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Teaching word meanings should be a way for students to define their world, to move from light to dark, to a more fine-grained description of the colors that surround us.
Baker, Simmons, and Kame'enui1 state, "The relation between reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge is strong and unequivocal. Although the causal direction of the relation is not understood clearly, there is evidence that the relationship is largely reciprocal.
However, not all approaches to teaching word meanings improve comprehension. This chapter will describe some of the most practical and effective strategies that high-school teachers can employ with diverse learners to enhance vocabulary development and increase reading comprehension.
Instructionaland curricular basics and implications. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,pp. There are a number of traditional teaching practices related to vocabulary that deserve to be left in the "instructional dustbin.
Let us quickly review the most common of these less effective approaches.
Certainly dictionaries have their place, especially during writing, but the act of looking up a word and copying a definition is not likely to result in vocabulary learning especially if there are long lists of unrelated words to look up and for which to copy the definitions.
Use them in a sentence. Writing sentences with new vocabulary AFTER some understanding of the word is helpful; however to assign this task before the study of word meaning is of little value.
There is little research to suggest that context is a very reliable source of learning word meanings. Nagy3 found that students reading at grade level had about a one twentieth chance of learning the meaning of a word from context.
This, of course, is not to say that context is unimportant but that students need a broader range of instructional guidance than the exhortation "Use context.
Rote learning of word meanings is likely to results, at best, in the ability to parrot back what is not clearly understood.
Vocabulary learning, like most other learning, must be based on the learner's active engagement in constructing understanding, not simply on passive re-presenting of information from a text or lecture.
Reviewing the research literature on vocabulary instruction leads to the conclusion that there is no single best strategy to teach word meanings but that all effective strategies require students to go beyond the definitional and forge connections between the new and the known.
Nagy3 summarizes the research on effective vocabulary teaching as coming down to three critical notions: The following section will explore some practical strategies that secondary teachers can employ to increase the integration, repetition, and meaningful use of new vocabulary.
Increase the Amount of Independent Reading The largest influence on students' vocabulary is the sheer volume of reading they do, especially wide reading that includes a rich variety of texts. This presents a particularly difficult challenge for underprepared high-school students who lack the reading habit.
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