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School Success

A Teacher and Tutor eGuide to Help the Older Student with Limited Vocabulary Knowledge

Carmen Y. Reyes

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Contents Background Alternative Teaching Procedures Present Words above the Students Grade and Reading Placement Go Slowly Match the Abstract with the Concrete Use Pictures and Drawings Write about the Word Talk about the Word Teach Synonyms and Antonyms Give Examples and Non-Examples of the New Word Simplify the Information Teach Word Retrieval Strategies Develop Vocabulary Fluency Train the Student in Listening for Key Information in Sentences Train the Student in Identifying Word Classes Train the Student in Word Discrimination Train the Student in Describing Nouns Put the New Word in Different Contexts Use Visualization Use Novelty Be Creative Develop Flexibility Provide Comparison and Contrasting Activities Connect the Words Connect the New with the Old Associate the Words Use the Loci Technique

Use Context Clues Teach Clues to Meaning Use Similes Use the Cubing Technique Use the Four-Square Technique Use Spiraling Teach Prefixes and Suffixes Teach New Words and Concepts within the Context of Word Families Teach the Student to Organize Verbally New Information and Concepts Teach Linguistic Relationships Use Different Learning Modalities About the Author

Background Vocabulary knowledge, or word meanings, is key in helping students comprehend what they hear or what they read in the classroom. Research establishes that reading comprehension improves when teachers take the time to strengthen their students vocabulary knowledge. Vocabulary training activities improve reading comprehension because they help students relate new words to the words they already know. Expressive language -the ability to communicate orally or in writing- also develops through vocabulary acquisition and expansion. Knowing the meaning of words involves a lot more than just being able to define words. Vocabulary knowledge always reflects students familiarity with the broader topic or theme that provides the context or background knowledge. Students with weak word reading (decoding) benefit greatly from vocabulary training tasks. Oral reading pronunciation improves when the reader develops familiarity with a wide variety of vocabulary words that he or she can relate (compare or contrast) to unknown words to aid in word pronunciation. Alternative Teaching Procedures The following alternative teaching techniques are designed to help struggling learners develop word knowledge. Present Words above the Students Grade and Reading Placement Read the struggling learner stories that are two years above his grade placement. Read stories that are above the students reading and oral language levels. Teach vocabulary words through storytelling. Go Slowly Present new vocabulary words or new concepts slower than you would do when you are speaking about familiar information. Place vocal stress on new words, new concepts, or new constructs. Limit the number of new vocabulary words, ideas, or concepts that you introduce at a time. Match the Abstract with the Concrete Demonstrate a concept like expands using a rubber band; show a picture of a halfmoon to illustrate fraction.

Use Pictures and Drawings If the child writes, draws, or sketches about the vocabulary words she is learning, she will remember the new words better. Explain new words using pictures or drawings. Use pictures to teach verbs, adjectives, and prepositions. Have students perform or dramatize verbs. Write about the Word Have the student write a few sentences elaborating on the new vocabulary word or concept. Talk about the Word Have the student paraphrase, that is, state the new vocabulary word, idea, or concept in his own words, as if he were explaining it to another student. Teach Synonyms and Antonyms When you ask the student to put the information in his own words (to summarize, to retell, or to explain), the child will be able to do so only if he has a good grasping of synonyms. Synonym knowledge is a prerequisite to both comprehension and expressive language fluency. Explain new words with synonyms. Have the student identify synonyms in sentences; for example, My kitten was so sick, it was too ill to play. Explain new words using antonyms. Have the student identify opposites in sentences; for example, Gwen current skateboard is bigger than her former one. Have the student give opposites of the word, e.g. gigantic: little, tiny, small, ant, bit, short, petite. Have the student develop lists of opposites and differences. Give Examples and Non-Examples of the New Word Have the student give examples of the new word, e.g. liquid: shampoo, juice, milk, pond, ocean, stream, water. Provide many examples of the new word or concept. For example, walrus- how they look, habitat, what they eat, and category. The more examples and details the student can come up with, the better her chances of learning the new information.

