Throughout the summer months most teachers are on vacation from school, but their minds are busy reflecting and thinking about ways to improve learning and performance in the new school year. One of the most important things I’ve been thinking about lately is how to promote my students’ vocabulary development. Word knowledge is an area of weakness that I have witnessed across the board with my students from K to 12. Students often struggle to find the exact word to express meaning or communicate their ideas. Their limited stock of words prevents them from producing intricate and precise descriptions to invigorate their writing. Having a rich repertoire of words to articulate meaning, kids will develop into amazing writers and they will be able to communicate their ideas with eloquence.
Most educators now realize that the old fashion way of assigning vocabulary lists and having them complete workbook exercises is not effective in enhancing their students’ word knowledge. Unfortunately, that strategy is still used in some schools in the US today. We need to understand that workbook exercises are not going to produce a robust vocabulary in our students. Like most workbook activities, the vocabulary exercises are lengthy, redundant, and uninteresting. And more importantly they do not help kids learn the words. Most likely, those words are forgotten a couple of days following the unit test.
We need to promote word ownership. I have observed that the best way to learn new words is through effective use of the words. If we provide relevant opportunities for kids to use the words in a variety of ways, they will definitely learn those words and own them. That’s what it is about — ownership of the words. We know that we own a word when we are able to use it with confidence in conversations and in writing. That’s when the word becomes embedded in our psyche; when we can explain the word easily and find synonyms for it. Vocabulary development is by no means an easy task. It takes time, commitment and practice.
Immerse kids in word activities everyday: One way we can improve word knowledge is by reading aloud books that focus on the use of rich vocabulary and discussing the use of those words. 5 Quick Things Teachers Can Do to Increase Vocabulary Awareness provides some interesting ways of improving our children’s vocabulary everyday. It is important to intentionally reflect on these interesting words while reading to facilitate vocabulary acquisition for the children. Most of the time kids will remember a word that was used by a character in a book or a word that was used to describe the setting. But teachers must purposefully help students explore these words while reading to develop a true understanding and learning of the words. Another trick is to substitute different words for simpler words that we usually use in our communication with children. For instance, rather than say ‘talk’ we may say ‘converse.’ With time and regular use, children will recognize the synonymy of the words and they will begin using the new vocabulary as well.
Digital Word Tools: In my search to improve my students’ vocabulary development, I came across an article Web Tools for Studying Vocabulary Words which provides digital tools for students to learn new words by creating visual representations of those words. Among the tools described is ThingLink.
This tool lets users place tags on different parts of an image. These tags can connect to multimedia content including video clips, audio recordings, text, or web links. Teachers can bring vocabulary lists to life by snapping a picture, uploading it to ThingLink, then adding tags that connect to different content. Students can tap the image to hear a definition, see a video of the term in context, or read a sentence where the word is used. Students can also create their own vocabulary posters to share with other students in their class.
This tool is an effective way of learning new words because it allows students to learn the word through visual representation. It offers a variety of ways of learning about the words in an interesting digital format. Many of these ways are effective in helping kids enhance their vocabulary knowledge thereby strengthening their communication skills.
Word of the Week: An idea that is certainly not new and I have used in the past is to introduce “Word of the Week” with varied opportunities to use the selected word in conversations and in writing. The word can come from literature read in class or from graded word lists. The important thing is that we choose words that would be relevant to the students so that they would be more likely to use them in their communications.
Synonym Word Chart: Demonstrate that one of the ways we revise writing is by improving word choice. This kind of modeling allows children to see firsthand how writers make decisions about the words they use to make their writing more colorful and descriptive. But children can’t use better words if they don’t have access to those words. A way to make words accessible to children is by posting a synonym chart that offers choices of words with similar meanings to use in their writing. The idea of using Vocabulary Paint Chips to introduce kids to the variety of words to use in place of tired or overused words such as sad, nice, good, happy or said is an effective and engaging one that has been used by many teachers.
Vocabulary Word Wall: I have also posted words on a Word Wall in the past that students referenced mainly for spelling purposes. This year, I want to use the Word Wall for vocabulary development. Reading Rocket’s Word Walls page offers a variety of ways to use word wall to improve vocabulary development and writing skills across content areas.
There are many resources on the web to help teachers enhance vocabulary acquisition and ultimately strengthen their students’ communication skills. As we strive to achieve that goal, it is important to be consistent and innovative in our use of vocabulary development strategies. We must infuse our classrooms with rich words and encourage our students to take risks and use more interesting, robust words in their writing and dialogue.