Getting Students To Use New Vocabulary

Present student friendly explanations first then get students using and applying the words in such a way where you can provide correction and feedback. Below are some strategies from “Bringing Words To Life”. I highly recommend you buy and read the book as it is chock full of research and everyday applications for teachers.

  1. Word Associations
    1. infamous, criminal, outlaw, bandit
    2. Ask students
      1. Which word goes with ________?
    3. Then ask students why
    4. Goal: build explicit connections between known words and new words, forces students to directly deal with the word by manipulating it
    5. Associations are not just synonyms!!
  2. Have You Ever…?
    1. Helps students associate new words with their lives.
    2. This strategy can work particularly well when the vocabulary deals with actions and emotions.
  3. Applause Applause
    1. In this strategy, the students clap hard and quickly if they would like to be associated with the word, or soft and quietly if they would not like to be associated with the word.
      1. Make students explain why they clapped loudly or quietly. This helps ensure that the students are actually engaging with the word’s meaning.
        1. This can be done by having students talk with a partner (engaging all students)
          1. You can walk around the room and listen to student explanations to make sure they are on track
  4. Which Would…
    1. In this strategy, the teacher can pose a question with the vocabulary word (students can pose each other questions as a way to review). Students should then explain why they chose their answer.
      1. Which situation would be more disappointing…forgetting your homework or losing your favorite toy? Why?
        1. Students can then talk with a partner and you can walk around the room assessing students’ understanding.

Why Vocabulary Matters pt 2

Having background knowledge is a prerequisite for academic success. One key way for teachers to help students with background knowledge is to teach vocabulary. This will then help give students the ability to talk about new concepts and make specific connections using academic language as opposed to general connections using everyday language.

For example, Student A could describe the water cycle as, “The water goes up and makes a cloud. Then gets heavier and it can come down. This can happen again and again” This shows that the student understands the concept of the water cycle. But their language suggests that they only understand it on a basic level.

Student B, who has a higher level of vocabulary can describe it with scientific language which provides greater depth. “The water evaporates and then becomes a gas. When it cools, it will condense and form a cloud. When the water droplets come together, gravity can pull them down as a form of precipitation. This process will repeat.”

Obviously, this is a simplified example, but by having the content vocabulary, a student is able to not only show that they understand the structure of the concept. They are able to demonstrate that they understand the processes of that concept.

It also gives the teacher much more to work with. If student A says something incorrect, it is more difficult for the teacher to assess which part of the concept the student does not understand because they explained the water cycle in generic terms with a generic vocabulary. Whereas if Student B makes a mistake, the teacher will be able to provide correction more easily since the student has more background knowledge to draw on (vocabulary) and they used most of the vocabulary correctly, more clearly showing both what they know and do not know.

Another important factor. The even if Student A perfectly understands the water cycle (albeit in generic language) he will fall further behind in future units that build on previous unit’s vocabulary. This makes it important for teachers to stress vocabulary and test it (to make sure students have learned it). Learning vocabulary will help students catch up and give them the ability to think more critically about whatever concepts they are learning.

Why Vocabulary Is Important

As I have gained more teaching experience, I have gained a greater understanding of vocabulary’s importance. Students must know the words before they can apply the concepts. As a result of this, I have begun to take the vocabulary teaching portion of my job more and more seriously.

A study that clearly shows the importance of background knowledge (vocabulary is an integral part of background knowledge) for comprehension was done by (Rect and Leslie, 1988). This study found that students who had low reading abilities and high content knowledge were able to comprehend a text better than students with a high reading ability and low content knowledge.

In short, the students with high content knowledge were able to “chunk” the important information together in order to retain it. While the students with low content knowledge needed to focus on every piece of information at the same time and as a result had a more difficult time visualizing and comprehending the content.

A scenario similar to this likely plays out in your classroom everyday. If you are teaching a unit on mass movement (landslides, flooding, etc), students will need to have background knowledge in the rock cycle and the environments you will be applying the new vocabulary too. Those that don’t will find their working memory to be overwhelmed as they will essentially be learning about the rock cycle, environments, and the new vocabulary simultaneously. This will lead to cognitive overload, poor performance, and worse, poor comprehension.