Challenge the child to come up with one more, a better example, or an excellent example of the new vocabulary word or concept. Present new or difficult words within the context of examples and non-examples. You can use a sentence stem format like, This is a _____ and This is not a _____. Alternatively, Is this a _____? How do you know? Have students give non-examples of the new word; that is, telling what the word is not. For example, an acquisitive man is not a generous man. Use examples and non-examples from the childs environment. Simplify the Information When discussing difficult words, relate the word to easier words to enhance the students understanding. Use simpler sentences or reword complex sentences. Have the student answer yes/no questions about known objects, e.g. toothbrush: Is it round? Is it hard to hold? Is it curly? Is it sharp? Does it fit in your pocket? Teach Word Retrieval Strategies Children with low vocabularies and/or word retrieval difficulties can benefit from strategies like: Teach the child to think of and to use related words, e.g. trickster: joker, funny, clown, prank, plays jokes. Teach the child to talk around the word, that is, the child can describe how it looks, what it does, can give examples, or can identify the category. Develop Vocabulary Fluency Develop vocabulary fluency by revising the childs word choices. For example, the child says, This doll is ugly, and you revise, Yes, the doll is ragged. Develop vocabulary fluency by expanding the childs sentences. For example, the child says, The game was nice, and you expand, Yes, the soccer game was exciting and physical. Train the Student in Listening for Key Information in Sentences Have the student identify specific word types from sentences, e.g. Listen for a continent- I cannot find Australia on the wall map. Have the student identify key words in sentences, e.g. Tell me the most important words in this sentence: The mug will break if you drop it. (mug, break, drop)

Train the Student in Identifying Word Classes Have the student answer yes/no questions about word classes; for example, Is pear a fruit? Is a helicopter a form of transportation? Have the student identify the word class by its description, e.g., Which is a body of water: meadow, valley, stream, or tundra? Have the student relate items by word class, e.g., Which group does monkeys and elephants belong to- fish, mammals, reptiles, or insects? Have the student identify word classes in sentences, example, Esther has a gold bracelet and a silver ring. Which two metals did you hear (gold and silver)? Which two pieces of jewelry did you hear (bracelet and ring)? Train the Student in Word Discrimination Have the student identify the incorrect word within the sentence, and then substitute the wrong word with the correct answer. For example, Four quarters equal a gallop. (gallon) Train the Student in Describing Nouns Ask the student questions like, Think about a cat. Which group does a cat belong to: fruit, clothing, numbers, or pets? Which word tells how a cat sounds: buzz, meow, bark, or whisper? Develop further understanding of new vocabulary words by asking questions such as, Do you know anyone who is fragile? Can a hummingbird be fragile? Put the New Word in Different Contexts Teach the student to see the word in a different context, for example, oil can be seen within the context of fuel as well as within the context of food. Use Visualization Have the student form a mental image or mental movie of the new word or concept. Help the child create visualizations, saying, Picture this or Imagine this. Use Novelty Our brain likes novelty. Children retain better the information they learn during novel or unusual situations than anything they learn during regular circumstances.

Take advantage of novel and unusual situations to teach or to reinforce new or complex vocabulary. Be Creative Have the student make up a story, a poem, a song, a cartoon, a collage, or any other creative work that contains the new vocabulary word, idea, or concept. Develop Flexibility The student needs to understand that sometimes there may be more than one correct choice to answer a question, and that there may be a better, more precise word. Provide Comparison and Contrasting Activities Have the student tell how two objects are alike (comparing). Identify how two concepts relate, and explicitly teach how we can generalize from one concept to another, for example, from heat to energy or from neighbor to community. Have the student tell how two objects are different (contrasting). Have the child compare the new vocabulary word or concept with other things she knows. Connect the Words When you discuss new or difficult words, relate them to previously taught words by pointing to similarities and differences. Use word connections procedures, for example, from a word list, have the child choose any two words and tell how the two words relate. Connect new vocabulary words to something with which the student is an expert. Connect the New with the Old Teach new vocabulary words within the context of known and familiar information. Associate the Words To help the child associate the new with the old, introduce the topic and a list of words. From the list, ask which words the child thinks relate with the topic and which words do not relate. For example, (topic) shipwreck: mast, pirate, treasure, mandolin, storm, librarian, remains, and pyramid.

