Last time we discussed the Standards for Literacy Practice (SLPs) that are part of Common Core. These standards are recommended guidelines that subject area teachers (such as social studies/history, science, and technical subjects) should use to reinforce literacy in their classes.
One of the main shifts in these literacy standards is the focus on vocabulary that will help students read grade-level complex texts. Research has demonstrated that successful reading occurs when students can understand at least 95% of the words they read. This breaks down into 80% from the most common 2000 words in the English language, 10% from a list of 570 academic vocabulary words, and the remaining 5% to 10% must be taught by the teacher. These words are primarily content or support vocabulary words.
At DataWORKS, we have developed six strategies to help subject area teachers meet this standard –
1) Recognize KNOWN words;
2) Learn NEW MEANINGS for known words;
3) Learn new words for KNOWN CONCEPTS;
4) Learn new words for NEW CONCEPTS;
5) Use CONTEXT Clues; and
6) TRANSFER words into productive vocabulary.
These six strategies match learner needs. We’ll describe each one in more detail below.
1) Read known words
Students know many words from their daily speech. With this strategy, teachers can help them connect the words they already know through hearing to the written form that they can see. That means they need to SEE the word as it is being pronounced. Students already know the meaning. It is also useful to repeat the word in different ways to help retention. For example, teacher and students can track and read the word brown. Then, it can be presented in multiple ways – The teddy bear is brown. The brown dog barked. Brown is my favorite color.
2) New meaning for known words
In this strategy, students are guided in understanding multiple-meaning words. They may know one meaning of a word, but not be aware of a second or third meaning.
For example, the word menu can mean a list of available foods or a list of options in a computer program.
The teacher should first acknowledge the known meaning – a menu is a list of foods. Then, she should give the new meaning – a menu is a list of options on a computer.
Finally she should note any similarities, if any. Both are lists that tell you what is available.
3) New words for a known concept
In this case, students already understand what something is but are learning a new name for it. This is often used to activate prior knowledge for a lesson. For example, students are given directions to do something they know how to do – draw three points on a line. Students execute the directions on whiteboards and pair-share. Then the teacher gives them a label for what they have done. Points on the same line are called collinear. The new word is based on what they already know.
4) New words for a new concept
The fourth strategy is how to deal with a new word for an entirely new concept. This is often needed in the concept development of a lesson. Let’s say we are teaching the concept of polygon for the first time. The teacher would give a bulletproof definition—a polygon is a closed plane figure made up of three or more line segments. Then, the teacher should provide examples and non-examples – triangles and squares fit the definition, while circles and cubes do not. Finally, the teacher can clarify the definition by pointing out critical, non-critical, and shared attributes. Critical: closed, plane or flat, three or more line segments. Non-critical: color, size, and orientation. Shared: closed, plane figure.
5) New words in context
The fifth way to help students learn new words is via context clues. These can be of two kinds. External context clues are derived from the surrounding words. Internal context clues can be derived from base words and affixes. There are actually five types of external context clues, such as:
- Definition clue: A veterinarian is a doctor who treats animals.
- Description clue: Taffy, a chewy candy, comes in many flavors.
- Comparison clue: He was nervous, not calm, about going to a new school.
- Synonym or antonym clue: He was anxious, or nervous, about the test.
- Example clue: Joe is a spendthrift. He will spend his money on anything.
Internal context clues rely on word morphology, that is, the word’s minimal units or morphemes. For example, carnivores can be explained as carni means meat and vore means to devour or eat. Or equilateral can be explained by equi meaning equal and lateral which refers to sides.
6) Transfer words into productive vocabulary
Finally, the key to learning new vocabulary is being exposed to the word many times in a short period of time. Research suggests that retention and understanding requires 12-40 exposures in a 5-day period. Teachers can achieve this with a combination of these methods:
- Define the word
- Use the word in a sentence
- Make effective responses to a question that uses the word
- Compare the words to each other and to other concepts
- Keep a written record of new words learned
- Use words in different subject areas and outside the classroom
- Do several short writing assignments that require students to use the words
Vocabulary is important in all subject areas. To meet the standards and support literacy for students, it’s useful to be systematic in teaching vocabulary. These six strategies will give teachers the tools to increase every student’s vocabulary and in turn boost their reading skill.
Next time we’ll look at how subject area teachers can help students develop skill with informational text as noted in Shifts 2 and 3.
DataWORKS offers a unique guidebook where all these standards are broken down into specific Learning Objectives with Teaching Tips. Check it out to ease your learning curve.