What Works in Primary Vocabulary Instruction?

according to Juel and Deffes (2004), teachers can make vocabulary meaningful and memorable for students by anchoring new words in multiple contexts. Other researchers point out (Nagy & Scott, 2000; Nation, 1990) that knowledge of a word includes how it sounds, how it is written, how it is used as a part of speech, the word’s  multiple meanings and it’s morphology or how it has been derived. Comparing and contrasting words on the basis of these various features can help students organize and categorize words for more efficient memory storage and retrieval.

Juel and Deffes tested 3 different types of typical vocabulary instructional strategies with primary students to see which strategy worked most effectively. In what they referred to as a “contextual condition,” teachers related word meanings to students’ background knowledge. In the “analytic condition,” teachers related words to student’s background knowledge and engaged students in analyzing word meanings. The third instructional method was called “anchored condition” where teachers related words to students’ background knowledge, engaged students in active analysis of words and also called student’s attention to the words’ component letters and sounds. According to Juel and Deffes, they found that the analytic and anchored instructional approaches helped students learn the words more effectively than did the contextual instructional approach. Their final recommendations were that teachers “should take every opportunity to connect vocabulary words to texts, to other words, and to some concrete orthographic features within the word.” Read the full article by clicking on the article title below.

Making Words Stick

Inspiring Vocabulary

This is a great idea to use to develop student vocabulary. Give the class a small passage that is missing words. Each student is asked to complete the passage with words that s/he thinks will make the passage more interesting to read. After each student has completed finding words to insert into the missing parts of the text, the students read the passage aloud to see who has created the most interesting and descriptive passage. Words must make sense in the context of the passage and must be “G” rated. This is a fun activity that can help students reflect on both passage meaning as well as more interesting vocabulary.

Vocabulary and Comprehension Go Hand in Hand

If students are to comprehend what they read, they have to understand the meaning of the words used in the text. Teachers, therefore, should explicitly teach students the words they need to know if they are to truly grasp the content of a story. Take the word “dinghy,” for example. Students may need to be informed before they start reading that this word is a synonym for “boat.” The concept of “boat” would most likely be within the student’s background knowledge, so explaining the new term by sharing its synonym is a relatively easy way to assure student understanding. Without direct instruction in words such as these, students are unlikely to add them to their vocabularies especially if they do not live in an area where these words are commonly understood and used on a regular basis.

We should also teach important terms for content-area classes. There may be words that students do not have in their working vocabularies–such as photosynthesis or mitosis–that they would need to know in order to comprehend the subject matter being presented.

Other words that should be explicitly taught are those that have multiple meanings, such as “bank.” The student would need to understand that the term could refer to a financial institution, a curve in the road with a certain slope, or the side of a river, depending on context. While we do need to explicitly teach vocabulary to our words, one of the LEAST effective ways of doing this is to ask students to look up words in a dictionary or simply write down the definitions of various words. We know from research that students need to be exposed to a word on multiple occasions before they will be able to add this word to the lexicons in their heads. Help your students improve and expand their vocabularies by using games that add some excitement and fun to vocabulary learning.