Use the Loci Technique Make it local to what the child knows from his environment. Make sure that you connect the new vocabulary words to personal experiences. Recall something from your past that relates or illustrates the new vocabulary word or concept. Then, challenge the student to recall something from his past that relates to the concept or illustrates it. Ask questions that will help the child relate the new vocabulary word or concept to his personal experiences. For example, when you explain a word such as peculiar, ask the child to talk about odd or strange experiences. Then, have the child identify non-examples, that is, things that are not peculiar. Have the child think of one or more ways that he can use the new vocabulary word or concept in his daily life. Use the new vocabulary words in daily conversations. Use Context Cues Introduce new vocabulary within the context of a sentence and have the child illustrate the sentence. Provide context for complex vocabulary words. Have the child identify the words that surround the new word in the sentence and paragraph, and have the child tell how the surrounding words give him context clues to figure out the meaning of the new words. Have the student highlight the surrounding words that help him define and describe the new word. Expose the child to the same vocabulary words in many different contexts, for example, in reading selections, math story problems, creative writing, and in science or social studies. This helps the student connect and associate the learning material. In addition, this strategy helps in relating what he learns in one context or situation to other situations.

Teach Clues to Meaning

Children with low vocabulary knowledge often have difficulty answering questions. When that happens, resist the temptation of giving the answer. Instead, teach the child clues to meaning such as:

wh-clues, e.g. when, where, who, what is happening experience clues or prior knowledge meaning or contextual clue, e.g., It says, The _____ drinks with its trump. What animal has a trump? synonyms, e.g., It is the same as stay. antonyms, e.g., It is the opposite of cheap, or It means not weak. analogies, e.g., Fish swim. Birds _____. grapho-phonic clues, e.g., It starts with /dr/ and It rhymes with nail. the students previous contact with a similar word cueing by key word, e.g. camel- key words are humped and long-necked comparison or contrasting clue, e.g., It is a much smaller musical instrument than an accordion or This is the tallest animal in the jungle.

Use Similes For example, say, A cantaloupe is like an orange, a pineapple, and a pear. An orange, a pineapple, and a pear are fruits. So, a cantaloupe is a _____. When you use similes, you can teach new vocabulary words by associating the new vocabulary with old vocabulary. Think of an analogy, a simile, or a metaphor that fits, for example, Thats like Use the Cubing Technique Have the student study the new vocabulary words or abstract concepts from six points of view (one for each side of the cube).

Side 1: describing the concept Side 2: comparing the concept Side 3: associating the concept Side 4: analyzing the concept Side 5: applying the concept Side 6: arguing for and against the concept

Use the Four-Square Technique This technique helps the student activate her background knowledge and experiences to increase her current vocabulary. Fold a sheet of paper into quarters, and inside each quarter, the child discusses the word (writes, tells, or draws) in four different ways. For example, for the word salubrious:

Square One: Used in Context: The surfer lives a salubrious lifestyle. Square Two: Examples of the Word: surfing, jogging, good nutrition Square Three: Definition in the Childs Own Words: any aspect of life that is healthy Square Four: Non-Examples of the Word: smog, smoking, junk food

