Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary Instruction
Gerri Hixenbaugh
What does it mean to know a word?
Learning a word is not an “all or nothing” kind of thing. It is more like a dimmer switch
that gradually produces a greater supply of light. Learners move from not knowing a word,
to being somewhat acquainted with it, to attaining a deeper, richer, more flexible word
knowledge that allows them to use the new word in many different ways. Repeated
encounters with a word in rich oral and written contexts provides experience and clues to
the word’s meaning that build over time and help develop and change our understanding of
the word’s meaning.
Interesting information about differences in Vocabulary
! First-grade children from higher SES groups know about twice as many words as
lower SES students.
! High school seniors near the top of their class knew about four times as many words
as their lower performing classmates.
! High knowledge third graders had vocabularies about equal to the lowest performing
high school seniors!
! By the end of second grade, there is a 4,000-word difference between the highest
and lowest quartile.
! By the end of second grade, children acquire new words at the same rate, but the
lower kids read much less, even in class, so they are exposed to fewer words.
! Read alouds lead to incidental word learning for high and low ability students
Two main dimensions for vocabulary knowledge:
! Depth: How much is known about a particular word?
o Can you recognize the meaning in text or conversation?
o Can you use it appropriately?
o Can you define it? We tend to supply examples to illustrate the meaning
rather than give a definition. (Use context to elaborate on the basic meaning.)
* Breadth: How is a word connected to others? The student knows a lot of words in
many different content areas.
Vocabulary Instruction
Gerri Hixenbaugh
For example, do students understand the relations among the words plains, rivers,
mountains, foothills, and erosion? Students in fourth grade may need to see how each
relates to the other when studying a unit on the plains. However, their depth of
understanding of erosion may be small when compared to a high school geology student or
a geomorphologist.
An important principle of vocabulary instruction is that it should be aligned with the depth
of word knowledge required. Assessment should match the instruction in both depth and
What is the most efficient way to figure out an unknown word?
Lightning split the ______________ tree.
In the above sentence, pretend that there is a word on the blank that you don’t know. What
would be the most efficient way to figure it out?
In order of efficiency:
1. Decoding—sound it out (Wow! I thought this was a little bit off base until she
explained that younger children’s oral vocabulary is much bigger than their
reading vocabulary.) We then attach meaning to the word once it is decoded.
2. Context (it is an adjective, a describing word—attach it to prior knowledge) For
ESL students, the structure is different—we can see that the blank should
describe the tree, but in Spanish, the description comes after the object.)
3. Word parts (meaning of prefixes, suffixes, and root words)
4. Ask someone
5. Dictionary—Looking it up in the dictionary takes too much time--You have to
leave the text to do it and the definitions are often vague and may have multiple
(Skipping the word after determining its importance to understanding the story is
okay, but the reader must “hold it in their head” as they look for clues to the words
meaning later on.)
Vocabulary Instruction
Gerri Hixenbaugh
Vocabulary Tiers:
Tier 1: consists of the most basic words—those found on high frequency word lists ands
those which generally do not require much direct instruction on their meaning.
Tier 2: contains words that that are critical for the mature language user and play a large
role in a person’s verbal functioning. Words such as coincidence, emerging, occurrence,
and merchant might fall into tier two. This is where most of your vocabulary
instruction should take place! Many of these words are grouped into word families, such
as introduce, introduction, and introducing. Teaching the meaning of prefixes, suffixes,
and root words is essential!
Tier 3: is made up of words whose use is quite low and often limited to specific content
areas. Some examples are peninsula, amendment, and photosynthesis.
Use the student thesaurus. Kids can choose the main word and find synonyms. “Big”
Blachowicz, C. & Ogle, D. (2001). Reading Comprehension. New York: Guilford Press.
In content areas especially, vocabulary is “additive.” Before you take geometry in high
school, you need to know the terms circle, diameter, and area. So, more formal methods of
building and retaining shared vocabulary are typical.
Twenty Questions: Have the person that is “it” draw a vocabulary word from a pile. The
students in the class will get to ask 20 questions that can be answered with a yes or no. If a
student correctly guesses the word, they become “it.”
Vocabulary Instruction
Gerri Hixenbaugh
Vocabulary Square: Have students fold a paper into 4 squares:
cut carefully
Picture and labels:
to cut in two
Word Parts: un-, re-, in-, and dis-, account for more than 50% of the affixed words in
school English. Root words can be complex and confusing.
