Word Consciousness

Another component of vocabulary instruction is developing students’ word consciousness, their interest in learning and using words (Graves & Watts-Taffe, 2002). According to Scott and Nagy (2004), word consciousness is “essential for vocabulary growth and comprehending the language of schooling” (p. 201). Students who have word consciousness exemplify these characteristics:

  • Students use words skillfully, understanding the nuances of word meanings.
  • Students gain a deep appreciation of words and value them.
  • Students are aware of differences between social and academic language.
  • Students understand the power of word choice.
  • Students are motivated to learn the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Word consciousness is important because vocabulary knowledge is generative—that is, it transfers to and enhances students’ learning of other words (Scott & Nagy, 2004).

The goal is for students to become more aware of words, manipulate them playfully, and appreciate their power. Teachers foster word consciousness in a variety of ways, as Mrs. Sanom did in the vignette at the beginning of the chapter. Most importantly, they model interest in words and precise use of vocabulary (Graves, 2006). To encourage students’ interest in words, teachers share books about words, including Max’s Words (Banks, 2006), Word Wizard (Falwell, 2006), and The Boy Who Loved Words (Schotter, 2006) with primary-grade students; and Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster (Fraiser, 2007), Baloney (Henry P.) (Scieszka, 2005), and Mom and Dad Are Palindromes (Shulman, 2006) with older students. Next, they call students’ attention to words by highlighting words of the day, posting words on word walls, and having students collect words from books they’re reading. They promote wordplay by sharing riddles, jokes, puns, songs, and poems and encouraging students to experiment with words and use them in new ways.

This table lists the types of wordplay. Through these activities, students become more powerful word users.

Type Description Examples
Alliteration Repetition of a beginning consonant or vowel in neighboring words within a phrase or sentence. Sometimes sentences are called tongue twisters.
  • now or never
  • do or die
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
Eponym A person's name that has become a word.
  • teddy bear
  • sandwich
  • pasteurization
Hyperbole An exaggerated statement.
  • I almost died laughing
  • my feet are killing me
  • I'm so hungry I could eat a horse
Onomatopoeia A word that imitates a sound.
  • tick-tock
  • kerplunk
  • sizzling
Oxymoron The combination of two normally contradictory words.
  • jumbo shrimp
  • pretty ugly
  • deafening silence
Palindrome A word or phrase that reads the same forward or backward
  • mom
  • civic
  • a man, a plan, a canal—Panama
Personification A figure of speech that endows human traits or abilities to inanimate objects.
  • the old VW's engine coughed
  • raindrops danced on my umbrella
  • fear knocked on the door
Pig Latin

A language game where a speaker rearranges the sounds in words:

The initial consonant sound of each word is moved to the end and ay is added after it; but when the word begins with a vowel, the initial sound isn't moved, but ay is added at the end.

  • cat = at-cay
  • ice cream = ice-ay eam-cray
  • pig Latin is fun = ig-pay atin-lay is-ay un-fay
Portmanteau A word created by fusing two words to combine the meaning of both words. This wordplay was invented by Lewis Carroll in Jaberwocky.
  • spork (spoon + fork)
  • brunch (breakfast + lunch)
  • smog (smoke + fog)
Spoonerism A tangle of words in which sounds are switched, often with a humorous effect. These “slips of the tongue,” named for Reverend William Spooner (1844–1930), usually occur when a person is speaking quickly.
  • butterfly—flutterby
  • go and take a shower—go and shake a tower
  • save the whales—wave the sails