Vocabulary Teaching Strategies
Vacca & Vacca (2008) admit that “vocabulary is unique to a content area as fingerprints are to a human being” (p. 142), this is why it is very important to focus on the strategies and techniques with the help of which vocabulary may be studied and developed by students. There are 12 vocabulary teaching strategies under consideration, and each of them has its own peculiarities and own effects on students.
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Still, there are some strategies which seem to be more effective, and those strategies which may be substituted or omitted under some conditions. The following list of items identifies the most important for helping students learning vocabulary (1), and less important are placed below.
- Knowledge ratings
- Magic squares
- Semantic feature analysis (SFA)
- Word exploration
- Word sorts
- Semantic word maps
- Concept circles
The decision is made, and the strategies are ranked in accordance with their usability and effectiveness. Though teachers prefer to use various strategies and apply them to particular students, there are a number of steps which have to be taken properly evaluating each detail and each outcome.
Considering personal preferences and learning techniques, one of the most important and effective strategies which may be used to help students studying vocabulary is knowledge ratings.
The peculiar feature of this strategy is that a teacher is able to evaluate what each student knows about the chosen vocabulary and what challenges may be still identified.
It is very important to explain that this kind of work is not graded, there is no need to identify the best student or the worst student, and it is not necessary to cheat to achieve good results. The main task of this strategy is to identify what students know, what they do not know, and what they want and have to know.
The next strategy chosen is definitions with the help of which a clear definition is given to one particular word so that students can improve their knowledge about the subject.
Not less important strategy is magic squares. Though it is one of the newest ideas (Vacca & Vacca, 2008) that may be used in education, it has already established a reputation as effective and interesting activity for both students and teachers. This is why it takes one of the leading positions.
Categorization is based on evaluation some technical terms in the most appropriate format, this is why it takes the fourth place in this rating. Contextualization is another effective means with the help of which student’ awareness of vocabulary may be improved. Students should evaluate a text and insert the words which seem to be the most appropriate in a context. This is why the importance of such strategy should be identified.
Next several strategies could gain the same level as their usability is almost the same: word exploration and brainstorming (that is a powerful alternative to word exploration).
Word sorts has also something is common with brainstorming, the only different is that students should not generate the list of word for a special target concept but sort all of them into specific logical arrangements. Semantic word maps also known as concept of definition word maps according to which conceptual information is organized and explained to a student.
List-group-label is known still not frequently used strategy, as due to the fact that many teachers choose another appropriate alternatives, this strategy has such a low rating. The twelfth place goes to concept circle. Such low rating is due to the variety of alternatives existed but not due to the poor system or abilities.
Concept circles have a number of positive aspects like visual attractiveness or simple directions, still, teachers find categorization more appropriate for the vast majority of students. This is why the results of the rating scheme are as they are taking into consideration the vocabulary demands of content area classrooms.
E-Portfolio Assignment: Activating Schema
Schema activation is a kind of mechanism with the help of which students may define what they know and what they have to know. According to Winters (2001), words may be characterized by a certain meaning only in case these words are attached to some concepts, this is why students have to get an access to understanding concepts before they try to study new words.
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As vocabulary is one of the most integral components of students’ language skills (Schmitt, 2008), it is crucially important to pay much attention to the ways of how students may learn it and improve their knowledge constantly.
This week, a lesson aims at helping students comprehend new vocabulary and evaluate concepts and words which are partially known to students. Two special techniques for activating students’ vocabulary schema are used.
They are graphic organizers with the help of which textually important information may be comprehended by students and semantic feature analysis (SFA) that aims at establishing necessary relations with prior knowledge of students and new words. The process of implementation these two techniques cause rather different reactions, still, the results are successful and students find the chosen ideas interesting and educative.
Semantic feature analysis is the first strategy that has been applied during the lesson. The theme of the lesson is Film Making, and students have to study new term and techniques used by the directors to create a good movie. Three movies of different genres are chosen, and several new terms are offered. These movies are The Lord of the Rigs: The Two Towers, Meet the Parents, and Sweet November.
Before the activity is offered, students have to watch the movies and make some notes. The idea to watch the movies and forget about the necessity to study something new turns out to be very interesting for them, this is why they find the offered strategy rather effective.
Then, they have to answer several simple questions, for example, “How many long shots are observed in the movies?” or “Are there any pan in the movie? Such questions make students think about new concepts and try to define them in the movie. These activities seem to be a powerful connection between what students already know, what they have to know, and what they do not know.
The point is that this strategy does not aim to define some students’ weaknesses or poor knowledge, the only purpose that has to be achieved is to help students realize their level of knowledge and their possibilities which may be developed. For example, a student watches the movie and enjoys the story told.
However, after semantic feature analysis, it is clear that the level of student knowledge is not that perfect, and there are many aspects to be analyzed and evaluated. This is why, within a short period of time, students themselves are eager to study new material, improve their knowledge, and get access to more concepts and words. Student vocabulary is improved, new concepts are introduced, and some portion of satisfaction is got.
The next strategy used during the class is connected to graphic organizers and their diversities. One of the most important steps was to choose an appropriate form for the students not to distract them a lot from the theme of the lessons and, at the same time, help students organize their thoughts and abilities after watching three movies. The graphic organizer in the form of “problem-solution outline” was chosen for this lesson.
This graphic organizer helps to define a problem of the movie and the solution offered. Students get a chance to organize their thoughts and understand the message of the movie. In fact, almost each movie has its own message, and in order to enjoy the movie watched, a person has to be able to evaluate each detail, each point, and each aspect.
In fact, students’ reaction to this activity is rather unexpected. The vast majority of students demonstrate their interests to the movies and to the techniques which are used in the movies.
They find the chosen movies educative, and, what is more important, not boring. This is why they are eager to study new material and new concepts with passion and pleasure. Students are so involved into discussions and activities, and this is the main purpose that has to be achieved.
The two chosen strategies to study vocabulary, a graphic organizer and semantic feature analysis, may become an important experience in teacher’s practice. It is necessary to choose the activities which promote learning new material as well as involve students to study more. The success of the strategies is obvious, and even no modifications are required, but simple compliance with the directions set.
Schmitt, N. (2008). Vocabulary in Language Teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Vacca, R.T. & Vacca, A.J. (2008) Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum. New York: Pearson Education.
Winters, R. (2001). Vocabulary Anchors: Building Conceptual Connections wit Young Readers. The Reading Teacher, 54 (7), 659-662.