Generative Word Parts:
1. Start with a known word, if possible (like tricycle)
2. Identify a part and give definitional information on this one part (tri- means three)
3. Collect other examples of words that include this part (triceratops, triglyceride,
4. Define these words focusing on the shared part (tri)
5. Sort examples from non-examples, if relevant (trip—the tri here is not a prefix)
6. Create a visual or verbal reminder (a list like: tricycle, triangle, triceratops)
7. Kids can make up their own “words” using these parts, using illustrations to make it
more fun.
Duke, N. and Bennett-Armistead, V. (2003). Reading and Writing Informational Text in
the Primary Grades. Jefferson City, MO: Scholastic.
Choose words that students are likely to appear frequently in their content area studies,
such as era for history or experiment for science. We should connect new words to known
Vocabulary Instruction
Gerri Hixenbaugh
words and build a wider understanding of a single word by exploring its variations. The
more connections students make to a specific word, the better they understand it.
Semantic Word Maps: If children are learning about farms, have them generate a list of
farm-related words such as silo, tractor, feed. She would then group the students to work
together to sort the words and place them in categories such as animals, crops, &
Reutzel, D.R. & Cooter, R.B. (2005). The Essentials of Teaching Children to Read: What
Every Teacher Should Know. New Jersey: Pearson/ Merrill Prentice Hall.
Four types of Vocabulary according to size:
1. Listening—words we can hear and understand
2. Speaking—words we can use when we speak
3. Reading—words we can identify and understand when we read
4. Writing—Words we use in writing
NRP findings: Three levels of vocabulary learning:
1. Unknown—completely unfamiliar
2. Acquainted—the student has some idea of its basic meaning
3. Established—Word is very familiar; the student can immediately recognize its
meaning and use the word correctly.
Children learn most of their vocabulary indirectly by having conversations with others, by
being read to, and while doing their own reading.
When a teacher pre-teaches new words, that are associated with a text the students are
about to read, better reading comprehension results.
The most effective methods of vocabulary Instruction are:
1. information about word meanings
2. showing vocabulary in a variety of contexts
3. multiple exposures of the new word.
Principle of effective vocabulary instruction:
1. Vocabulary is learned best through direct, hands-on experience. The next best way
is through indirect experiences through daily reading interesting and varied texts.
Vocabulary Instruction
Gerri Hixenbaugh
2. Teachers should offer both definitions and context during vocabulary instruction.
Context helps the reader know which definition the author intends.
3. Effective vocabulary instruction must include a depth of learning component as well
as a breadth of word knowledge.
Stahl (1986) Three levels of processing for vocabulary instruction:
a. Association processing: learn simple associations through synonyms and word
b. Comprehension Processing: Students move beyond simple associations by doing
something with the association, such as fitting the word into a sentence blank,
classifying the word with other words, or finding antonyms.
c. Generation Processing: Students use the comprehended association to generate a
new or novel product. (generation of sentences, etc.)
4. Students need to have multiple exposures to new reading vocabulary words in context!
Memorizing long lists of isolated words is a relatively ineffective way to teach new
vocabulary. In fact, students learn new vocabulary some 10 x’s faster by reading than
through extensive vocabulary instruction with word lists. (krashen, 1993)
Most difficult types of words to learn: Words with multiple meanings and pronunciations;
Idiomatic expressions especially for Ell’s—Amelia Bedelia and Chocolate Moose for
Dinner (Gwynne, Fred (1970)
Tim Shanahan July 2001—USU
Teaching Vocabulary directly has an effect size of .67 (about 7 months of extra growth) if
the words tested have been taught directly.
Effect size of .50 (about 6 months growth if general words are taught and others are tested.
Kids need about 12 exposures to a word before they know it.
How are a bus and a truck alike?
2 Wheels
Has a door in back?
Vocabulary Instruction
Gerri Hixenbaugh
Think, Pair, Square, Share about assigned readings in Beck
Do chair activity (Frayer Model)
Most Important word—From Ruby Bridges
Vocabulary game—whole group and small
Need cards of words and skittles or M & M’s
“Said” activity—Do before break
Alphabet words with Sir Cumference
Word Sort with vocabulary words