animated and smiling circle. For younger children, memory for the meaning of the word "loud" could involve picturing someone holding their ears while saying "ou[ch]."  However, we would agree with Manzo and Manzo (1993) that the memory demands of this method on students preclude its use to any great extent with children under the age of 11. These authors do stress a few potential pluses of the keyword method with adolescents: (1) The uniqueness of the keyword method provides a high-interest challenge to the learner and (2) the use of a particular keyword allows teachers to obtain another look at a student's thought processes. Pressley, Levin, and Miller (1981); Mastropieri, Scruggs, and Levin (1985); and Konopak and Williams (1988) have successfully used keyword strategies for teaching vocabulary to students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Essentially, students use a keyword mediator to represent information to be learned.

Using the Dictionary as a Learning Aid.  Manzo and Manzo (1993) suggest that dictionary usage is a necessary component to intervention programs because word pronunciations, meaning vocabulary, allusions, etymologies, facts, word structures, and word spellings gleaned from dictionaries can support vital word-literacy development. There are various types of dictionaries available to the student with dyslexia. There are poor spellers' dictionaries that allow students to find entry words by a phonetic pronunciation with correct spellings to follow; picture dictionaries for nonreaders; and computer-driven dictionaries on many word-processing programs to include spell checks, the finding of synonyms and antonyms, and multiple word meanings.

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