What are the issues around teaching vocabulary in the content areas?

  • Vocabulary Study Questions:
    Gleaned from Michael F. Graves’s The Vocabulary Book, Teacher’s College Press, 2006.

    What role and how big a role should vocabulary instruction play in literacy instruction?
    Huge. Students need to learn between 3,000 and 4,000 words a year and get to about 50,000 by graduation. They are likely to encounter 180,000 different words in the books they read K-12.

    Vocabulary learning should consist of four parts:

    1. Providing rich and varied language experiences
    2. Teaching individual words 
    3. Teaching word-learning strategies 
    4. Fostering word consciousness and an appreciation of the power of words

    What role does simply reading play in the development of vocabulary?
    Huge. The vast majority of words learned come from incidental learning. That is how students add 4,000 words in a year. Since students must encounter an unfamiliar word in context six to ten times in order to learn its meaning, students have to read a lot. Students who don’t read enough don’t learn enough new words. Students who know some word learning strategies learn words faster than students who know none. Texts with too many too frequent unfamiliar words make incidental word learning impossible.

    What criteria should be used to determine which words should be directly taught to students?
    There are a number of published lists of the most frequent words. The first 3,000 of these words make up 75% of everything you read. Students should know these words. Beyond that there are four criteria for selecting individual words to teach:

    • Is understanding the word important to understanding the selection?
    • Can students use context and word analysis to discover meaning?
    • Can working with this word in this context be useful for teaching context analysis, structural analysis, or dictionary skills?
    • How useful is this word outside the reading selection?
    • What role should strategy instruction (for instance, context clues) play in vocabulary instruction? If it has a role, when and where should this instruction be done?

    Students need word learning strategies to enhance their incidental word learning. They need to learn how to use

    • Context Clues
    • Word Parts
    • Dictionary Skills

    Should there be instruction about the structures of words, such as prefixes? If so, what, when, and how?
    Yes. As a word learning strategies. In small parts, frequently, with multiple exposures and deep processing.

    What strategies would we recommend that teachers use for providing direct instruction in vocabulary?
    High intensity strategies for crucial unfamiliar words with multiple exposures, deep processing, and time to assess and remedy misconceptions.