Friday, August 16, 2013

Vocabulary Instruction Must be Purposeful

The academic language of a classroom must be taught. Too often the learning of words of a content area are left up to the memorization of lists or to happenstance. A chapter is assigned with directions to write the definitions of the bold words, lists are assigned for a quiz, and the teacher announces a new word during a lecture. Each of these strategies do not have a positive impact on the learning of words.

A classroom teacher must take the time to identify the essential words of the next section and purposefully  assist the students in developing an understanding of those academic words. Only through well developed activities like previewing, activating, and utilizing graphic organizers will the teacher notice a difference in the comprehension of academic words by her students.

For years teachers of English Language Learners and special education students have focused on teaching vocabulary through engaging activities which require the students to be involved in their learning. One such example, is the use of the interactive word wall. (not to be confused with a list of words posted on the front bulletin board never to be revisited.) An interactive word wall involves the students placing words, images related to those words, and short concise definitions of those words on a wall that is easily seen by every student in the room. This allows the students to associate the word with pictures and other words. The successful word wall will follow an activity called previewing where the students (with teacher assistance) place words that will be important in the coming segment on the board and after a brief discussion the words are removed until they are encountered in the upcoming class sessions. When the teacher introduces one of these words she stops and focuses on having the word reintroduced to the wall by the students. This takes time, but creates interest in the words.

Unfortunately, classroom teachers see these as activities required by administrators, thus totally ruining the positive aspects of the wall for vocabulary instruction. Which means that well meaning administrators,  curriculum instructors, and others have to be careful to make sure that word walls are useful methods for expanding student knowledge of content and academic vocabulary and not just required because it was decreed as such.

Soon I will add some comments about high frequency words and other vocabulary instructional strategies...

Here is an elementary 3D version of a word wall...