When approaching vocabulary instruction, I found myself getting into a bit of a rut. Much of my semantic intervention focused on the traditional aspects of synonyms, antonyms, categorization, and associations but in the end I felt as if many of my students with LD were not “owning” the words. I needed to readjust my approach and help my students internalize the vocabulary and assimilate it to their lexicon.
In my search for more robust methods, I found the work of Isabel Beck & Margaret McKeown, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. Authors of numerous journal articles and their book “Bringing Words to Life” (2002), they stressed principles that have changed the way I approach vocabulary intervention. Better yet, my students are OWNING their words!
Let’s say I am working with a second grade group and we are reading Little Polar Bear by Hans deBeer. One of the words in the story is protect.
1. Introduce a word by contextualizing it & providing a student-friendly definition.
This step has always been a part of my intervention as I am sure it has been a part of yours. A quick example:
Beck & McKeown suggest starting off with a strong focused concept rather than drawing attention to multiple meanings. I agree with this, especially for students with weak language skills. Rather than dealing with too much information, students can extend the concept as their use of the word grows.
2. Make sure students repeat the word.
This is a simple step that I often overlook. In order to create a phonological representation of a word, students need to say the word themselves. This should occur frequently with questions like “What’s the word we’ve been talking about?” or “Say the word with me.”
3. Provide examples of the word in contexts other than the one used in the story.
This helps students to capture the concept and make connections to contexts outside of the story. It also helps students associate newly learned words with contexts and activities from their own experience.
4. Have students interact with the word in a meaningful way.
Develop activities that provide strong clues to a word’s meaning and help students derive meaning. Having students explain their reasoning requires learners to consider information and mentally manipulate it.
5. Create activities that require students to process meaning.
To ensure that students actively deal with word meaning, use activities that require them to process comprehension. Here are a few ideas:
Word associations: “If I say something you might protect, say protect. If not, don’t say anything. (Students should be asked why they responded as they did.): money, toys, your sibling, garbage.”
Have you ever: “Describe a time when you protected something.”
Idea Completions: “The crossing guard protected the children from cars because…..” or “The boy wore pads during soccer to protect his knees because……”
Helping our students internalize and take ownership of words is an essential part of our roles in language development and academic success. I hope these tips have helped you think about how you can help your students!