Use Spiraling Consistently review and repeat previously introduced vocabulary and concepts. Teach Prefixes and Suffixes Teach the student how to infer meaning from word parts, or prefixes and suffixes. The student needs to know that words are made of parts, and these parts give meaning to them. If the child knows, for example, the meaning of affixes such as ful, ish, and dis, then she can infer the meaning of words such as cheerful, foolish, and dishonest. Teach New Words and Concepts within the Context of Word Families Provide exercises for the student to infer meanings from relationships among word families, for example, history, historian, historic, and historical. Teach the Student to Organize Verbally New Information and Concepts Word knowledge plays a fundamental role in helping the child organize verbally new information and abstract concepts. The same way that we teach children in how to use a table, a chart, or a diagram to organize visually and to connect new information, we can teach them how to use words to organize their thoughts and to enhance comprehension. In particular, words with spatial and/or temporal connotation provide the kind of mental structure that the learner needs to be able to manipulate (sort out, arrange, associate, or classify), retrieve (memorize), and use the information. Students benefit when we directly and explicitly teach the meaning of words and phrases that show:

time, e.g. seasons, before, immediately, soon, p.m., until, when, earlier, now, meanwhile, during, evening, as soon as, last week, in the future, next month, decade, hour, later position or place, e.g. remote, across, on, center, opposite, near, above, nearby, under, vertical, to your left, bordering, around, midway, beside, beyond, bottom, in front of, behind, edge, fifth, below, slanted, here, longitude, adjacent size, e.g. wide, petite, smaller, bit, tremendous, long, tall, narrower, expanded, vast, compressed quantity, e.g. couple, few, abundant, seven, ninth, lots, greater, scarce, triple, less, pair, lone shape words, e.g. square, triangular, polygon, round, and computational symbols (add, subtract, multiply, and divide) weight words, e.g. heavy, kilogram, pound volume words, e.g. pint, liter, gallon, ounce distance words, e.g. mile, yard, inch, kilometer, farther, feet temperature words, e.g. hottest, boiling, degrees

In addition, make sure that the child understands the meaning of

Teach Linguistic Relationships When delivering instruction, teachers often use strings of information that present subtle changes in sequence and/or condition. Many times, we give messages to children assuming that the child understands the linguistic concepts involved. Confusing linguistic concepts obscure the relationship among words. Moreover, when the relationship among words is unclear, the childs comprehension weakens. For instance, temporal concepts are not mentioned necessarily in the same order of events (e.g., Before you do the math sheet, put the crayons away). The following classification adds to the one presented above to clarify further the true relationships among words:

temporal (same as time), e.g. while, after, first spatial (same as position or place), e.g. over, far from, adjacent directional (included in position or place), e.g. left, right

positional (included in position or place), e.g. first, last quantitative or numerical (same as quantity), e.g. more, group, all of them, five squirrels sequential, e.g. then, fourth, again, soon, and, subsequently, next, finally conditional, e.g. if, unless exceptionality, e.g. except, but not analogous, e.g. like, is to

Use Different Learning Modalities Consolidation of the learning material and abstract concepts improves when the learner uses more than one modality. If you are presenting visual material, verbally describe it; if the material is verbal, draw diagrams that the student can see. In addition, have the student draw a map, a diagram, or an illustration of the new vocabulary word or concept.

About the Author Carmen Y. Reyes, The Psycho-Educational Teacher, has more than twenty years of experience as a self-contained special education teacher, resource room teacher, and educational diagnostician. Carmen has taught at all grade levels, from kindergarten to post secondary. Carmen is an expert in the application of behavior management strategies, and in teaching students with learning or behavior problems. Her classroom background, in New York City and her native Puerto Rico, includes ten years teaching emotionally disturbed/behaviorally disordered children and four years teaching students with a learning disability or low cognitive functioning. Carmen has a bachelors degree in psychology (University of Puerto Rico) and a masters degree in special education with a specialization in emotional disorders (Long Island University, Brooklyn: NY). Carmen is the author of 60+ books and articles in child guidance and in alternative teaching techniques for low-achieving students. To read the complete collection of articles, download free skill-building guides, and download free lesson plans visit Carmens blog, The Psycho-Educational Teacher.

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