However, students that have strong background knowledge of environments and the rock cycle will likely understand and be able to apply the new vocabulary with much more confidence and accuracy than those without. The reason being, these students can focus on applying the new vocabulary to environments that they are familiar with. They have more background knowledge which reduces their cognitive load, allowing them to focus on learning the new vocabulary.

In order to help my students who have less background knowledge, I try to give concrete examples of the vocabulary and its applications. The concrete examples are easily attainable for most students, and it gives them a reference point of a correct example (a worked problem). The students can then refer back to the concrete example as we apply the vocabulary to new circumstances.

An example of this would be with flooding. I would show a picture/short video of a flood in a place that had many different types of plants after giving students the definition. Then we would talk about how the flood impacted the environment (weathering, erosion, deposition). This example is more concrete because the students can see what is happening even if they are unfamiliar with the environment the flood is happening in. Then, as the class goes on, we will continually refer back to the video, explaining why flood produced those particular results.

This would then be the pattern I would want my students to apply to new situations. Ex: A flood in an environment without many plants (How does not having plants affect the impact a flood has?). The students can check back to their notes to help them apply the vocabulary to a new environment.

Having sufficient subject vocabulary is integral for students to succeed, as it allows for them to focus on the content (what you want students to learn) instead of getting lost in the delivery.

 

http://www.readingrockets.org/article/how-knowledge-helps

Why Vocabulary (Which is Background Knowledge) Matters

As an elementary science teacher, I primarily view my job as a vocabulary teacher because students need to know the science words before they can apply the concepts. As a result of this, I have begun to take the vocabulary teaching portion of my job more and more seriously.

A study that clearly shows the importance of background knowledge (vocabulary is an integral part of background knowledge) for comprehension was done by (Rect and Leslie, 1988). This study found that students who had low reading abilities and high content knowledge were able to comprehend a text better than students with a high reading ability and low content knowledge.

In short, the students with high content knowledge were able to “chunk” the important information together in order to retain it. While the students with low content knowledge needed to focus on every piece of information at the same time and as a result had a more difficult time visualizing and comprehending the content.

A scenario similar to this likely plays out in your classroom everyday. If you are teaching a unit on mass movement (landslides, flooding, etc), students will need to have background knowledge in the rock cycle and the environments you will be applying the new vocabulary to. Those that don’t will find their working memory to be overwhelmed as they will essentially be learning about the rock cycle, environments, and the new vocabulary simultaneously. This will lead to cognitive overload, poor performance, and worse, poor comprehension.

However, students that have strong background knowledge of environments and the rock cycle will likely understand and be able to apply the new vocabulary with much more confidence and accuracy than those without. The reason being, these students can focus on applying the new vocabulary to environments that they are familiar with. They have more background knowledge which reduces their cognitive load allowing them to focus on learning the new vocabulary.

In order to help my students who have less background knowledge, I try to give concrete examples of the vocabulary and its applications. The concrete examples are easily attainable for most students, and it gives them a reference point of a correct example (a worked problem). The students can then refer back to the concrete example as we apply the vocabulary to new circumstances.

An example of this would be with flooding. I would show a picture/short video of a flood in a place that had many different types of plants after giving students the definition. Then we would talk about how the flood impacted the environment (weathering, erosion, deposition). This example is more concrete because the students can see what is happening even if they are unfamiliar with the environment the flood is happening in. Then, as the class goes on, we will continually refer back to the video, explaining why flood produced those particular results.

This would then be the pattern I would want my students to apply to other situations. Ex: A flood in an environment without many plants. The students can check back to their notes to help them apply the vocabulary (flooding) to a new environment.

Having sufficient subject vocabulary is integral for students to succeed, as it allows for them to focus on the content (what you want students to learn) instead of getting lost in the delivery.

 

http://www.readingrockets.org/article/how-knowledge-helps