Friday, January 23, 2009

VOCABULARY: What does it mean to know a word?

By the end of 4th grade students are expected to have a variety of strategies for identifying the meaning of unfamiliar words. They should have acquired a breath of vocabulary knowledge about word meanings and understand how words are related. They should be able to identify synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. Finally, they should be able to use context to select appropriate words when writing.

There are degrees or stages of knowing a word and these stages can be represented as points along a continuum of knowing.

Stage 1: Never saw it before.
Stage 2: Heard it, but don’t know what it means.
Stage 3: Recognize it in context as having something to do with _____.
Stage 4: Know it well.

Readers have a 5-20% chance of learning a new word from just reading it in text (Krashen). This is one reason why independent reading is such an important component of our literacy framework. But all students benefit from explicit instruction to learn new words and increase the number of partially known words on the continuum that ultimately become well known.

Begin by teaching students how to monitor on vocabulary when they read (Harmon). Metacognitive students are independent learners. They ask themselves questions:

• Do I know this word?
• Do I need to know this word to understand what I am reading?
• If I think this word is important, what do I already know about it?
• What does the word have to do with what I am reading? What is it referring to?
• How is it used in the sentence? Does it describe or show action?
• Do I see any word parts that make sense?

To find out more about effective vocabulary instruction, check out these websites:

ReadingQuest: strategies for reading, writing, organizing, discussion, and vocabulary in Social Studies (and all subjects!)

IDEA: Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement
Vocabulary in Beginning Reading

Read Write Think Lesson Plan
Using Word Storms to Explore Vocabulary and Encourage Critical Thinking

For students:

Merriman-Webster's Word Central: Build Your Own Dictionary, Daily Buzzword, Games